by Steve Lancaster 5/28/14
The History Channel is currently running a three day mini-series on WWI, the interwar years, and WWII focusing on leaders who served in WWI and came to power just before or during WWII. The idea is exceptional. However, the product is little more than a rehash of pop 20th century history, a Cliff’s Notes version of a critical 30 years in world history. I realize that even in 6 hours of television time the task of conveying understanding of the years 1914-1945 is a challenge and some oversights can be forgiven in the interests of brevity.
The show begins with Wilson, portrayed as agonizing about the prospect of American involvement in the European war which in 1916 has been going for two years. Wilson is struggling to keep the US out of the war in spite of sinking of ships like the Lusitania in May of 1915 with Americans killed and injured.
We then get flashback to 1914 and the assignation of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife as the sole casus belli almost no attention is paid to the political struggling in Germany and Austro-Hungry over the Serbian problem. It was the Second Balkan War (1913) and its aftermath that persuaded Berchtold and his foreign office that Austria-Hungary had to destroy Serbia. Vienna started drafting the memorandum-plan to crush Serbia two weeks before Sarajevo. In short there was going to be a war regardless, the only question was German involvement.
Of course we have the Kaiser sitting in Berlin pulling the strings, more Cliff’s Notes history, in fact the Kaiser ordered the Austrians to call off the Serbian war, but when the Austrians did declare war on Serbia on July 28, it was because the German foreign minister told them to do it. In short the monarch was deceived by his own government.
It was not to support the Austrians that the German leaders had maneuvered in July. It was just the reverse; it was to secure Austria’s support for themselves in their own war. Germany’s generals had to perform the trick of first getting Austria involved in a war and then getting it to change its enemy. Moltke, who more than any officer in Germany, wanted the war with Russia and France is shuffled to the sidelines in 1915 because of his leadership failure on the Western front, “this war which I prepared and initiated” It is an arresting thought that, to the extent that any individual did so, this modest, unexceptional, and indeed rather ordinary career army officer started the Great War, and thereby ushered in the twentieth century, with all of its horrors and wonders.
Tonight the show focused on the interwar years, 1919-1939. No mention was made of the League of Nations or the efforts Wilson went to the get the agreement passed in the senate. No mention is made of the 1922/23 naval disarmament conference in Washington which resulted in an American and British reduction in naval development that would prove crucial in the late 1930’s.
Of course the hero of the series was FDR. The viewer comes away thinking that FDR personally built the Golden Gate and dug the foundations for Hover Dam all the while battling the Republicans for more money for social programs. The series gives a nod to Keynesian economics by stating that while America and Great Britain use billions in public money taken from the military budgets, Hitler is doing the exact opposite.
The usual cast of experts are rung in for commentary, including Colin Powell, Dick Chaney and a host of progressive history professors to lend gravitas to the light weight narration. Powell in one way or another keeps to the progressive theme of don’t blame me Bush did it over my objections and Chaney offers no interesting comments, mute the TV while they are on and you will miss nothing.
One of the most glaring errors and in my opinion unforgivable for a cable channel called the History channel; Douglas MacArthur is portrayed in 1933 as General of the Army, a five star rank and the person playing him wears the five stars, additionally, George C. Marshal is portrayed wearing the same rank in 1939 neither man held this rank until December 1944.
In short these and other omissions and inaccuracies make the series unwatchable for any student of history and sadly insulting for the level of ignorance that the producers seem to believe Americans have about world history. Perhaps, I should be more forgiving after all the people who watch this series have no knowledge of history before they were born.
No, it sucks. • (1511 views)