Two If By Sea

While repeatedly requesting and failing to receive Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix from Netflix, I had the opportunity this month to receive and view the entire Victory at Sea series.  I had listened to my father’s LPs of the soundtrack in my youth, but its decade of syndication had elapsed long before I started haunting late afternoon television.

As a documentary, it had little impact out here at the beginning of the 21st century; much of the footage was already familiar to me, and the narration was breathy and pre-ironic.  The producers were limited to Anglo-American film library plus what they captured from the Axis; the sparse Soviet film contribution consisted mainly of an obviously-reconstructed depiction of the liberation of Sevastopol, complete with the gallant proletarian soldiers wearing full dress medals into battle with the Fascist horde.

What was tremendously clear is how deeply the series informed a generation of Americans in their view of The Best War Ever.  The main theme, of course, was The Perils of Appeasement, as the British and French foolishly hesitated before throwing another generation into the meat grinder.  British fortitude and American industry get the most exposure; donnybrooks like Stalingrad and Kursk are only mentioned as showcases for Lend-Lease.  The nettlesome complications of collaboration under Axis occupation are given short shrift, as was the entire "China Incident."

In the 1950s and 1960s, there wasn’t much room in the media landscape for an alternative to NBC, for a more nuanced perspective of the Second World War.  Consequently, the Baby Boom generation was ill-equipped for a decade of counter-insurgency in Indochina.  These days, with our proliferating media options, we would never be so hobbled.

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