Saturday, October 1, 2005


This one's been on the back burner for a few days.

One of the excellent documentary series in my DVD collection is the British series The World at War. It was originally broadcast on PBS in the seventies. I’m not sure you’d call it enjoyable but it’s close to the real thing most of us are going to get. The set includes a “how we did it and why” documentary with the producer. Either film footage and or on screen interviews. No reenactments, period. There is some footage that was staged for the camera but you are told about and why it was done. Excellent, and I do mean excellent narration from Lawrence Olivier. That man could do more with a slight inflection of voice than a paragraph of prose.

They managed to get interviews with soldiers and pilots from both sides. There are interviews with Hitler's secretary and German civilians who opposed the war as much as they could, including Dietrich Bonhoffers' sister in law. They tracked down Holocaust survivors and Heinrich Himmler's attache. And got him on film. Oral history at it's best.  

For me, the most effective footage is of bombed out cities, columns of refugees and interviews with survivors of the bombings. On both sides. Allied or Axis, in the end the civilians took it in the teeth, as usual.

Americans haven’t had anything like this happen to our people since the Civil War. Parts of Kansas, Missouri and sections of the south saw devastation nearing the scale of some of the earliest bombing raids. By the time the allies perfected long range bombing they were able outdo the Luftwaffe on a scale of at least a hundred to one.

Nothing on the scale of Hamburg, Dresden, Stalingrad, Tokyo or the fall of Berlin has ever happened on American soil. Sorry folks, as bad as September 11, 2001 was, it wasn’t even close. According to the series the Russians had nearly 200,000 casualties in the taking of Berlin. There’s never been an accurate count of the German casualties when the city fell. And that was one city. Just one city out of hundreds of cities and villages on both sides of the war.

The generation that fought in WWII is passing. The Vietnam generation is aging. None of politicians currently in office have seen combat or cities in flames. I’m willing to bet that very few of them have seen this series. Our leaders criticize European leaders for being unwilling to go to war. We don’t have any room to put the French or Germans down for their reluctance to send their citizens to war based on evidence that hasn’t held up. God knows they’ve seen enough destruction in the last century to last anyone with an ounce of empathy for several generations.

American cities have never had to endure night after night of bombing. We’ve never had a city with so many fires that the river supplying the fire crews literally dropped below the water intakes. Or had fires so fierce that it didn’t matter if the city was blacked out. The flames lit up the Thames so brightly it was like a beacon.

I never, ever want our people to find out first hand what such a war is like. But, maybe if we could imagine it just a little we’d be a little less eager to inflict it on someone else.

Oh, and that goes double for the ones setting off car bombs. But, what did we expect? The Sunnis have held the power in Iraq for several generations. Watching what the current party in power in our country is willing to do cement their hold on political control can we really expect the Sunnis to do any less. As least we’re still content with verbal dynamite. At least most of the time.


ereading7 said...

I said something like this after 9/11, but to just a very few people.  
I have never seen the documentary, but sounds like it should be required viewing for all federal officials, especially the Dept of Defense.

lisaram1955 said...

Maybe if we emphasize the devastation produced by "conventional warfare," we might get somewhere; or  maybe not.  Holding the threat of nuclear warfare over mankind's head doesn't even slow them down anymore.  It's kind of a "catch-22" these days:  Everyone seems to believe that no one will ever "push the button" on The Bomb, and they never knew first-hand the destruction of conventional warfare, so they think it's somehow acceptable to wage it (on other people) because at least they are not destroying the world.  It's all become an excuse to CONTINUE war, rather than a reason to stop it.  Lisa  :-[