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Subject: A Review of the CBS video series from the 1960s:
The Complete Story, World War I
(Thur., February 4, 2010)
(approx. 3545 words, 7 pp.)
In 1910 who knew or would even have guessed the decade ahead,
where the world would be in 1920 after World War I and a world-changing decade?
In 2010 who really knows what this decade will bring,
where the world might be in 2020, if we have a decade of somewhat predictable
totally unexpected cataclysmic change, perhaps written into the structure of things?
This is a review of the CBS video series from the 1960s, The Complete Story, World War I narrated by Robert Ryan. It comes in a 3 DVD box. I came across this video series in some video catalogue last year, and ordered it out of curiosity and found it to be absolutely wonderful, delightful, outstanding... However, as with the World War I movie Lawrence of Arabia, also made in the 1960s, this video series is almost as close to World War I as we are to the video series itself. World War I (1914 to 1918) is now almost 100 years ago and the 1960s almost 50 years ago. Still this video series has so much movie footage from the World War I era, with 1960s voice commentary by Robert Ryan, that it gives the viewer an enormous sense of historical perspective.
In 1910 who knew or would even have guessed the decade ahead...
In 1910 who knew or would even have guessed the decade ahead, and where the world would be in 1920 after World War I and a world-changing decade? Probably no one. There are decades or at least 10 year periods that are at times like this. In 1935 it would have been almost impossible to imagine the world as it would be in 1945, or in 1960 who would have guessed the unimaginable social and cultural changes that would happen by 1970?
On the other hand, by contrast, social cultural political conditions can at times be somewhat stable for generations. The 19th century saw a great deal of progress, innovation and industrialization, often known as the Victorian Era in Britain, and in America there was the settling of the West, but it was a very stable time socially and culturally and with almost no major wars except for the horrendous mess of the American Civil War (which was not exactly a "civil war" just as the American Revolutionary War was not exactly a "revolution").
Stable Europe and "the West" for almost 100 years after Napoleon...
The 19th century also saw the somewhat minor Franco Prussian War, and there were various revolutions as well in Europe but no revolutions were really on the scale nor of the ferocity of 1789 in France or 1917 in Russia, nor anywhere close. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, Europe and the world settled down to a fairly civilized century! There was a good bit of European colonialism at this time but even that was hardly genocidal (to my knowledge anyway), as sometimes claimed. The word does not even exist until 1944, and in truth in the long run some would argue some colonialism probably did more good than harm in some cases. But, regardless, America was not particularly colonialistic, anyway, as even Barack Obama points out in his autobiography.
Still, usually the Left and humanists generally (and often even Roman Catholics for their own reasons) think of "the West" or "Western civilization" to be Europe and America together with their great Judeo-Christian heritage along with the great Western heritage from Greek and Roman antiquity. And, of course, there is a good bit of truth to this, but in reality this view of things and world history is not completely accurate, especially when it comes to understanding the place of America in history and America’s actually complex relationship to Europe, and overtly and specifically America’s anti-European heritage, both in theory and in practice in rejecting the Old World of Europe.
American exceptionalism often in fact usually even in relationship to Europe...
With the exception of slavery, as a practical matter virtually every person came to America to get away from where they were and usually because the American nation and ideal generally represented something radically different and more desirable than the political and social structure where they were, generally somewhere in Europe. This is known today as "American exceptionalism" and the American founders were quite aware of it as the basis for their revolution. A new nation conceived in liberty based on representative government and the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God with rights and justice for all, etc.
This brings us, here, to the point at hand: World War I, as presented in this outstanding video series The Complete Story, World War I. Why is this point about the exceptional nature of America relevant? World War I was essentially a clash of Old Europe of the previous 100, if not 200 or even 300 years, which America had successfully separated herself from, as well as all the endless European conflicts, that is, until "The Great War," which was to become with time, of course, World War I. This 3 DVD video series has 26 separate episodes (plus extra features) on virtually all aspects of World War I as well as the social, cultural, political, economic, and historical conditions of the time, and this is where things get very interesting beyond the details of the war itself and the various fronts and battles, etc. World War I sees the complete end of empires and absolute monarchs (Austrian Hungary Hapsburgs, the German Kaiser, the Russian Romanovs, and even the Ottoman Empire, which is the subject of a few programs will also be gone by 1922).
