Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Forgotten Lesson

As they say, those who forget history are bound to repeat it. Over the years, if we’ve learned one thing, it is that social reengineering through the political process does not work. Case in point—the issue of prohibition, the latest subject of Ken Burns’ newest documentary.

Ken Burns may be the most recognizable, historical documentarian of our time. He has dived into such topics as the Civil War, World War II, Baseball, History of Jazz, the Story of Lewis and Clark and the National Parks. His newest documentary will air on October 2-4, 2011 at 8:00 p.m. on PBS. What Ken Burns does best is tell a good story. But more than that, he takes complex issues and dry history and makes them accessible and understandable to the average viewer. He knows how to personalize a story that touches the human heart.

The history and the effects of prohibition is ia the kind of material that Ken Burns excels in. In our current political environment, it’s hard to believe that it was possible to pass a Constitutional Amendment in 1920 that banned the sale and consumption of alcohol. It was social reengineering gone amuck. Propelled by the temperance movement and Protestant Christianity, alcohol was seen as a form of sin that needed to be eradicated from America. Although it might have been based in good intentions, the consequences can still be felt to this day.

The issues that Ken Burns explores in his documentary, Prohibition, are just as relevant today. What is the proper role of government? What are individual rights and responsibilities? Nothing has really changed over the years. We are still debating these issues.

Prohibition was the ultimate example of government intervention in the lives of its citizens. When the law went into affect banning alcohol, it turned law abiding citizens into criminals. It also glamorized drinking as fun and exciting. It turned criminals into celebrities and mocked authority.

The question is have we learned from our past mistakes? As we all know, we are in the political season again. And many of the same issues are now front and center. Is it possible to legislate morality? Do I have the right to force my views of how I live my life on the general public? I’m sure that Ken Burns’ latest work, Prohibition, is going to be utterly fascinating. Perhaps this will spark a discussion and dialogue about the future and the direction that America must take in the political, cultural, and social arenas in order to guarantee our individual rights and freedoms.

Watch the full episode. See more Ken Burns.

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