Maybe it's because I see the path of how WWII (even WWI) led to the world we have today (WWII — Cold War — Middle East — War on Terror). Maybe it's the unprecedented Armageddon-like nature of WWII for entire continents. But I'm endlessly fascinated by WWII. More specifically, the European theater.
"Unprecedented" would be the word I could use in every sentence here. When, in the history of our world, had a group (six million, to be more accurate) of human beings been systematically collected, experimented on, and erased? When had every corner of the world been engaged in, and then forever geographically and ethnically altered by, a single war? The largest-scale war ever. Entire towns and villages were bombed to ashes. Europe was dragged from the old world to the new world. Some countries are still reeling, 60 years later, economically, emotionally, culturally. Others — such as England and France — are sound in the 21st century but still dealing with the influx of immigrants, as with Romania, which was just admitted into the European Union last year.
What effect could the American Baby Boom have had on the world population when Russia alone lost 25 million people in the war? I could write bits and pieces and speculate forever.
The War by Ken Burns is only told by the American perspective. It's not even close to a definitive account. A documentary never can be — we would have to spend the rest of our lives watching. WWII documentaries and books are, at best, pieces of a giant historic puzzle that will never be completed. Considering the scope of the war and the people involved, The War would have to be much longer than it's seven-part, 14-hour length. Burns acknowledges this:
- The Second World War was fought in thousands of places, too many for any one accounting. This is the story of four American towns and how their citizens experienced that war.
But it's still worth 14 hours of your time.
•Did you know that American housewives were asked to save and turn in the fat they cooked bacon in to help the war effort? If you're a nerd like me, you'll want to know why: the nitroglycerin in the fat was used to make explosives.
•The Allies expected the advance far into France a few days after landing on the beach at Normandy. It took them until July because of the unforgiving Normandy countryside. But when they rolled into Paris, every French woman kissed every soldier on both cheeks.
•The Americans could have a few hundred German soldiers surrounded, and they'd surrender. They could have a single Japanese soldier captured, and he'd fight everyone to the death. The Germans and Americans took a reprieve from bombing and shooting every afternoon to tend to their wounded and dead. The Japanese were relentless and non-stop.
•One soldier recounts his first bombing mission, and being physically sick after landing back at the base, knowing he had just killed people. Another recounts how instead of remorse (he was a Sunday school teacher and choir boy back at home), he felt pride and excitement after his first kill.
•Still another describes coming face to face with a German soldier, his hands in the air. The German reached into his coat, most likely to get a gun. The American knocks him out. Turns out, the German was reaching in to get a picture of his wife and children, a sign of his humanity, to say, I'm the enemy, but I'm a father and husband, I'm a man. "That's war," the American soldier says.
The War is far from perfect, but it's still worth your time.