This article is taken from the November 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
Thank you to Andrea Valentino (HALF A CENTURY OF THE WORLD AT WAR, OCTOBER) for so splendidly conveying why The World at War documentary series succeeded in its task of explaining and communicating the enormity of the Second World War.
The article makes a passing reference to the series’ effective sequel, The Cold War, which was also co-produced by Jeremy Isaacs and ran for 24 episodes in 1998. It adopted a similar approach and, besides featuring extraordinary archive footage, it recorded invaluable testimony from the likes of George Kennan, Fidel Castro, Robert McNamara and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Generally well received at the time, it quickly faded from view and whilst The World At War continues to be repeated all over the world, and downloaded by schools and individuals, The Cold War is forgotten. Sure, you can find it on YouTube, but judging by the low number of recorded views, only a few thousand people have troubled themselves to do so (compared to millions of YouTube views for The World At War).
Why is this? The World At War was groundbreaking whereas The Cold War followed, distantly, in its wake. In that sense, it did not represent the same level of television “event”. But such could be said of any number of TV history documentaries over the last 30 years that — unlike The Cold War — you can still buy through Amazon or stream on Prime or Netflix.
It seems that the Second World War resonates in ways that the Cold War does not, even although the latter’s proxy wars killed and crippled millions (and almost caused Armageddon) and so many of us have at least some recollections of the latter as news in our time, whilst having no direct experience of the events of 1939 to 1945.
Is the only conclusion that while much of humanity remains — rightly — hotly engaged by the near six years’ total war between liberal democracy (and its dictatorial allies) against fascist totalitarianism (and its dictatorial allies) we have become ambivalent about the nature and outcome of the succeeding 43-year struggle between liberal democracy (and its client dictatorships) and communist totalitarianism (and its client dictatorships)?
If so, where does that leave discourse now, as western countries contemplate the challenge of the authoritarian nationalism and alternative worldviews of Putin’s klepto-theocracy and China’s acquisitive version of communism with an international investment portfolio? On what historical experience are we drawing? Surely it’s time to give Jeremy Isaacs’s other great documentary series a new audience.
As I began reading Rohan Watt’s piece (LIZ TRUSS: WHAT IF … ? OCTOBER), I greatly enjoyed it as a piece of satire praising Liz “The Lettuce” Truss and her disastrous time at Number 10. Then it slowly dawned on me — like that bit in a horror film when you realise who the mad serial killer is — that Rohan was deadly serious.
I suggest that Rohan go and hang out with the remaining fanatical Corbyn groupies. They can compare notes on their lost leaders. The rest of us can get on with living with the consequences of Truss: high interest rates, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and a future Labour government.
West Drayton, Greater London
A mug bearing the slogan “Some people are normal. Get over it!” (THE DIVERSITY TRAP, OCTOBER) would be a suitable response to Stonewall.
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