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  • Writer's pictureJames McGee

Required viewing...

Say what you like about those old German philosophers but they didn't half come up with some cracking quotes.

Take Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, for example (1770 - 1831, if you're interested). And no, before you write in, I haven't missed out the 'e' in George. There never was one in the first place.

Any road, before I get side-tracked, if you wanna know

who came up with that old favourite and, by now, well- worn phrase about learning nothing from history, it was Georg, that doubtful-looking guy on the right. According to historians, or possibly those of an anal persuasion, what he actually said was: "We learn from history that we do not learn from history."

He also said - just to reiterate, or possibly because he'd forgotten what he said the first time: "What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”

Either way, he had it right. As anyone can see if they're hooked, as I am, on Ken Burns' brilliant new TV documentary series The Vietnam War.

Ten years in the making, it's a searing account of the conflict from which the USA has never fully recovered. Using testimony from all sides and some astonishing and often graphic footage, Burns and his co-director, Lynn Novick, along with his long-time collaborator, writer Geoffrey Ward, have created another epic narrative. If you listen to the White House tapes between the then President, Lyndon B Johnson, and his aides, chief among them his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, and hear how they got sucked further and further into what they all knew was an unwinnable war, you can fast forward to the messes in Iraq and Afghanistan and see that nothing, but nothing, has changed, proving that old Georg knew of what he spoke.

And now, with the current climate of hostility that seems to be increasing with every passing day - and tweet - you do wonder if Georg isn't looking down on us while shaking his head and muttering under his breath. "How many time did I tell you? But you just wouldn't listen..."

Anyway, just wanted to say that if you haven't seen the TV series, you're missing something very special. Those of us who are of a certain age will be familiar with Ken Burns' early works, most notably his mini series The Civil War, which became compulsive viewing way back in 1990.

Since then, he's been responsible for some of the best TV documentaries ever shown. Admittedly, they are US centred but that doesn't make them any less memorable. Here in the UK, his series on baseball probably passed us by but The West, which he produced and which was written by Ward and directed by Steven Ives, was unmissable. If you're interested in history and haven't seen either The West or The Civil War, then do seek them out if you can.

They are terrific.

There's also a tie-in book to The West, which will grace anyone's bookshelf.

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