I finally found time to view the History Channel’s multipart series, The World Wars, which aired last week and I was absolutely appalled.
Perhaps the less said about this egregious travesty of historical falsehoods and distortions of facts the better.
It is simply neocon agit-prop featuring “the usual suspects” (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, McCain, McChrystal, Panetta, etc.) from the unconstitutional, preemptive wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq as “expert commentators” and their court historian Amen corner echo chamber. This is not objective history but advocacy for the unrestrained warfare state in which these war criminals were key participants characterized by their attempts to portray a historical continuity from WWI to WWII to the failed wars in which they presided over.
This disaster suffers from many of the same flaws in the earlier History Channel production, The Men Who Built America.
The programs were characterized by cartoonish docudrama recreations and clichéd observation by the spurious commentators discussed above. Recognizable faces from failed neocon wars under Bush and Obama do not ensure authoritative historical observations of the First and Second World Wars.
Episode one’s introductory treatments of Hitler in the trenches, Churchill and the bloody fiasco at Gallipoli, and Patton and Pancho Villa, were fairly well done. My grandfather was in the Army with General Pershing going in pursuit of Villa and later in France with Pershing in the Argonne Forest campaign in 1918.
Yet within the first 30 minutes of this first episode there is one of the most profound distortions of actual historical truth I have seen, making the film absolutely useless in a classroom setting.
It is the manufactured account of Stalin and the Russian Revolution. There were two Russian Revolutions in 1917. The first in February was led by disgruntled workers, soldiers and deserters back from the front, and housewives angry at the food situation in the cities because of the war. Lenin was still in exile in Switzerland. The Bolsheviks played almost no role in this people’s uprising.
This Revolution forced the Czar to abdicate and be placed under arrest. A Provisional Government led by Menshevik Social Democrat Alexander Kerensky was established. Russia remained in the war.
Lenin and his Bolshevik entourage arrived in the famous sealed train at the Finland Station in Petrograd in April. He denounced the February Revolution as “bourgeois,” and called for opposition to Kerensky’s Provisional Government. (Kerensky had been a student of Lenin’s father in Simbirsk.) Stalin, who had returned from exile in Siberia in mid-March and had taken control of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda, had been campaigning for support for the Provisional Government. Lenin soon issued his famous April Theses, calling for Land (for the peasants, Bread (for the starving masses), and Peace (an end to Russian participation in WWI).
Later that year Lenin and the Bolsheviks were denounced as German agents provocateurs and traitors. Lenin shaved his beard and again went into hiding and exile in Finland.
In October Lenin returned from Finland. From the Smolny Institute for girls, Lenin directed the Bolshevik coup d’état against the Provisional Government, and the so-called “storming of the Winter Palace” to establish the Bolshevik’s government in Russia. The October Revolution had actually been relatively peaceful. The revolutionary forces already had de facto control of the capital thanks to the defection of the city garrison. Few troops had stayed to defend the Provisional Government in the Winter Palace. Most citizens had simply continued about their daily business while the Provisional Government was actually overthrown.
Contrary to what was depicted in the series, Stalin played almost no major role in these events. The repeated images of Lenin and Stalin together are reminiscent of the duplicitous and doctored propaganda photos later created by Stalinists to elevate and mythologize Stalin’s role in the Revolution.
The Bolsheviks did not “storm the Winter Palace.”
This is sheer cinematic propaganda from filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein in his epic, Oktober:
The Soviet Union was not formally created until 1923 after years of bloody civil war between the Bolshevik “Reds” and the anti-communist, pro-Czarist “Whites.” There were also the “Greens” but virtually no mainstream court historian mentions them because they do not fit in their tight little narrative.
There was no discussion of the role of Trotsky in the Revolution. It was Trotsky who was responsible for the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, ending Russian participation in WWI. And it was Trotsky who successfully led the Red Army in the civil war against the Whites.
Mussolini, before the war was more than an “antiwar activist, a pacifist.” He was a prominent radical Marxist socialist revolutionary, editor of the leading Socialist newspaper, Avanti!
Avanti!, under Mussolini, had an anti-war stance on the war, urging neutrality for Italy when the war began in August 1914. Mussolini formed the pro-war, interventionist newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia and the Fasci Rivoluzionari d’Azione Internazionalista (“Revolutionary Fasci for International Action”) in October 1914.
This paper was 180 degrees different than his editorial stance at Avanti! Why the sudden change? He was bribed by the French who provided funds to start his publication. Mussolini was always the ultimate opportunist. He soon left to join the Italian Army.
There is nothing in the series about Churchill and the scandal (and nefarious cover-up) regarding the sinking of the Lusitania.
It was George C. Marshall (later Chief of Staff of the Army during WWII) who was instrumental in the planning and coordination of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which contributed to the defeat of the German Army on the Western Front. But this inconvenient fact does not fit within the scripted narrative regarding Douglas MacArthur and George S. Patton in the series.
There was nothing about the savage and inhumane British naval blockade of Germany from 1914, continuing after the war until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. While millions staved, a whole generation of German children grew up with the ravages of hunger seared in their memory. This would be the generation that would fight WWII for Germany.
Rather than undertaking a detailed torturous critique of the numerous historical inaccuracies, omissions, and flaws in the second episode of the series, I will simply urge you view the excellent BBC docudrama series, World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West.