World War I was massive, cataclysmic, and horrific, and unforeseen...
World War I was massive, cataclysmic, and horrific in virtually every sense of those words whether socially, culturally, economically, or politically, and certainly in devastation, and not at all foreseen nor almost even imaginable before it happened and everyone initially went off to war with wild celebrations on both sides as if they were going to a picnic. It is all very strange.
I recall a quote from Churchill (not in this video series) in the early years of the 20th century when he told his soldiers under him that they did not have to worry about a major war in their lifetimes because Europe was far too civilized! And, in fact there had been almost 100 years of peace and progress in Europe. However, the social stability and rational progressive nature of modern European man as well as the political stability were something of an illusion, as this video series makes quite clear, and further both Germany and France had been working for decades to settle old war scores when the time came, having virtually no idea what a full all-out modern war would entail.
A new post-World War I Europe and new spiritualities and ideologies emerge
Further, this video series makes quite clear that pre-World War I Europe was the last hours of Old Europe (socially, culturally, politically) going back centuries never to be seen again. It was also in many ways the last hours of Old Europe spiritually speaking, and this fact is not brought out in these videos beyond a strong emphasis on the changed tenor of the times. Prior to World War I the monarchies and empires (besides the British) were largely hollow structures left over from the 19th century, and especially hollow spiritually speaking.
It is very worth noting after World War I Western man went into a age of ideologies and specifically political ideologies as virtual religions. President Woodrow Wilson’s famous line was we as Americans were fighting to "make the world safe for democracy." That was, in effect, our political so-called "ideology" (though America is not really very ideological as such). The idea was win the war, set up a league of new democratic nations and the world will be peaceful, prosperous and democratic forever. Piece of cake. What went wrong? This question is generally beyond this video series, of course, but not entirely. The video series makes quite clear that what is going to emerge out of World War I is a whole set of now dominate if not completely new political ideologies (which I would say are in fact new spiritualities and de facto religions).
Pre-World War I Europe was spiritually hollow as well...
What were these newly dominate ideologies after World War I to be? They were, of course, hard-core Communists in Russia, the Nazis in Germany, the fascists in Italy. Christianity, let alone Gospel Christianity, is pretty much swept completely aside in Europe outside of Britain, but this Christianity of pre-World War I Europe was largely a hollow structure itself anyway, and in fact something of a hollow adjunct to the increasingly hollow empires and monarchies of Europe.
This point on Christianity, as such, is not in the video series, of course, but its relevance for history is immense. Why? The British and American ideal of peaceful representative constitutional democracy is actually built upon an alive and very real and determinative underlying Bible Christian spirituality in America and Britain going back centuries, and without this foundation the American founders felt America as a nation had no chance of succeeding, and we probably didn’t. And, of course, there was no way to factor this into a workable League of Nations after World War I.
Spirits of the Age and spirits of the nations...
Nations and wars tend to reflect an underlying spiritual reality. In fact, there are just wars and unjust wars. And, there are just nations and unjust nations. There is a clear underlying spirituality to nations and even to our individual lives. This is true of pre-World War I nations and men, and post-World War I nations and men. This is also true of pre-World War II nations and men, and post-World War II nations and men, where this is probably even more obvious than with World War I.
Europe today is not Communist nor Fascist nor centuries old absolute monarchs, but is probably rather a humanistic Liberalism? Think if the much vaunted EU Constitution had passed? Some unelected, power-hungry bureaucrat would have determined every detail of one’s life (for your "good," of course), all the way down to your light bulbs? My goodness what is the world coming to? I guess to Jesus, and hopefully liberty and justice for all! The truth is as in World War I (this video series makes quite clear) and as in World War II, America and Britain were doing most of the heavy lifting in general for freedom and democracy, as such, and I would say also in particular today against the radical Islamic totalitarians of our time.
