Communism: The Promise and the Reality (1995) PBS

Episode 3: Brave New World (1945-1962)

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Video Description

Brave New World (1945-1962)

A "cold" war embroils the United States and the Soviet Union in a contest of ideologies

"This is Frank Gillard at General Bradley's headquarters. East and West have met. At twenty minutes to five on Wednesday afternoon, April 25, 1945, American troops made contact with Soviet elements of Marshal Konyev's First Ukrainian army group near the German town of Torgal on the Elbe. This is the news for which the whole Allied World has been waiting: the forces of liberation have joined hands."

A little more than fifty years ago, Soviet and American troops met and rejoiced at the defeat of Nazi Germany. The mood on the river Elbe was one of camaraderie between Allies, and their optimism was shared by the liberated populations of Europe. Yet within a few years, this hard-fought peace will disintegrate into a cold war of competing ideologies. Brave New World tracks the mounting tension between these two superpowers, from the post-war world of the late 1940s through the early 1960s.

Two people kissingLieutenant Alexandr Silvashko served under Marshal Konyev and remembers the scenes of joy and celebration on the banks of the Elbe: "We were like brothers. We had defeated the enemy together. We were united in fighting fascism and we had won."

But as the people of Europe emerged from the ruins of bombed-out cities, no one knew how relations between East and West would affect them. To ease Soviet fears that Germany might rise again, frontiers were redrawn, displacing millions -- and forcing others to live with an oppressive ideology: Stalin's armies of liberation proved to be armies of occupation, determined to extend the socialist system to Eastern Europe.

Russian soldiers like Captain Anatoly Semiriaga had no doubt what the future held: "We were taught that the defeat of fascism was an important step towards the victory of socialism all over the world. Since the Red Army had liberated Eastern Europe, sooner or later socialism would be established there. . . . We were told [that] the Germans were not solely responsible for this war -- imperialism was responsible. And who are the representatives of imperialism now? The same Allies with whom we fought together against Hitler."

America, meanwhile, tired of war, turned her back on the still-smoldering battlefields of Europe and shifted her attention instead to economic growth at home. Lieutenant Gail Halverson: "It was like a new life -- it was like walking from one scene of a tragedy into a musical." Halverson had spent three years in the US Air Force. "All the worry and concern was just obliterated. And we disbanded -- our military -- we just disbanded very rapidly. Now's the time for peace."

In 1946, Winston Churchill would deliver a speech at Fulton, Missouri that would soon catapult Americans out of their complacency: "From Stetin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe: Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Budapest -- all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere."

Once, the American press had billed an alliance of three equals. Now, "Uncle Joe" was turned into a scheming despot, intent on forcing whole countries into submission. Soviet press responded in kind. Both governments were soon engaged in a new war, each committed to demonizing the other.

Following the Second World War, Berlin had been divided into sectors under the joint control of the Allies. The city's geography, however, placed it deep within Eastern Germany, and its Western zone was now a conspicuous outpost of capitalism within the new communist order. In June 1948, Stalin cut off all supply lines to the city's western sector without warning. For close to a year, West Berlin would be supplied by airlift.

Increasingly, East and West found themselves competing for hearts and minds. When China became a Communist nation in 1949, the Soviet Union trumpeted the inevitability of world revolution. On Stalin's seventieth birthday, the people were called out to celebrate the onward march of communism. Tamara Banketik was there: "I was transported into a fairy tale. I had eyes only for him. He had such kindly eyes. It was as if he was my father. I just wanted to touch him.... We lived in terrible conditions..., but we knew our society was just and that capitalism was terrible and people were exploited. That's what we were taught. It didn't matter how badly I lived now, I hoped it would get better. I believed in Stalin and knew that life would improve."

In the Soviet sphere of influence, all instances of possible Western "contamination" were suspect. In Russia, musician and Moscow University student Alexei Kozlov was among the huge audience that secretly listened to Radio Liberty: "The radio was our only access to the West. Neighbors could denounce you for listening.... Jazz was banned and they put out propaganda about jazz players and Americans, suggesting it was just one step from playing sax to murder. There was a saying: 'Today he plays jazz and tomorrow he betrays the nation.'"

In September 1949, the world learned that the Soviet Union had the atom bomb. Taken in combination with Mao Zedong's communist takeover of China, the United States plunged into paranoia. Communists -- real or imagined -- were pursued in the full glare of publicity. The Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and the FBI began a systematic and relentless pursuit of anyone suspected of communist sympathies. Buffalo, New York resident Manny Fried was just one small target: "J. Edgar Hoover set up a team of twenty-five FBI men to get me. They decided that I was the symbol of the left in the community and they must break me."

Stalin dies in 1953 -- but his legacy would last for decades. Under the new leadership of Nikita Kruschshev, the harshest aspects of Stalin's terror slowly evaporated. But in the countries of Eastern Europe, there were soon calls for greater independence from Moscow. In October 1956, Hungarian students held an anti-Soviet march that prompted a bloody uprising in Budapest. Gergely Pongratz found himself leading a group of freedom fighters: "We were fighting for the freedom of our country. Russian infantry came behind the tanks.... I saw a Russian head looking out and I pulled the trigger. I saw the Russian soldier fall out on the sidewalk. I started to cry. I killed a human being." Four days later, Soviet forces withdrew -- but the fight for independence had only just begun.

