PBS’s “The Great War”

The American Experience has run a series called the “Great War.” More appropriately it could be called “Woodrow Wilson and American Fascism.”

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/great-war/

Creatively this is an excellent series.  Whoever was responsible for getting footage did a great job.  The writing, though had some rather drastic  flaws.  Far too much time was spent on what were, at the time, side issues, like racial politics and women’s sufferage.  While Wilson’s racism is well known and his segregation efforts fairly well presented on other programs it did have some bearing on his actions. But were racial politics so important that they essentially crowd out the war itself?  It’s not as if turn of the Century racism is a subject that is not touched on.  Rather the opposite, if what I see in a typical Black history month is any indication. Yet dealing with various issues about African Americans absorbed about 1/4 or more of the airtime.  The woman’s sufferage stuff was just wasted time that didn’t really deserve the time it got at all.

Especially when things like the lack of preparation on the part of the Army Ordnance Dept. got left out completely and only one sentence said anything about shortages of equipment.  To me that was a far more important and not really discussed part of the history that had far more bearing on the war.

Then there was the outright take over of America’s rail system.  That massive turn toward Progressive Socialism didn’t even get mentioned.  To say nothing of the other takeovers and government operation of businesses.  Add that to the fact that the government didn’t want give the railroads back to their owners after the war was over.

Frankly the program touched very little on the consequences of the war outside Wilson’s attempt to get the fourteen points as a basis for the peace.  We saw nothing from the rest of the allies, the countries that had bled so much before the US even entered the war.

As documentary of America’s involvement in WW1, The Great War is at best middling.  The footage and the presentations of people like Eddie Ridenbaker and other noteworthies who participated in the war was well done. As was were the parts about the Harlem Hellfighters and some of the other units. The use of propaganda and activities that can only be called Fascist on the part of the Wilson Administration was also well covered.  For that the series gets a recommendation.

On the other hand the constant pounding of racial politic and the feminist movement are down check.  Almost none of that should have been in a documentary about “over there.” Certainly not to lengths of which the show went.  Too much time was spent going over and over how horrible white were and that cost minutes that really could have been spent on other things in a six hour miniseries.

If you are interested in more details about WW1 “The Great War” YouTube channel is doing a week by week summary of the war with frequent specials about who, what , where and why.

https://www.youtube.com/user/TheGreatWar

Highly recommended.

 

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2 comments

  1. David A. Smith · April 15

    The earlier coverage of WWII suffered the same (predictable?) flaws, which made it easier for me to not set aside time to watch this one. Thanks for sitting through it and validating my decision.

    Like

    • jccarlton · April 15

      My problem is that if they could have just set the feminist and racial politic in proportion they could have done a good job on complex and not very well understood subject. Instead they produced something that was less than useful.

      Like

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