15 May 2008 | dgrahamwatson
Over sexed, over paid and over here, ----- yes but there's more to the story!
I still think that the gold standard of WW II documentaries is the 1970's World at War series. Laurence Oliver's ominous Macbeth style of narration set the tone and the 26 episode series covered WW II really well. Critics point out that it showed the war from more of a British point of view. I suppose the fact that Britain and it's dominions were fighting against the Germans and the Japanese for longer than any of the other allies in the Far East, North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, Scandinavia and continental Europe is perhaps understandable. If casualties alone was the standard used to measure sacrifice or relevance then the USSR could lay claim to that . Over 15 % of it's population in some form of another perished in the eastern front amounting to millions in a war of annihilation against the Germans. Taking it on it's own I don't think there is a conflict in human history that can match the brutality and barbarism that took millions of lives in such a short space of time. They are all important topics in the context of WW II and they have over the years been excellently covered and narrated by American as well as British production companies. One aspect that has not been really been examined thoroughly is the WW II purely from an American point of view.
Ken Burns probably needed to remind a new generation of Americans whose understanding of war is limited to computer games and watching smart bombs and predator drones on TV or on you-tube bombarding specs on the ground from a command center in Florida. In previous wars, Americans endured greater sacrifices. A lot of boots on the ground was the order of the day and American troops encountered huge numbers of well armed and fanatical opponents. Interestingly Burns seemed to focus on four states of the USA, Connecticut, Alabama, Wisconsin and California. I don't know why he picked these these in particular, but probably because it gave a good geographical balance of how it affected the lives of the families and the servicemen in the USA.
There is no doubt that mainland USA protected by the vast Atlantic and Pacific oceans had an easier time in WW II than the other allies. The US was never really under a serious threat of either large air raids or invasion. Yes crude attacks were attempted both by the Germans and Japanese but only for propaganda purposes. If it was an accident of geography (and the isolation explains the USA's late entry into the war) lucky for the USA and lucky for the world too! Remember it was a world war and the arsenal of democracy as it was known could offer vital military equipment and manpower for the war effort.
From a standing start,(although lend lease to Britain and armament production had been steadily rising since 1940) the USA really got it's industry going on a total war footing. Japan and Germany had a ten year head start in war capacity and training. By 1942 Americans were fighting in North Africa, by 1943 Italy, 1944 France ,as well as doing a bit of island hopping in the pacific to boot and by 1945 it was all over. In fact Americas limitless natural resources, raw materials, manpower (and woman power) and huge industrial potential uninterrupted from air raids were vital. Not only was it important for victory but also in shaping the post-war world, i.e. the Marshall plan. Americas efforts in the aftermath of the war with European and Japanese reconstruction should not be underestimated.
The American military with their self confidence, bold ideas, optimism and big band music and might have irritated and annoyed the other allies. In Britain they were over sexed, over paid and over there. However, amusing that might sound it doesn't really go anywhere in telling the whole story. On the cover of this DVD set there is a photograph of a tired and gaunt looking American GI, a far cry from the beaming soldier fresh off the boat in the snazzy uniform out on the town. He could have been from any where in the USA perhaps Connecticut or Wisconsin, but his haunted face tells the story. He was probably in his early 20's wanted to go college or get married, join his fathers business, work on the farm or be a lawyer, perhaps he wanted to be a baseball player. Yet his life was turned upside down, conscripted into the service and after boot camp was shipped off thousands of miles from where he grew up to places he had never heard of!
American blood was spilled as far and wide as Iwo Jima, North Africa, Normandy, Bastogne and Guadalcanal, Anzio, Remargen and Midway, just to name a few, ten of thousands of Americans died on land in the air and at sea. American forces were involved in some of the most vicious fighting of the second world war. Victory over Hitler nor Japan could have been achieved without US participation, but the USA couldn't have done it all alone too, allies were vital too.
It gives an interesting account of the war from how it impacted the lives of Americans and how they saw it from their point of view. I got the impression from Burns that the US fought harder in the pacific, it was more personal, probably because of pearl harbor but moreover the Japanese were really easy to hate, they were exceptionally cruel to their captives. Well narrated in an easy going style by Keith David. Must movies for Americans to watch after this is THE VICTORS 1963 and finally the very impressive BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES 1949.