It is vastly more historically accurate, based on recently released archival materials in the former Soviet Union which were cloistered away since the end of WWII, and contains higher production values and much better actor portrayals of major figures such as Stalin, Molotov, Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, etc.
World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West, part 1
World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West, part 2
World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West, part 3
World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West, part 4
World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West, part 5
World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West, part 6
The award-winning documentary, The Soviet Story, boldly presents many previously hidden aspects or inconvenient truths concerning the intimate relationship between National Socialist Germany and the Soviet Union as partners in aggression and genocide.
These are essential films to watch in reaching an understanding of the Second World War.
I have used these exceptional documentaries in the past with my World History students and will continue to do so in the future.
There is much more to the story of Pearl Harbor than depicted in the film series.
The fighting in Italy did not stop with Mussolini removed from office by the King of Italy as shown in the series. It intensified dramatically by the Germans sent to engage the Allied troops there. Mussolini was not just “hiding out in northern Italy.” He had been liberated in a daring German commando raid by Otto “Scarface” Skorzeny. Mussolini, under Hitler’s guidance, established a Nazi puppet-state, a new Fascist regime in northern Italy, the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italian, known as the Republic of Salò).
The skewed attitude of the series was repeatedly demonstrated by stating that FDR and Churchill were the two most important people in winning the war, downplaying Stalin. There was no mention of the undeniable fact that the bulk of the fighting which took place during WWII was between the Germans and the Soviets, of the 27 million Soviet deaths in the conflict, or the 70,000 towns and villages destroyed in the war. Picture the USA from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic coast, with every school, factory, hospital, apartment building or house, in every town and city destroyed, along with 27 million dead. That was the devastated Soviet Union after the War.
Patton was repeatedly shown as the great tank commander of the conflict but there was no mention that the greatest tank battle in world history took place between the Germans and Soviets at the Battle of Kursk, the major turning point in the war.
Who was ultimately responsible for beginning WWII in Europe? The Chief Culprit
FDR and Churchill were not overly suspicious of Stalin as portrayed in the film series.
They actively competed to gain his favor while openly back-stabbing each other at the various “Big Three” conferences. They affectionately called him “Uncle Joe.” Churchill even gave the atheist Generalissimo Stalin a rare crusader’s sword.
There is no mention in the film series of the Wall Street plot to overthrow FDR.
There was no mention in the film series of the Yalta conference and the detailed plans for post-war Europe.
There is no mention in the film series of the Japanese Rape of Nanking in December 1937/January1938 where 250,000 Chinese were butchered and 60,000 women were savagely raped.
There was no mention in the film series of the Bataan Death March in the Philippines after MacArthur left or other horrific mistreatment of Allied POWs in Asia or Europe.
There was no mention in the film series of Generals Eisenhower or Marshall. It was Eisenhower (as Patton’s commanding officer) who ultimately ordered film crews document the Holocaust and bring German civilians and military to view the camps, not the anti-Semitic Patton.
The film did not even get the basic facts correct concerning the April 1945 deaths of FDR and Hitler.
Hitler was shown alone in his Berlin bunker committing suicide with a poison pill and a pistol. Not shown was his dog Blondi (who he poisoned to see if the pills worked) and his new bride Eva Braun (his long-time mistress he married the day before) who also swallowed one of the cyanide capsules.
Not discussed were the facts that after V-E Day (May 8, 1945) with the surrender of Germany, Japan’s prime minister and his cabinet actively sought to negotiate surrender terms. Their only major condition from “unconditional surrender” was that the Emperor Hirohito not be prosecuted as a war criminal. Under the Shinto religion the emperor was considered a god.
Truman, Stalin, and Churchill met in mid-July at the “Big Three” Potsdam conference. It was there that Truman learned that the explosion of Trinity (the first atomic bomb in the New Mexico dessert) had been successful, and it was there also that Churchill learned that he had been replaced as prime minister by Clement Atlee of the Labor Party, not as shown in the film in his office in London. Atlee flew to Potsdam, and the new “Big Three” had to pose for new photos to reassure their peoples back home that the alliance was still intact.
After the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, the Soviets entered the war against Japan the next day. On August 9 the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Yet it was the massive Soviet intervention into the war that brought about the surrender of Japan (who had been trying to surrender for months).
Historians have argued that the dropping of the bombs were unnecessary and actually prolonged the war which could have ended months earlier. Truman was not FDR. He did not share Roosevelt’s attitude toward Stalin. Guided by his hardline secretary of state James Byrnes, he ordered the use of the bombs to threaten Stalin in the post-war world.
Ultimately Japan surrendered and the emperor was not prosecuted as a war criminal, the conditions Japan had sought in May.
This Academy Award winning documentary is an excellent example of post-WWII, pre-Cold War propaganda (the target is a revitalized and aggressive Germany, not an expansionist and totalitarian Soviet Union). It is very effectively produced, incorporating a powerful emotional narrative with many searing images familiar to theater audiences of the day who had been exposed to Frank Capra’s celebrated Why We Fight series. It warns that the defeated German population still contains Nazi supporters and that the world must stay ever vigilant against the prospect that a new Hitler will arise within Germany. The film combines dramatized content mixed with archive footage.
So long as race hatred, bigotry and intolerance are found, Hitler Lives!