Meanwhile, Berlin remained the one point at which the border between East and West was still open -- and Germans could move freely across the divide. Millions voted with their feet. In the summer of 1961, East German authorities closed the border and built a wall through the middle of the city. Thousands tried to escape in the first few weeks. Anita Möller describes how her brother and others dug a 200-yard tunnel right under the wall -- and how, finally, she and her husband and child were sent for: "We waited a long time in this café. It was like a spy film. There were secret signs: a newspaper, a party badge, a bag in the right hand, a password. But if things went wrong, we could be shot. Everyone knew that."

In the West, the Berlin Wall would be dubbed a "wall of shame" -- while in the East, it would be called the "anti-fascist protective rampart." The armies that had once embraced in comradeship now confronted one another from conflicting camps. The Brave New World had become an armory, bristling with hostility.

Brave New World is produced and directed by Angus Macqueen; the narrator is Alfre Woodard. People's Century is a co-production of WGBH and the BBC -- filmed around the world and shaped in Boston and London. Executive producer for WGBH is Zvi Dor-Ner; senior producer is David Espar. Peter Pagnamenta is executive producer for the BBC. National corporate sponsorship for the series is provided by Conseco, Inc. Major funding is provided by public television viewers and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding is provided by the Richard Saltonstall Charitable Foundation and The Lowell Institute.


Documentary Description

Communism: The Promise and the Reality Set

Communism--the extraordinary social experiment promising equality and freedom which swept from Russia around the world. In the early days, hopes were high, but in the end the story of Communism is on of grim realities. Listen as people from behind the Iron Curtain tell how their lives were affected by this new world order--from the storming of the Winter Palace in Tzarist Russia in 1917 to the swift implosion of communist regimes around the world in the 1980's.

* Red Flag (1917-1936) Communism brings hope--and horrors--to Russia's millions. WG474

* Brave New World (1945-1962) A "cold" war embroils the U.S. and the Soviet Union in a contest of ideologies. WG475

* Fallout (1942-1987) Nuclear energy unleashes unprecedented destruction--and the hope for cheap power. WG476

* Great Leap (1949-1977) Chinese citizens zealously follow Chairman Mao's revolutionary dictums. WG477

* Guerrilla Wars (1954-1981) Revolutionaries use the power of guerrilla warfare in Cuba, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. WG478

* People Power (1980-1993) Communist rule crumbles in the Soviet Union as people find the courage to speak out. WG479

Editorial Reviews, by

The six videos in this boxed set provide a solid history of Communism in the 20th century, from the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the eventual collapse of the Iron Curtain in the 1980s. Extensive use is made of archival footage as well as interviews with participants in the major events, from the storming of the Winter Palace to the opening of the Berlin Wall. The major figures, including Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Gorbachev, are all seen and heard, as are many ordinary people who lived through great events. The presentation is balanced, with interview subjects recalling how the standard of living was raised as well as the terrors of Stalin's purges and Mao's Cultural Revolution. The interviews can be alternately inspiring and chilling, as the people who speak before the cameras remind us that the great events in history had profound effects in the lives of everyday people. Separate tapes cover the main themes of Communism's rise in Russia, the roots of the cold war, the victory of the Communists in China, and the eventual collapse of European Communism. In addition, one video concentrates on the role of guerrilla warfare during the cold war, while another focuses on the role nuclear power played in creating a fearful standoff between the superpowers. Produced by WGBH Boston, these videos are artfully produced and their entertainment value in no way detracts from the scrupulous history being presented. --Robert J. McNamara

Product Description

Communism - the extraordinary social experiment promising equality and freedom swept from Russia around the world. In the early days hopes were high, but in the end the story of Communism is one of grim realities. Listen as people from behind the Iron Curtain tell how their lives were affected by this new world order, from the storming of the Winter Palace in Tzarist Russia in 1917 to the swift implosion of communist regimes around the world in the 1980s. Includes: Red Flag, Brave New World, Fallout, Great Leap, Guerrilla Wars, and People Power.

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:

By Matthew Brown (New York, NY)

This is more a documentary on the evils of Communism throughout history. I was impressed by the entertainment factor; as the concentration on characters (Lenin, Stalin, i feel asleep... Mao Zedong) was compelling. I was expecting more policy discussion, as denoted by the containing of the phrase "The Promise," in the title, but there was none. I thought it would've been more interesting to go over how Communism changed by each of these characters and, in each carnation, how it failed. But this wasn't the case.

Each episode covers each era; mostly covers the evils of that era and PBS has delivered the information in a slanted and, of course, entertaining way. This series' failures out-weigh its gains... Anything seperate from the history of failures without any look at at the positives or goals of the carnations about what Communism is, was, or was supposed to be is a great failure. Although, this may be a good partner to another documentary, or just research on the goals of Communism and what each carnation of Communism was aimed to achieve, with the simple invest of time expect to be put in by, say the guy everyone hates (above) aka... average Joe, it simply is not a good source of information.

Overall, it was entertaining; but lacked true content. I wouldn't watch it again, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who actually wanted to learn anything about Communism as an ideology. I would even be hesitant to risk recommending it to people to watch that wouldn't do research on the ideology and the goals of each carnation, as that risk of lack of information, causing misinformation, would be too high.

Searching for more info before I downloaded and invested the time to watch this series, I came across a PBS Affiliate selling it under the guise of educational, recommending it for "Grade 7+."* I truly believe that if a teacher were to present this within the constrict of public school education (non-higher level, college {aka university level for all you europeans}) would be a terrible thing; especially since the teacher would have to present this as a core of a unit on Communism simply because of it's length if not the guise of good information. I hope that any teacher would view any information that is a candidate for injection into the brains of our youth with a better set of eyes than my doomsday scenario detailed.


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