Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Remembering World War II

Since I had the opportunity to visit several World War II-related sites in the UK last summer, and especially since the recent D-Day Commemorations, I've had a heightened interest in the history and personalities of World War II. I've watched a few recent documentaries, in particular  "The World Wars" a recent three-part series on the History Channel, which takes an overall look at the entire period from before the first War to the end of the second.

In addition to the traditional newsreel footage and academic interviews, this program features richly produced and somewhat melodramatic reenactments featuring pivotal moments in the lives of Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt and Tojo. It also includes perspectives from recent political figures, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, Senator John McCain and former British Prime Minister John Major.

While I find it fascinating to explore (or rediscover) the personal stories and motivations of historical figures, the reenactments seemed almost absurd at times: A long, slow push into the glaring visage of Adolph Hitler; the almost Hitchcockian profiles of Winston Churchill; the contemplative Roosevelt sitting alone in his wheelchair, or Stalin moving dramatically through a smokey environment. The symbolic moments were so frequent and over-produced that they distracted from the story at hand. Perhaps the inclusion of modern politicos offers a perspective that few share, but other than offer star quality to the program, I wonder if their true value to relating this history is a bit exaggerated, compared to their appearance in the program. Only John Major, perhaps, can at least share the experience with Winston Churchill of having been the British Prime Minister.

There are endless other documentaries, of course, as well as narrative films, that more effectively tell the story of a struggle that today seems barely comprehensible. There are almost an infinite number of human stories—of soldiers and civilians—that it's impossible to ever fully understand what it was like to live during that era, unsure if there would even be a future. The politically charged threats and doomsday scenarios that sometimes dominate our domestic world today are nothing compared to the very tangible international threats of that era.

Some interpretations might be better than others, but it's worth the time, I think, to honor the memory of that fading generation by occasionally revisiting their legacy.

The Battle of Britain Monument in London.

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