Wednesday, May 13, 2009

PBS: "Behind Closed Doors": series about Stalin during WWII

. Maryland Public Television (Channel 22) has been showing the three-part, six-hour documentary “Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West”, in May 2009. The link giving the schedule is here.

But the main link for the PBS series is this. The byline (relating to World War II) is “as the greatest war in history raged, three men would decide the fate of the world.” Those three men were, of course, FDR, Churchill and Stalin. On May 13, MPT aired the second of the two hour episodes, “Cracks in the Alliance”, covering mainly Summer 1942 to Fall 1944. The film reenacts many of the critical meetings with actors, but has a lot of live newsreel footage.

But, in fact, it is Josef’s Stalin’s opportunistic behavior that drove so much of history, starting with the non-aggression Pact with Hitler in 1939, which Hitler ignored in 1941. And Stalin had already shown his own ruthlessness before Hitler invaded. Churchill and Roosevelt had the tricky problem of working with one tyrant to defeat another. Which kind of authoritarian rule was the most dangerous? Both were.

Churchill made a difficult journey by air to Moscow in 1942 to tell Stalin that the Allies could not mount a second front to help them in Russia. But in time, British operatives came to Russia, and Stalin continued his usual behavior, bugging their offices and imprisoning women who consorted with them. There is an interesting segment of the film showing Archangelsk on the Arctic Ocean.

Stalin’s deceptive behavior with Poland is a major theme of the film. This posed a major dilemma for Britain.

Nevertheless, after Stalingrad, Stalin was perceived as a “hero” for some time in the West.

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill would finally meet, in Tehran (which seems ironic today) in 1943. Poland was a big issue, since Stalin had seized much of it, and there was a deal to give part of Germany to Poland as consideration. Germany would destroy Poland, and then Poland would be faced with the replacement of one totalitarian regime with another.

The meetings also determined that Germany should be deprived of all industry and become a simple rural country.

The film documents an incident where an official in FDR's administration was summoned by the FBI while vacationing on the Chesapeake Bay and "exiled" for a political mistake. FDR was capable of dictatorial behavior himself.

After the film, there is some commentary that makes the odd point about how much eye contact was appropriate for meeting with Stalin, who made a lot of someone’s body language.

Picture: Warsaw city center, with Soviet style buildings. Attribution link for Wikimedia commons is this. I was in Warsaw for one night in May 1999 (after a day in Krakow and a visit to Auschwitz). The next day I flew, through Amsterdam, all the way back to Minneapolis.

The WWII category leads to a discussion of Ken Burns's "The War," for comparison.

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