(AP Photo/Jim Cole) *Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns poses at his office in Walpole, N.H., Thursday, April 5, 2007. Burns' new film "The War" will premiere on PBS stations in September 2007.
NEW YORK (Map, News) - Activists who believe Latinos deserve more recognition for their contributions during World War II have created an agonizing political problem for PBS and filmmaking star Ken Burns.
Several Latino leaders and military veterans, angry that Burns' high-profile documentary series "The War" includes no conversations with Latinos who fought, are demanding changes. PBS and Burns want to satisfy an important constituency, without the precedent of a filmmaker forced to change his vision due to a protest.
PBS chief executive Paula Kerger, after meetings with leaders including Congress' Hispanic caucus, has promised suggested solutions as early as this week.
Burns' 14-hour documentary is scheduled to premiere in September. PBS hopes it becomes as definitive a record of the World War II experience as Burns' "The Civil War" was for that conflict, and as popular. Kerger has already described it as Burns' greatest work.
Even though the film hasn't been seen publicly, its lack of Latino representation was sniffed out by Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, a former newspaper reporter who runs an oral history project about Latino World War II veterans at the University of Texas.
Rivas-Rodriguez and her staff police projects about World War II all over the country - books, films, conferences and the like - to make sure Latinos are represented. Last November, when Burns previewed his film at a museum, her project manager asked whether Latino veterans were interviewed in the documentary. She was told no, and immediately set about trying to raise awareness.
Anger over "The War" has deep roots.
Rivas-Rodriguez has stories from Latino Medal of Honor winners who came home to Texas only to be denied service at restaurants. She thinks few Americans are aware of the experiences, and the lack of attention it received in Tom Brokaw's best-selling book "The Greatest Generation" didn't help.
"It's a real sore spot to say to someone that your experience wasn't unique in this country," she said. "Our people weren't valued. Not only were they not valued then, they are not being valued today."
The large Latino presence among the armed forces fighting the Iraq War deepens the sensitivity toward this issue, said Marta Garcia, head of the New York chapter of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
Burns' film focuses on the wartime experiences of people from four communities across the country - Waterbury, Conn.; Mobile, Ala.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Luverne, Minn. He weaves their individual stories about combat together to tell how the war changed lives, and changed the world.
Since he's spent his career trying to tell overlooked stories in American history, Burns said he can appreciate the Latino community's concerns.
"We did not set out to exclude Latinos, or any other group for that matter," he told The Associated Press. "In fact, thousands of stories have not been included. We set out to explore the human experience of war and combat based on a handful of stories told by individuals in only four American towns."
Still, it hasn't escaped the Latino groups' notice that blacks are talked to in the film about segregated forces, and Japanese-Americans about their internment.
Burns' stature makes the issue so crucial. "A lot of people regard Ken Burns as the country's documentarian," Rivas-Rodriguez said.
She would like to see the project expanded to include the Latino experience, perhaps even by a couple of hours. A separate film has little appeal, because few beyond those directly involved would care, she said.
"It has to be something substantive," she said. "It can't be simply inserting someone with a (Latin) last name and saying, `Oh, yeah, he was there, too.'"
To Burns, the film is done. He's already traveling to promote it, and showed a segment to cadets at West Point two weeks ago. PBS wanted to finish early to allow for ancillary products, including a book. PBS affiliates are making films about local wartime experiences.
Even if they were to entertain the idea, Burns' representatives argue that substantial changes would be difficult. To fit the narrative, Burns would have to find Latino veterans from one of the four communities, and seek out footage from the specific battles they talk about. The time-consuming process is why it took six years to make the film.
Imagine PBS' predicament. Its executives are loath to impose upon someone's creative vision, particularly the system's biggest star. If PBS changes a film because of one group's complaint, what happens the next time?
Yet PBS, of course, gets a big chunk of its funding from the federal government. The Hispanic caucus is much more important than it was five months ago, when the election put Congress under Democratic control. The National Hispanic Media Coalition is also well known to PBS for its challenges to TV station license renewals, and has criticized PBS for not hiring enough Latinos.
"PBS takes this situation very seriously," said PBS spokeswoman Lea Sloan. "The stories of all the diverse communities in this country, including the Latinos, are of critical importance and while PBS has been a leading forum for these voices to be heard, there is more that needs to be done."
Michael Getler, PBS' ombudsman, has looked into the issue. He wondered whether anyone had even thought about Latino veterans during the film's six-year gestation. If nothing else, it shows how new thinking is always necessary in a diverse country, he said.
He did not, however, offer ideas to satisfy the protesters.
