War is Good for Documentaries

By Rob Patterson

“War! What is it good for?” shouted a song performed by Edwin Starr back in 1970. And answering the question posed it assertively replied, “Absolutely nothin’!”

The uselessness of war as not exactly articulated in that tune back in the Vietnam era resonated enough to take it to #1 on the pop charts. In 1986 Bruce Springsteen redid “War” and it reached #8.

It’s rather ironic that as a political progressive whose ideals include peace and pacifism, I also happen to be a fan of TV documentaries about war, and have watched a number of them lately. What are they good for? Certainly learning, one hopes, the lessons of history so as not to repeat them, to paraphrase Santayana’s observation.

I suppose my feelings regarding war are a little bit different than many American Leftists as I actually lived through one: The 1973 Yom Kippur War in Israel. When you are mere seconds as the missile flies from where tanks are battling, as I was in relation to the Golan Heights when war broke out on Oct. 6 that year, suddenly the weaponry and tactics truly become a matter of life and death interest.

As did every detail I could glean from the news available at the time. But in a recent History Channel doc on that conflict, I actually learned some new things I didn’t know. There is also an excellent BBC show on that conflict as part of its 20th Century Battlefields series that can be seen online on YouTube the goes into depth on the modern weaponry and its critical role in how that conflict played out.

Our own nation’s rebellion that became a war of independence is examined in depth in the History Channel’s American Revolution. This multi-segment examination of how this country came into being combines reenactments, letters from participants, and detailed narration to cover that event from its origins through aftermath with great and informative detail. In an era where certain politicians cite America’s founders in shallow and inaccurate terms, this series takes the personalities involved well beyond the cardboard cutouts of popular legend, gives a good account of how the politics here and abroad affected the situation, and shows how close this country was into never coming into being at numerous points. It enhanced my understanding of this nation.

One gap in my education, both in school and in my own readings, even as much as I know, is a full understanding of World War I. The Military Channel’s First World War has been filling in the gaps about a devastating conflict that began with a single event in Serbia: the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Serbia, in 1914. Since it led to not only that war but was pivotal in setting the stage for World War II, as well as the recent conflicts in the Balkans, I find gaining a more nuanced perspective valuable to my world view.

I’ve just started watching History Channel’s The Korean War: Fire and Ice. This conflict ended not long before my birth, and yet again, as much as I know its general history, it’s not the devil one finds in the details but rather background that helps one comprehend the world we live in today. With North Korea’s nuclear capacity being cited as a major geopolitical concern, this series offers a primary lesson behind that as well as much else.

There is of course the horror of war, and admittedly, historical examinations can sometimes make that seem clinical. And sadly, war has been a fact of human existence since the dawn of history. Today it poses greater dangers than ever. And I firmly believe that in order for man to transcend war, understanding it in full is one key factor to maybe doing so in the future.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2012



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