For those who don't know, I am a huge World War II aficionado. I mean, big time. Das Boot, A Bridge Too Far and The Longest Day are among my all-time favorite films. Maybe it's because my father fought in World War II, or maybe it's because the brutality of the Jewish Holocaust and Japanese invasions made the lines so clear over who was Good and who was Evil. It was a different time and a different war.
My wife was shopping for a birthday gift for her grandmother last week at Ross Dress For Less. Unfortunately, due to my mother's relentless shopping sprees whilst I was a child, I can no longer stomach being in department stores. Any department stores. My best chance of surviving it is to scout out the nearest techno-gadget section and burrow around for something interesting enough to distract me from the excruciating pain. Oh, the pain...
On this occasion, Ross Dress For Less had a large bin of DVDs at deeply discounted prices. Most of the films in there were crap—I mean, come on, they're being sold at Ross Dress For Less—but I did find a boxed set of documentaries about World War II called Crusade In The Pacific. The documentaries looked interesting enough, but the box didn't have a year listed for when the documentaries were made. I figured they'd been made in the 60s or 70s. There were 24 documentaries in all with a total running time of 600 minutes, so each episode was about 25 minutes long. So how much were they?
That's 37.5¢ per episode. No. Shut up. No matter how you slice it, that's a bargain. (And here's the punchline: Amazon is selling this for $44.99!!!)
So I got the boxed set. The 4 DVDs lingered around the house for a few days while I did other things, and then I put one documentary on for kicks. Turns out these documentaries were made in 1951, which makes them practically history in themselves, since that's only 6 years after the end of hostilities. Remember the melodramatic narrator at the beginning of Casablanca? This is that same type of narration... shit, it's entertaining just watching these documentaries to listen to that guy.
Here what one reviewer on IMDB had to say about it:
Documentary of the old style, something that would be considered propaganda today. Very often the story is dictated by the available film clips rather than the other way around. This documentary series is told with a blustery, booming voice. The intro theme music is almost propaganda itself. Sometimes the facts do surface and are interesting but it can be difficult to wait for them. The enemy is always "sneaky and cunning" the Americans "brave and stalwart". Sometimes the narrative wanders off the topic simply because of available film footage. This is not the standard that we expect today but it is interesting nonetheless.
That's pretty accurate—the documentaries aren't nail-biters, but if you like WWII history, this set of documentaries tell in great detail about many of the most significant tactical battles of the war. This other review on Amazon is a little too flag-waving but better reflects what I feel about this boxed set:
This is by far the best and most comprehensive documentary series on World War II in the Pacific I have seen thus far. It covers the Pacific war meticulously on the land, air, and sea campaigns. It was not made to entertain, but rather to inform. It covers the entire Pacific theater in authentic real films. One should not be disappointed with the black & white and grainy quality of most of the DVDs. They are after all transferred from sources of a bygone era. But the images are often fascinating to watch. They are absolutely indispensable in the recordings of history. Where paper documents alone may fail to inspire younger generations about the desperate struggles against the brutality of Imperialist Japan, this set of visual documents could project an everlasting memory of the Allied heroism that must be remembered for life.
I've gone on quite long enough about my cool little purchase, so this concludes our time for today.
But, to give thanks to those who lost their lives in deposing fascist dictators of their time, here are some sobering facts about the casualties of World War II, courtesy of Wiki:
Approximately 62 million people died in the war, about 25 million soldiers and 37 million civilians, with estimates varying widely. This total includes the estimated 10 million lives lost due to the Holocaust. Of the total deaths in World War II approximately 80% were on the Allied side and 20% on the Axis side. Most were civilians, as a result of the large-scale aerial bombing of cities, disease, starvation, and genocide.
Allied forces suffered approximately 17 million military deaths, of which about 10 million were Soviet and 4 million Chinese. Axis forces suffered about 8 million, of which more than 5 million were German. The Soviet Union suffered by far the largest death toll of any nation in the war; perhaps 23 million Soviets died in total, of which more than 12 million were civilians. The figures include deaths due to internal Soviet actions against its own people. Poland suffered the most deaths in proportion to its population of any country, losing 5.6 million out of a pre-war population of 34.8 million.
If you made it to the end of this, you are truly a like-minded soul. Reward yourself by watching Elem Klimov's 1985 film Come And See about a boy who wants to join the partisans to fight the Nazis in Byelorussia (now called Belarus). Try not to read anything about it, just watch it. Warning: it's in Russian and is shot in such a way that it may take you a few tries before you get into it (it took me about 3 attempts to make it past the first 10 minutes), but watch it all the way to the end and I wager that you won't be disappointed. You can rent it on Netflix, but probably not at Blockbuster. If you do watch it, let me know because I'd enjoy discussing it.