President Bush Participates in Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony for the Tuskegee Airmen
"The Tuskegee Airmen helped win a war, and you helped change our nation for the better. Yours is the story of the human spirit, and it ends like all great stories do -- with wisdom and lessons and hope for tomorrow. And the medal that we confer today means that we're doing a small part to ensure that your story will be told and honored for generations to come. "
President Bush Discusses Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, War on Terror at American Legion
Support of our veterans has been a high priority in my administration. This year I've asked Congress for more than $86 billion for veterans' services. And if Congress approves my request, this would amount to a 77 percent increase of the budget since I took office; it would be the highest level of support for our veterans in American history. (Applause.) We share with your concern about making sure our vets have good health care. I've talked to your commanders past, and suspect I'll be talking to your commanders future, about making sure that our veterans have got good, decent, quality health care. Since 2001, we've helped over 1 million more veterans -- we've added a million veterans -- take advantage of the VA health care system.
The 2008 budget proposal will increase the VA health care budget by 83 percent since I took office. The Department of Defense's health care budget has grown from $19 billion to $38 billion. And that's an important commitment, and I look forward to working with Congress to say to our veterans, we care about you. Money is one thing; delivery of services is another. (Applause.)
I know I share -- listen, I am as concerned as you are about the conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. My decisions have put our kids in harm's way. And I'm concerned about the fact that when they come back they don't get the full treatment they deserve. Many people working at Walter Reed are fine people. If you've been out there, you know what I'm talking about. They're dedicated, honorable healers who care deeply about our soldiers. Fine doctors, nurses and therapists work day and night to help the wounded. Yet some of our troops at Walter Reed have experienced bureaucratic delays and living conditions that are less than they deserve. It's unacceptable to me, it is unacceptable to you, it's unacceptable to our country -- and it's not going to continue.
I recently asked Secretary of Defense Bob Gates to assess the situation at Walter Reed firsthand and report back to me. He confirmed that there are problems, real problems. He has taken action to address those problems and hold people to account -- including relieving the general in charge of the facility and accepting the resignation of the Secretary of the Army.
As we work to improve conditions at Walter Reed, we are also taking steps to find out whether similar problems exist at other military and veterans hospitals. (Applause.) The best way to do so in a constructive way, in a way that will bring forth the truth, is to create a bipartisan Presidential Commission. I've asked two distinguished public servants to lead the commission, and they have accepted -- Senator Bob Dole and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala. (Applause.)
The Commission will conduct a comprehensive review of the care America is providing our wounded servicemen and women returning from the battlefield. This review will examine their treatment from the time they leave the battlefield through their return to civilian life as veterans -- so we can ensure that we're meeting the physical and mental health needs of all. As this commission begins its work and considers its recommendations, I have also directed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to lead a task force composed of seven members of my Cabinet to focus and respond to immediate needs.
We have an obligation, we have a moral obligation to provide the best possible care and treatment to the men and women who have served our country. They deserve it, and they're going to get it. (Applause.)
Through the generations, America's men and women in uniform have defeated tyrants, liberated continents, and set a standard of courage and idealism for the entire world. On Veterans Day, our Nation pays tribute to those who have proudly served in our Armed Forces.
To protect the Nation they love, our veterans stepped forward when America needed them most. In conflicts around the world, their sacrifice and resolve helped destroy the enemies of freedom and saved millions from oppression. In answering history's call with honor, decency, and resolve, our veterans have shown the power of liberty and earned the respect and admiration of a grateful Nation.
All of America's veterans have placed our Nation's security before their own lives, creating a debt that we can never fully repay. Our veterans represent the best of America, and they deserve the best America can give them.
As we recall the service of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen, we are reminded that the defense of freedom comes with great loss and sacrifice. This Veterans Day, we give thanks to those who have served freedom's cause; we salute the members of our Armed Forces who are confronting our adversaries abroad; and we honor the men and women who left America's shores but did not live to be thanked as veterans. They will always be remembered by our country.
With respect for and in recognition of the contributions our service men and women have made to the cause of peace and freedom around the world, the Congress has provided (5 U.S.C. 6103(a)) that November 11 of each year shall be set aside as a legal public holiday to honor veterans.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim November 11, 2006, as Veterans Day and urge all Americans to observe November 5 through November 11, 2006, as National Veterans Awareness Week. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through ceremonies and prayers. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of the United States and to support and participate in patriotic activities in their communities. I invite civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, businesses, unions, and the media to support this national observance with commemorative expressions and programs.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-first.
GEORGE W. BUSH
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