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Archive for July 23rd, 2017

by Sam Juliano

More documentaries, narrative films and volumes have been made or written about the cataclysmic event known as World War II, than about any era in world history.  It is estimated that anywhere between 50 and 85 million people were erased during the six years the conflict was fought in theaters around the globe making it the most widespread war in history, and directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries.   Because the war affected so many and was fought on so many continents, historians and those who remain endlessly fascinated if deeply disturbed by the conflict’s long ranging implications, there are many who prefer to focus on different aspects of the war. i.e. the Holocaust, the war in the Pacific, the European front, the Battle for Stalingrad, the Battle of Britain and so on.  Any attempt to encapsulate this unconscionably horrific event via an overview will almost always result in the need for expansion or studied elaboration.  Because there have always been new revelations, there will always be new stories to tell, maiden reports of facts freshly unearthed, and changing perspectives connected to this most heinous paradigm of human suffering and mass degradation in the whole pantheon of human existence.  What we have confidently concluded is that if such an all-encompassing epic struggle had been fought today, what with the advance weaponry, and ability to forge precision strikes, a doomsday scenario would be almost impossible to dispel.  War historians continue to explore the various political, psychological and social instabilities that triggered the calamity, and will no doubt continue to well into the future or until the time when another event of equal or greater ferocity will make such a study a moot point.

The list of books connected to the Second World War comprise the most populated literary sub-category in existence, and any attempt to list them all or even a representative selection would prove a futile exercise.  Like other World War II buffs, I’ve ready many over the years, but will restrict my inclusions here to William H. Schirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Anna Reid’s Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, Donald L. Miller’s The Story of World War II; Alan Bullock’s Hitler: A Study of Tyranny,  Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, not to mention several works by William Manchester on Churchill, MacArthur and the economics of the war and of course the beloved The Diary of Anne Frank and Night by Ellie Wiesel.  There have been more documentaries on the subject than you can shake a stick at, with enduring works like Shoah, Night and Fog, The Sorrow and the Pity, Listen to Britain, Auschwitz and Fires Were Started perhaps the most venerated of all.

The cinema never seems to lose focus for the subject either, and some of the most highly regarded motion pictures about the subject include Schindler’s List, Atonement, Night and Fog, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Come and See, Au Revoir Les Enfants, Hope and Glory,  Patton, From Here to Eternity, Rome Open City, Army of Shadows, Letters from Iwo Jima, Ivan’s Chilhood, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Closely Watched Trains, The Train, The Pianist, Downfall, The Bridge over the River Kwai; Aopocalypse Now, Full Medal Jacket, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Mrs. Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, and the Hungarian Fateless among countless others.  The subject is largely and understandably the most austere of any filmed, so almost as a necessity to offer some levity, we have guffawed uneasily at the likes of  Ernest Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be, Mel Brooks The Producers, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards and the television sitcom Hogan’s Heroes.  The animation masterwork from Studio Gibli, The Grave of the Fireflies also made its point most powerfully.  For all the great works that have been created in the arts though and the war as an ever aching reminder of the worst horror people can survive to recall did serve as the basis to some of the most emotional works ever- there is one that in terms of condensed scope, archival footage, newsreels, interviews, and historical reportage and analysis that is the one that stands tallest as a permanent record of that most terrible of times, one that brings all aspects of the war from the storm clouds and events that set the stage for unrest and mistrust, culminating in nefarious plotting, armed aggression, mass murder and devastation that hasn’t been seen before or since. (more…)

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