on 14 November 2011
I have not purchased this item, but instead came across it being broadcast by the History Channel, one sleepless night. What I saw in episode 1 moved me to watch two more episodes, and not for the best of reasons. What I saw confirmed what I suspected and moved me to write this review.
I have regrettably seen many poor histories of war in my time, but none quite so poor as this one. Indeed, to call it a history is misleading. Especially when compared with the benchmark of WW2 histories, the Granada series "The World at War". Here's why:
1. Lack of important detail: amazingly, some very important aspects (e.g., the causes of WW1) are glossed over (the narrator cites "increasing tensions"). Key important characters are completely omitted (e.g., Lord Halifax). I suspect insufficient research was done, leading the writer to make broad generalisations.
2. Clear bias: I am all for revisionism in history, as conventional wisdom should always be challenged (witness the various points of view on Capt. Scott's failed polar expedition, for example, and the value this debate has on weighing cultural and social norms). However, the writer descends into invective when it comes to his characterisation of Churchill and and his pre-war role. Instead of stopping at (understandably) questioning the conventional wisdom of Chamberlain being wrong to appease Hitler (there is an interesting contrast to made here with current day situations, especially in Iraq), the writer appears almost to be on a holy crusade to vindicate Neville and vilify Winston. The amount of time this invective is repeated made me wonder if the author was some long lost relative of Neville. This bias continues into the author's characterisations of whole nation states (e.g., Poland is an aggressive, unstable state; Czechoslovakia is an unstable state that stood in the way of a rational peace deal with Germany), to the point where a more cynical person than I might be left wondering if he was a Nazi apologist. Certainly, if I were a relative of a Pole or Czech who had fought for the freedom of their country, I would be insulted by such characterisations.
3. A lack of balance. It seems to me that the author wanted to address some inbalances in conventional wisdoms, which if well-motivated would be laudable. However, in doing so, balance has been thrown out of the window. Subjects such as Hitler's rise to power through popular vote, the mindset of of the German people, the Austrian and Sudeten Germans' willingness for Anschluss, America's view on the war, are dealt with in very simplistic, one dimensional terms, with the (possibly unintended) result of making it seem that Hitler was very justified in taking such action (a modern day parallel might be to lend uncritical justification for Russia for invading Georgia). In his rush to address these issues, the opportunity to address important issues (with clear benefits for today) has been missed.
4. Clear inaccuracies. Some of the "facts" presented were completely inaccurate. For example, Poland is presented as a country born out of the Versaille Treaty, whereas I always understood it to be a country reborn from Russian occupation by Germany's peace treaty with the Bolsheviks (as was Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Ukraine, all of which were reabsorbed by Russia after the Civil war). It was also heavily implied that Poland was a non-viable, "created" country that was really part of Germany and part of Russia. Again, notwithstanding Poland's long prior history as a nation state in its own right, this view seems to have little foundation, would be insulting to all the Poles I know, and could only be logical if one were seeking to support or excuse Germany's and Russia's invasion and occupation of the country (again, a modern parallel might be to support Russia's effective occupation of Poland since 1945).
5. Overall poor quality. The characterisation of key issues is poor and one dimensional. Language is poor (it does seem like a high school project, for which I would grade it D - must try harder) and some points are repeated often ("Neville was a reasonable man - wouldn't you do the same?", to paraphrase one point), just to make sure you heard it. There are other minor flaws (use of footage of a Hydrogen bomb being detonated, when such weapons were only first tested in 1952) but these pale into insignificance against other issues.
In its favour, there does seem to have been an otherwise genuine attempt to use appropriate footage. I have long tired of seeing incorrect footage (e.g., SS troops clearly in 1944 uniform supposedly representing troops who invaded France in 1940, etc), but cannot verify that this standard has been maintained throughout the series.
In summary, a very poor documentary and one likely to mislead students far more than other more conventional histories. I can understand why some reviewers state this "documentary" was "anti-American" but I doubt that was the author's intention. Frankly, it has been so poorly researched and written, so unbalanced and biased, that it is possible to draw many such conclusions.
One to avoid. I wish I could give it zero stars.