On TV: THE GREAT WAR

Coming to PBS’s American Experience starting tonight, Monday, April 10 through Wednesday, April 12:
THE GREAT WAR

Directors:
Stephen Ives, Amanda Pollak, and Rob Rapley

Premiere:
American Experience (April 2017)

About:
A three-part, six-hour exploration of World War I and its impact on America.

Debuting just after the centenary of the US’s entry into WWI on April 6, 1917, this American Experience docuseries takes an expansive view of the so-called “war to end all wars,” considering not only the details of the conflict raging in Europe, but also a range of concurrent issues affecting the homefront. Ultimately, the series – and its host of talking head commentators – stresses how America’s involvement resulted in the country becoming a global superpower, championing President Woodrow Wilson’s vision of the US as the world’s moral protector of democracy. At the same time, critics are quick to point out that this utopian view elides the repressive tools that Wilson used against dissenters in America, including the Sedition Act; a resistance to women’s suffragism; and a segregationist outlook that held back civil rights for people of color. Ives, Pollak, and Rapley weave this dichotomy throughout the three parts of the series, which begins with an overview of the causes of the war; the introduction of new modes of warfare, from trenches and chemical weaponry to air and undersea combat; and Wilson’s determination to keep the US neutral – despite profiting by supplying the Allied forces, while others push for American entry into war. The second part details that entry, as well as the experiences of African American soldiers and the restrictions imposed on freedom of expression back home, while the third continues these threads while also focusing on the end of the war and Wilson’s attempts to broker a lasting, meaningful peace. While sprawling, and adhering to the conventional approach of the American Experience series, the project is an engrossing and at times disturbingly topical look at the birth of modern American foreign policy.

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