Timed alongside Independence Day, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is appealing this week to the “YouTube generation” to take their cameras and capture the voices who fought and lived the Second World War. Having completed his most recent documentary epic The War, set to air on PBS this coming September, Burns writes in a USA Weekend article he has “been saddened by how little the YouTube generation knows about the war, the defining event of the 20th century,” declaring, “I wanted to counteract the fact that history has become, to some young people, merely a castor oil of dates and places.”
Now, in conjunction with the Library of Congress, Ken Burns is asking the YouTube generation to become citizen historians and record their own archive of first-hand accounts of World War II. “We could amass the most extensive oral history collection in the world about the greatest cataclysm in human history,” Burns says.
There are an estimated 2.9 million living World War II veterans, and about 1,000 pass away every day. We are losing our access to them to discover what happened just over 60 years ago.
That’s where the YouTube generation comes in. For the series, we used 40 of the hundreds of interviews we conducted. Now, Americans are being enlisted in the recording of history. Thanks to a cooperative effort involving PBS and the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, anyone can get a camera and conduct his or her own interviews of a loved one who lived through the war. All submissions will be cataloged by the library to become part of the permanent Veterans History Project collection.
Great idea, but if you’re going to address “the YouTube generation,” why not let them upload and share their videos, rather than asking for snail mail!
Another issue: University of Texas journalism professor Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez has been on Air America and The PBS News Hour to present her case for the inclusion of Latinos in Burns’ film. She has started a group Defend the Honor in the hopes of raising awareness about the issue. Facing mounting pressure, the PBS board and Burns have come to an agreement “integrating the voices of Hispanic veterans into The War.”
This is not the first time that Burns has been questioned by the Latino community about its inclusion in his sweeping video histories. In his 19-hour Jazz (2001), there are only three minutes on Latino contributions, while in his 18-hour Baseball there are only four.