This outstanding, highly original documentary focuses on the relationships between the supreme commanders of the European powers in WW2: Hitler, Stalin, Churchill and FDR. It's an invaluable analysis of the political agendas that shaped military strategy. No one with an interest in politics or war should allow themselves to miss this secret history of the most terrible war the world has ever known. The research is extraordinary: subtle and intelligent. This is a unique view, even for an old military history buff. The footage is good, if standard, and there are some non-intrusive 'recreations' used more for clarity than for dramatic impact. Written by
4 part TV documentary series about the 4 leaders in World War 2. Original aired by Channel Four in 2005. Part 1: Hitler v Stalin August 1939 - June 1941 Part 2: Churchill v Roosevelt May 1948 - April 1942 Part 3: Churchill v Stalin June 1941 - June 1944 Part 4: Roosevelt v Stalin July 1944 - April 1945 See more »
This is a longish (2:25) four-part series from the BBC outlining the tangled relationships between the four most important leaders in the European theater of operations during World War II -- Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt. (No Mussolini or Hirohito.) It's pretty candid. The narration tells us, if we didn't already know, that there was a great deal of opportunistic cheating and evasion going on behind the scenes, very different from the images being broadcast during the war. In the media of the time -- the movies, newspapers, and radio -- Hitler was evil from the war's beginning in 1939. Churchill was a hero, leading an isolated Britain against the Nazis. American kids carved Spitfires from balsa wood. When Germany declared war on America, Roosevelt too became a hero, recently hated by the millionaires who, he said, he ate grilled for breakfast every morning. Less was heard of Stalin between 1939 and 1945, although the USSR was invaded by Hitler in 1941.
The media did what they could to prop up Stalin's image in the West but the image was a bit blurred because, after all, Stalin had killed his best professional soldiers -- potential rivals -- and had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. And then, before Hitler broke the pact and invaded, he and Stalin had cut Poland in half and divvied it up. You could still go to the movies and see "North Star" and "Mission to Moscow", pro Russian propaganda films, for which some writers would suffer during the anti-communist years, but they were nothing compared to the number and popularity of "Mrs. Minivers".
It was difficult and required delicate handling, a game of subtlety and compromise. After the joint takeover of Poland, Stalin had ordered the mass execution of some 22,000 Polish political leaders, capitalists, professors, writers, and priests. When the graves were uncovered in the Katyn Forest after the war, everyone was happy to agree that the Germans had done it. By the McCarthy era, it had been revealed as a Soviet adventure. As Voltaire said, "History is a bag of tricks we play upon the dead." Nobody knew what to make of the Finns. Stalin invaded the small country and the Finns inflicted numerous casualties on the Russians, all the while flying American, British, and German airplanes with swastikas as the national emblem. Stalin had these generals executed, but it was hardly their fault. They were second rate to begin with because Stalin had executed his best generals already, and besides the Finns were pretty deft warriors. There may be a Hollywood movie made about the part Finland played in the war, but it's probably mouldering in the basement of some museum. We all prefer our heroes and villains cut and dried, whereas the Finns do nothing but add unnecessary complications to an already complicated geopolitical picture.
After conquering Western Europe, Hitler contemplated an invasion of Britain but called it off after failing to achieve air superiority. Furthermore, he felt he'd already WON the war and couldn't understand why Britain refused to realize it and make peace. Hitler's terms for peace weren't very demanding. Britain would be safe and could keep all of her colonies. In fact, it would be rather nice if Britain and Germany could sort of get together -- Germany ruling continental Europe and Columbia ruling the waves. As time passed Hitler became suspicious that Britain and the USSR were playing footsies and planning to take Europe back. In view of the Russian failures in Finland, it might only take five months to kick in Stalin's door and cause the whole rotten structure to collapse. Stalin, on the other hand, though suspicious of Germany, reckoned that the onset of war was four years in the future, instead of the few months that Hitler was planning.
It's all pretty intricate, with everyone playing against everyone else for survival and domination -- and what I've described so far is only the first half of the first of four episodes: Stalin and Hitler. I've never seen a more thorough and detailed picture of the character of each of these leaders. There isn't space enough to describe the contents of the program, so let me just say that it is well presented, with some rare still photographs, excerpts from diaries of the participants, no talking heads, all politics, and has a point of view or thesis. The argument is that Hitler decided to attack the USSR after he thought Britain had been subdued.
This conflicts with the received historical view that Hitler had hated Russia and its communism from the beginning, that he planned from the start to destroy Russia (he wanted to turn Moscow into a lake). Britain and France had made a nuisance of themselves by declaring war when Hitler invaded Poland. They had to be gotten out of the way before he could proceed with his agenda -- more eastern Lebensraum for the German people.
Of course, Hitler did invade. His troops demolished the Russian air force on the ground and brushed aside the few defensive units that Stalin himself had ordered there. Stalin had the commanders shot.
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