Saturday, January 30, 2016

A review of PBS's “FDR” movie

"This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself ... "

- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his First Inaugural Address (4 March 1933)

I should give a disclaimer up front that I have not seen Ken Burns' series "The Roosevelts," which includes considerable material on both Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor. Although I've heard it's weaved together fairly well (and tells their lives in parallel), I am somewhat put off by the length of the series, and feel no particular need to watch it anyway - at this time, at least - when I have this fine film about FDR (and another about his famous cousin Theodore Roosevelt). Perhaps I will get around to watching it someday - I've heard that it's sometimes available on Netflix - but for now, at least, I'll confine my made-for-television biographies of FDR to this classic one by David Grubin; who is also the maker of PBS's films on Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Truman, and LBJ. (I might also note one other thing about this filmmaker, which is that he made some films about a few notable Europeans as well, such as Napoleon and Marie Antoinette, which are also quite good.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, this television biography of FDR is quite good - with plenty of real photographs and footage of him, it manages to tell the story with considerable interest and visual detail. It has interviews with his descendants (along with some former members of his administration and a number of scholarly talking heads); and there's also a notable interview with one of Churchill's daughters, where she comments on this famous relationship between the two men, which was one of the great and important relationships of World War II. FDR actually got us involved in the war long before Pearl Harbor, with the Lend-Lease aid to Britain, and the Navy's involvement in the Battle of the Atlantic. Although not many would appreciate it today, FDR was pushing the envelope on what Americans would tolerate in this area; and he may have helped save Britain by his successful advocacy of (at least some) early American involvement in the war.

Atlantic Charter, 1941 - a meeting between FDR and Churchill aboard the HMS Prince of Wales

Friday, January 8, 2016

A review of “The War of 1812” (PBS program)

"No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave."

- Excerpt from a lesser-known verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner," written by Francis Scott Key in 1814

This war would be unthinkable today ...

It's hard to imagine today that there could have been a war between America, Britain, and Canada - and in those rare times when we do imagine such a war, the war that Americans usually think of is the American War of Independence (or the "American Revolution," as we in America usually call it). Most Americans have some vague recollection from their middle school history class that there was a war in 1812, but they couldn't give you much information at all about where it was fought, or who it was fought against. Even the "when" of the war is somewhat unknown, since the term "War of 1812" is actually something of a misnomer - "The War That Began in 1812" would be a more accurate term, since the war actually lasted until the year 1815. This is not communicated by the phrase "War of 1812," which makes it sound like it lasted only a single year (when in fact, it lasted for nearly three).

The death of British General Sir Isaac Brock at the Battle of Queenston Heights - Canada, 1812

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