Gone are the days when the History Channel disproportionately focused on programs about World War II instead of disproportionately fixating on Bigfoot and Mayan prophecies. Until now. History Channel has a new series which stands apart from the network’s bizarre trend of shows about UFOs, astrology, and monster-hunters. “WWII in HD”, a throwback to History Channel’s roots, is a truly innovative series.
“WWII in HD” features almost exclusively rare color war footage. The effect of this is to enliven the 1940s. It feels like watching film from the Vietnam War, which seems more “real” to me because I associate it with color.
The other outstanding element about this series is the dialogue. The show follows twelve American men and women during their service in the war. They are interviewed as elderly veterans, but when the war footage is shown, the interviews transition into voice-overs by younger men and women. This technique is elegantly executed and makes you aware that these aged heroes of an inaccessible age were once the youth of the world. The dialogue is poignant, and the transitional phrases especially are epic.
Finally, the most lasting impression of the series is the footage of carnage. I have heard veterans speak of that shocking aspect of war – the odor of burning flesh, bodies thickly littering the battlefield, disfigured faces. But hearing about it—no matter how vividly told—can not compare to seeing it in color. Short of smelling the awful stench of war, “WWII in HD” portrays the nauseating reality of indiscriminate and grotesque death in battle.
In one episode, President Franklin Roosevelt asks a war correspondent whether he should allow a documentary film about the Battle of Tarawa to be show uncensored to the American public. The reporter, who had been embedded with the Marines in combat, replied that the soldiers wanted the civilians back home to know that the war was not all about victory and glory. The documentary, which featured graphic portrayals of combat, went on to win an Academy Award and significantly increased the sale of war bonds. Like “With the Marines at Tarawa”, “WWII in HD” is a transformative and balanced memorial to the Second World War.
In the early 1990s, Russian-Americans joked that bananas were the national food of Russia, because newly arrived Russian immigrants to America would eat them zealously and in abundance. Of course, quite the opposite was true. Bananas were scarce in the Soviet Union so Russians who moved to Western countries were simply making up for lost time. My parents like to remember that shortly after our family’s arrival to the United States, I declared, “I will never get sick of bananas!”
That was the end of 1992, and I was seven years old. Since then, years of consuming banana slices with morning cereal or in cafeteria fruit medleys have eroded my—and perhaps most Russian-Americans’—enthusiasm for the fruit. Time heals all wounds and also dissipates all wonder. On November 9, 1989, the Iron Curtain was lifted, and for the first time in decades, East Germans crossed over the Berlin Wall, which would be dismantled in the weeks that followed. I don’t remember any of this, as I was only four years old. The only political events I remember appreciating while I lived in the Soviet Union were the inflation of the Soviet (then Belarusian) currency and Mikhail Gorbachev’s house arrest in August 1991. He graciously waved to me through the television screen in my grandparents’ living room and was worried, a journalist said, about his political enemies poisoning his food as they held the country hostage for four days. I was impressed by his calmness.
This is all I remember, though, of what the Economist recently described as the “most remarkable political event of most people’s lives . . . [which] set free millions of individuals and . . . brought to an end a global conflict that threatened nuclear annihilation.” I was young and years of living in the United States have made the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and Gorbachev memories from another lifetime. But this morning, twenty years to the day when the Iron Curtain fell, my father and I ceremoniously split a banana in two and each ate a half, savoring every bite.