But how will this decade of 2010 to 2020 play out?
Who is to say how this carrying the load for freedom and democracy may play out in the coming years and in this coming decade? In centuries past "the West" stood eyeball to eyeball with a radical Islam for generations and not much ever came of it; on the other hand, the world in 2020 may be as different to 2010, as 1920 was to 1910, and given the advanced state of moral decline and the nutty to downright silly Alice-in-Wonderland politically correct speak so prevalent today, I would not be inclined to rule out the possibility of significant natural calamity and the Judgment of God at some point in the future, if not in this coming decade, if we do not repent, which does not seem very likely at this point.
On at last making the world "safe for democracy" with liberty and justice for all
But, regardless, 2020 may end this decade and bring as new a world as 1920 did to end that decade from 1910. However I personally see little hope for a positive new world order in a decade or even 5 decades, at last making the world "safe for democracy" with liberty and justice for all, without first a significant spread of the Gospel worldwide, and presumably this will have to be preceded in America and Britain by a great re-awakening to the theological truth and spiritual reality of the Gospel, that is, the Gospel of Christ which has fallen on such hard times in America and Britain since the 1950s. Will our 2 great nations make such a comeback in order to get the ball rolling? Maybe. In our lifetimes? Maybe. In this coming decade? I guess we will find out soon enough...
World War I, a really stupid idea?
The thing that is so good about this World War I video series is that it gives one a feel for the very real flow of history, and how sometimes things can change so dramatically, and how the tenor or spirit of the times or of an age can change so dramatically. World War I was not overtly ideological of course (as we tend to think of World War II), but it was, in hindsight, a really foolish or downright stupid idea by people who considered themselves to be quite bright. There was little to be gained?
Even if Germany had taken most of France with their initial thrust, what were they going to do with it? And certainly Britain would not stand idly by? All these wars have such a strong underlying even irrational un-Godly spiritual component, which we do not usually think about too much? Because of all the actual fighting we do not have time to sit around and think about the underlying spirituality of it all, but without question it is there?
Napoleon, Hitler and Russia, 2 more really stupid ideas
Rationally speaking a generation later after World War I did Hitler have any better prospect of taking Russia than Napoleon? I think probably not. Russia was too far, and too big, and with too many people, and too technologically advanced and, of course, way too cold, and Russia had way too many allies. Basically it was a pretty stupid idea by Hitler, all things considered, all the way around?
And why did Napoleon try it? After studying the matter extensively, Tolstoy concluded Napoleon was, essentially, just an irrationally driven man, and that is about as spiritual as you can get, I would say! And World War I? "O What a Lovely War" I think we are frequently not nearly as smart as we think we are, nor as rational and we are often or at least at times can be driven irrationally and spiritually in ways that we do not understand. And from watching this video series I would say World War I was no exception. And this very secular video series actually makes this point very strongly! But if and when Satan is bound for 1000 years, he will "deceive the nations no more," presumably, I guess with really stupid ideas? (Thank God.)
The Video Series’ Final Episode: "Heritage of War"
The final episode of this great World War I series is called "Heritage of War" but in some ways this particular message is unclear, as depicted in this series. It seems to me that too many times leftist even radical leftist thinking is seen as good in this final episode, and the wisdom of the American people in being against the League of Nations is seen as shortsighted, provincial, mere isolationist, etc. In truth it seems very clear (to me anyway) the American people were correct and Wilson flat wrong.
I personally love and respect Woodrow Wilson as a man and as a president, and I even admire his visionary nature, but in my opinion Wilson’s flaw was he thought the whole world could and would survive and flourish under American ideals without an underlying American cultural, spiritual, religious base, and it was very foolish of him. Further anti-war progressive liberal types (often to this day) think if Americans had backed Wilson and joined the League of Nations, we would have easily stopped World War II, and I find this notion somewhat ridiculous actually and certainly naive. The political, economic, and spiritual forces after World War I were just too great?
