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David Harsanyi

David Harsanyi

Posted: September 23, 2007 01:02 PM

Censoring the Greatest Generation


I'm a big fan of Ken Burns' chronicles of American history. So naturally I look forward to watching his new ambitious documentary about World War II, which debuts on PBS tonight across the country. When I read about the sanitizing of this historical document, I was taken back a bit.

Apparently the greatest generation also threw around a few profanities - and clearly describing the hell of war, such language should be expected. Here's what they have to say:

• SNAFU, which is not an acronym for Situation Normal All Fouled Up.

• FUBAR, which does not stand for Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition.

• A popular vulgarity for excrement, and another for a part of the human anatomy. The words are used by a former ball-turret gunner describing what it's like to be seriously wounded on a B-17 bombing raid over Germany.

Two four-letter words and one seven-letter word, used in passing by members of "The Greatest Generation" as they describe the most hellish war the world has known so far.

Rather than risk a $325,000 fine per word from the FCC -- if the offensive words are broadcast between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. -- PBS provided two cuts of War and allowed stations to decide which one to air.

Here's the thing, The FCC allowed the same language to be used in a ABC prime-time showing of Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" -- a fictional account WW 2 -- a couple of years ago. In my book, I discuss the often arbitrary nature of the FCC's take on speech.

In any event, which red-blooded American is going to complain about PBS airing a soldier using the acronym FUBAR? Does anyone else find it ironic that a film documenting the great sacrifices of freedom will have the words of the very men who fought for it edited out?