Ken Burns’ “Civil War”–Impressively Shallow

by Al Benson Jr.

Twenty five years ago this year Ken Burns launched his supposedly epic series entitled “The Civil War.” One thing you have to understand about Mr. Burns going in, he is a modern day radical abolitionist. That is his mindset. Oh, he feigns objectivity but a quick look at his work will show you that he is anything but objective.

His original “Civil War” series lasted several nights on prime time television and to be sure I got it all I sat through the entire thing. Supposedly it took Mr. Burns five years of research and a ton of Rockefeller money, all to discover that, guess what, the war was really all about slavery! What a surprise! Knowing at least part of his funding sources could anyone who has followed any of this think his conclusions would be any different.

Well, that was a long time ago, you may say. However I’ve been told that Mr. Burns is about to redo and update this series and bring it back again. After all, almost a whole generation has gone by since this series was last presented and so it’s about time now, especially in light of all this planned fuss over Confederate flags and symbols, to reintroduce this generation to the “Civil War was only about slavery issue” so that people will not forget this holy mantra of the left.

Back in October of 1990 I did an article for The Christian News out of New Haven, Missouri about Mr. Burns’ series and the title of it was exactly the same as the title for this article. Mr. Burns probably has the financial backing to update and redigitalize his material. Unfortunately, I don’t have such, so all I can do is to go back to my original article and pull out some significant excerpts and hope this will suffice. Since I expect that most folks reading this will not have seen my original article this will probably not be repetitious to most. So please bear with me.

“Being a student of that period of U.S. history that encompasses the period from around 1820-1890, I was naturally interested when I saw several articles in newspapers touting public television’s “Civil War” series, shown the week of September 23rd for five successive nights. The series got such favorable  preview publicity in the media that I felt it might be the crowning achievement of propaganda in regard to the War Between the States.  Being somewhat forewarned, and being, though Northern by birth, basically of a Southern disposition in regard to the War, I was not, unfortunately, disappointed in my assessment of the series.”

“If, in some faint vein, I had hoped for objectivity in this series, such a vain hope was dashed on the first night’s broadcast. We were supposed to have the ’causes’ of the War outlined on the first broadcast. The ’causes’ all boiled down to the same stale abolitionist rhetoric that far too many of our ‘history’ books parrot today–the reason the war was fought was to free the slaves, a noble endeavor on the part of the North. The whole question of states’ rights and constitutional issues was given no more than a line or two, barely lip service. The theological implications of the War were totally ignored, as if they had never existed, and indeed, for the promoters of the program they probably did not, consciously. We were told that the man that put this series together spent five years researching his subject. That may be, but he surely didn’t read the same books I have!”

“The series hardly dealt with the Unitarian-influenced abolitionist movement in the North and the pressure that radical movement exerted on Northern politicians. It did not at all deal with the revival of reformation Christianity taking place in the South before the war.”

“John Brown, the abolitionist terrorist, was mentioned chiefly in his connection to the aborted raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. One got the impression from the program that Brown did all that he did on his own. Never was there a mention of the wealthy group of Northerners, one a Unitarian clergyman, called ‘the Secret Six’ that paid for a great deal of John Browns terrorism, both in Kansas and other places. Why weren’t these Northern financiers of Brown’s terrorism mentioned? They are mentioned in the National Park Service museum at Harpers Ferry. Their pictures are on the wall there.”

Lord willing, I will continue with these comments in another article. I don’t know when Mr. Burns’ updated series will be rebroadcast but it might not hurt to sit in when it is and make note of all the things that have been conveniently left out. I am sure you will find the list considerable.