Still the last Episode gets the spirit of the times change quite right from 1910 to 1920
There was a definite change in the spirit of the world and Europe from 1910 to 1920, and this World War I video series makes this very clear and the point is brought home forcefully in the last Episode: "Heritage of War." The video says, after the War, "’Something has been lost,’ a post-war historian writes, ‘not a generation but an atmosphere, a certain spirit.’ What has been lost [the narrator continues] is the confidence that once held a world together, of faith in the plans of reasonable men. A disruptive new force has been turned loose by the war, Bolshevism.. revolution from the left, to be met by counterrevolution from the right. Writes Winston Churchill looking back on the War years, ‘Injuries were wrought to the structure of human society, which a century will not efface.’ The new spirit restless, violent, chaotic, is the heritage of war."
This analysis is great, I think, all quite good in my opinion. But I would tend to say "faith in the plans of supposedly reasonable men" failed because obviously they were not reasonable, nor were they usually anything more than nominally Christian, if that! Still, the changing tenor, atmosphere or spirit of the times is captured quite well in this whole video series. This is also seen so well in one quote the video gives from a New York newspaper against Wilson’s League of Nations: "A trap of fictitious hopes." The narrator seems to me to look down on this Republican opposition quote, but with our 20/20 hindsight Wilson’s League of Nations certainly appears to have been just that?
In any case, this video series points out, the year 1920 was radically different from 1910 in the temperament, spirit or attitude (in short, zeitgeist) as well as ideology, that is, social political belief systems, but the question we must ask today in 2010 is: Will 2020 be as radically different from 2010 for us in spirit as well as in political ideas and ideals? Maybe, time will tell... Cataclysmic events, like a World War I, to come or otherwise...
Maybe our postmodernism is going as supernova as Old Europe was in 1910?
What this video series emphasizes is that pre-World War I Europe had its own social, economic, political reality based on old aristocracies that was to come crashing down never to be again! "The Old World in its sunset was fair to see," says Churchill of those last years before World War I. At that time it was probably hard, if not impossible, to imagine life and the world could be any different, but in truth it was not really very stable or rational at all at that very hour, appearances to the contrary.
So, what if someone makes a video in 50 years on this our coming decade. How will our time of 2010 to 2020 appear to them? Pretty crazy I would speculate. We may in fact be at the end of an era, of irrational, surreal postmodern humanism since the 1960s culminating and climaxing at this very hour, though we can hardly at this moment imagine its imminent demise; and just as Old Europe was actually going supernova in 1910 and no one realized it, and soon never to be again, so too our own current crazy conditions could be burning themselves out in unprecedented brightness also never to be again, perhaps in a mere 10 years?
All of this is hard to imagine at this hour, of course, just as the coming zeitgeist and worldview changes were in 1910, but maybe in fact our overweening, silly so-called "politically correct" postmodernism may be as gone in 2020 in law, education, politics, morality, culture, and religion as Old Europe was by 1920 after what was one of those rare decades of unprecedented change that had built up for generations and finally broke upon the world in the aftermath of World War I.
The end of "the world" as we know it? Yet again?
My personal opinion is that it is quite possible all of the hollow, unreasonable and undesirable religions and political ideologies of the world today are going to implode much as Old Europe did when it could not withstand the trauma of World War I, and I think out of this ideological and religious implosion Gospel Kingdom Christianity will emerge to set up, at long last, a true, lasting and effective "league of nations" based on the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God in order to, at last, truly make "the world save for democracy" ...with liberty and justice for all.
This means by 2020 a possible consensus of humankind on earth may at last emerge, under God, as an actual peace-justice-and- righteousness reality for this planet, clearly almost unimaginable in this hour of 2010... but maybe not a lot more unimaginable than the decade of change that was to come in 1910...
This is a great video series: The Complete Story, World War I, and I highly recommend it, at least for all those who love the study and story of history, indeed the study and story of all history, for all mankind, on this planet of earth flying thru space forever forward, at least... may we all hope and pray, now and forevermore...