After moving to FiOS last summer, one of my favorite channels is the Military Channel, which is one of the many channels under the Discovery Channel umbrella. It’s basically weapons and war 24 hours a day. As a guy, it’s good stuff. One of the shows they broadcast is The World at War. This is a 26 episode British television documentary published for British television. Begun in 1969, it began airing in 1971.
It is the most in-depth series of documentaries about World War II that I have ever seen. Stretching over these 26 episodes, there are no recreations or CGI graphics. It is 100% actual footage from newsreels, battlefield video, and other footage from the era. To see people’s faces, to witness actual battles, and to see what it must have been like to have lived through that time. In addition, the producers interspersed footage with interviews with actual combatants and people in power back then. Actor Jimmy Stewart who described his time as a U.S. bomber pilot, to Averell Harriman as U.S. diplomat, to chiefs of staff, commanders, generals, from various countries who fought in the war. You watch interviews with Luftwaffe commanders as they described their missions to bomb London and the English countryside, the German people who survived bombing, the Polish people who survived the Warsaw uprising, etc. This series of documentaries was put together over two years starting in 1969, and these people were still alive at the time, and tell you first-hand what it was like.
What I also find fascinating are the background information and footage describing how the world got to the point of war and what happened behind the scenes, not just on the front lines. It was very interesting to watch how Japan slowly became a fascist state run by the military, and that their quest for expansion was to acquire the necessary natural resources that they lacked on their series of home islands. To watch footage of the common British citizens walking around rubble after the bombings, doing their best the next day to continue life. Having studied WWII before, these documentaries have brought the whole period from the 30’s to the mid 40’s to life for me.
Lastly, from Europe to Africa to Asia to the Pacific, there were so many atrocities committed by so many nations against others. The amount of people struggling to survive with limited food, no clothes, living in bombed out homes. I remember one anecdote where a Japanese woman interviewed spoke about how originally Japanese were reluctantly forced to work in factories. She tells in the interview how she worked from sunrise to late in the evening, and due to the rations, and her only meal would be the late dinner — a bowl of soup with one noodle. The people of Stalingrad who survived the Nazi invasion had no food, so they would mix sawdust into their version of bread. The number of people who died in these battles and bombings. We talk about the wars these days and how 10 or 20 people were killed in an attack. Back then, thousands of people at a time were dying in bombing raids or on the battlefront in a day. The scope of the carnage is mind-boggling.
I don’t buy DVDs any more, since I’ve found it much more economical to simply rent a film as needed. However, I’m very interested in purchasing this series and adding it to my DVD collection. It’s worth its weight in gold.