Communism: The Promise and the Reality (1995) PBS

Episode 5: Guerrilla Wars (1954-1981)

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Video Description

Guerrilla Wars (1954-1981)

Revolution succeeds through guerrilla warfare

"The impact on the soldier was a psychological impact -- every time you put your foot down, you didn't know whether you were going to [lose] a leg, a limb, or a life. . . . In the six months before I took over [the 'hard luck' battalion], it had had 600 casualties -- killed and wounded all from mines and booby traps; it had never met the enemy."

-- Colonel David Hackworth, United States Army, remembering 1966 Vietnam

In 1958, a small band of Cuban rebels ousted President Batista and took control of the country. Fidel Castro and his rebel force found success by drawing their strength and support from the common people, promising them land and social justice in exchange for their loyalty, and by relying on guerrilla tactics -- waging war in people's hearts and on the battlefield.

While Cuba riveted US attention, there was a parallel war taking place in Asia: A communist-led nationalist movement launched a struggle against the colonial French in Vietnam, eventually defeating and expelling them from the North. Fearing the whole country might quickly fall to communism, the US sent advisors to "prop up" the South Vietnamese Army; by 1963, US personnel in Vietnam numbered 12,000.

Two years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in the first American combat troops. US forces would eventually reach a total of 600,000. Trained to fight a conventional war, the US was unprepared for the Viet Cong's hit-and-run tactics, facing sabotage by unlikely soldiers, booby traps, and ambush.

Exhausted by political conflict at home and the efforts of fighting a losing land and psychological battle, US troops finally began to withdraw in 1973. Some 58,000 Americans had died -- and the peasant armies of the Viet Cong humbled a "superpower" on the world stage.

In 1978, half a continent away, the Soviet Union's support of a communist uprising in Afghanistan triggered a similar conflict: Afghan guerrillas, or Mujahideen, retaliated with a holy war. Ten years and some 50,000 Soviet casualties later, Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew Soviet troops. Here, too, guerrilla tactics of a "people's army" would prove vital in deciding the outcome of war.

The people remember: Cuba, Fidel Castro, Ché Guevara, Vietnam War, napalm, Agent Orange, Afghanistan, Mujahideen (Soldiers of God), "scorched earth" policy.

Guerrilla Wars is produced and directed by Bill Treharne Jones. Series senior producer is David Espar. Series executive producer for WGBH Boston is Zvi Dor-Ner; Peter Pagnamenta is executive producer for the BBC.

Alfre Woodard narrates.


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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