The best and the worst of the whole series
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 01/16/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I consider the features on Pearl Harbor and the race to build the atomic bomb the two best features included in this set of fascinating presentations. Each feature provides a very good background of events relating to the subject in question, there is some pretty good footage of major events and people, and questions are posed in a constructive, non-sensationalized manner. The emotions the day of infamy still flames in the hearts of Americans make this a rather touchy subject, especially when you are asking hard questions as to who knew what and when. For such a small allotment of time, this documentary did an outstanding job of providing a timeline of intelligence information in the days and hours before the Japanese attack. It points out the fact that the US and Britain were decoding Japanese diplomatic messages long before Pearl Harbor, while the British were intercepting and decoding Japanese naval messages as early as 1939 (without bothering to share this information with the US). Hours before the attack, FDR had in his hands a decoded diplomatic message detailing Japan?s upcoming ultimatum to the US; he knew war was imminent but did not know where the enemy would attack. The full extent of FDR?s knowledge is still suspect in my mind but it seems proper that this video would not resort to unfounded speculation. What is not a matter of speculation, and the video argues the case for this quite well, is that Winston Churchill knew about the upcoming attack and purposely kept the information secret from the Americans he so desperately wanted to bring in to the Allied war effort. Turning that information over to the Americans, the video suggests, would have hurt the flagging British war effort in the Far East by revealing the fact that Japanese naval codes had long been decoded and would quite likely have delayed American entrance into the war. The documentary does not state for a fact that Churchill let the attack on Pearl Harbor catch America completely by surprise, but it does present compelling arguments for making such a case. The one thing the presentation does not delve into are the clues overlooked or inanely dismissed by the military commanders at Pearl Harbor in the pre-dawn hours of that fateful morning. While Short and Kimmel were clearly made scapegoats for the embarrassing disaster, several factors betraying the local military leadership?s deficiencies and limited culpability do not make it into the story. Just the fact that all of the US planes and naval vessels were bunched up together guaranteed that Pearl Harbor was a sitting duck. The feature on the race to build an atomic bomb is naturally less controversial, but I definitely found it interesting. Evidence and speculation about the German efforts to build the first atomic bomb are rarely presented in documentaries of World War II, so I was intrigued to learn more about the limited results of the German nuclear program and speculation as to the V2 possibly being designed for delivering radioactive warheads to Britain and eventually the eastern coast of the US from special locations in northern France. All of the facts as to magnitude of force, cost, and horrifying damage are covered here, and you get some good documentary footage of both American and Japanese activities in 1945. It is incredible to realize that at least 125,000 people worked on the Manhattan Project to some capacity, yet only the Soviets learned anything about it whatsoever (which they learned from a mole inside the Project itself). The history alone that is covered in these two presentations makes it worthwhile, but the fair and balanced way in which it handles the sensitive Pearl Harbor blame game debate makes it stand out among all of its companion volumes in this valuable collection devoted to twentieth century myths and mysteries. In contrast to the well-made Pearl Harbor and Atomic Bomb presentations, the segments on ghosts and mysterious Madonnas do not really have a lot to offer. Rather than give any detailed analysis about any haunting in particular, the producers seem to jump rather randomly from one ghostly account to the next. It actually starts out referring to historic ghosts reputed to dwell in some of the castles of Britain and France; the Tower of London features prominently here. It cites questionable cases such as the goings-on at Borley Rectory in Essex and the well-known vision of a 17th century courtly audience by two older ladies in Versailles a century ago. When it finally makes its way to Twentieth Century Ghosts, which is the title of the feature after all, it gives us a hop, skip, and a jump between World War I battlefield apparitions (one of which is a myth arising from one of Arthur Machen?s short stories), a haunted submarine, reported airliner ghosts, the quintessential phantom hitchhiker, and Alcatraz. The feature on Mysterious Madonnas is even less interesting, I feel. It first covers several reports of weeping icons and statues of the Virgin Mary followed by a mundane image of a Madonna-like reflection on a tall building. One interesting segment addresses rather recent accounts of several Hindu religious icons seemingly drinking up to liters of milk offered in daily devotion. The feature closes with a look at the controversial Shroud of Turin, offering theories as to how it might have been created in the 14th century and seemingly accepting the more than reasonable scientific proof that it is not from the time of Christ. Frankly, I was rather amazed to find no mention of Fatima or other reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary; when I think of mysterious Madonnas, I think almost exclusively of Fatima. Do not let an interest in sightings of the Virgin compel you to buy this tape because you will hear nothing about the subject. Seemingly unable to decide whether it wants to support or argue against the subject matter addressed in both features, this segment is not particularly worth watching."