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The Gathering Storm 

The activities of nations after World War I that lead to World War II.


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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Adolf Hitler ... Himself (archive footage)
Paul von Hindenburg Paul von Hindenburg ... Himself (archive footage)
Kai-Shek Chiang Kai-Shek Chiang ... Himself (archive footage)
Zedong Mao ... Himself (archive footage)
Franklin D. Roosevelt ... Himself (archive footage)
Benito Mussolini ... Himself (archive footage)
Haile Selassie ... Hismelf (archive footage)
Stanley Baldwin Stanley Baldwin ... Himself (archive footage)
Joseph Stalin ... Himself (archive footage)
Francisco Franco ... Himself (archive footage)
Heinz Guderian Heinz Guderian ... Himself (archive footage)
Hermann Göring ... Himself (archive footage)
Kurt Schuschnigg Kurt Schuschnigg ... Himself (archive footage)
Neville Chamberlain ... Himself (archive footage)
Emil Hácha Emil Hácha ... Himself (archive footage)


The activities of nations after World War I that lead to World War II.

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Documentary | War



Release Date:

12 November 2010 (USA) See more »

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User Reviews

Problems and No Solutions.
2 June 2015 | by rmax304823See all my reviews

One can't help comparing this episode to the corresponding episode in Frank Capra's propagandistic war-time documentary, "Why We Fight." Capra's sound written for an eighth-grade class. There are the good guys and then there are the bullies, aching for war. On the map, the bad guys are a black stain spreading over the globe. The rest of the world is gray, except that some countries, like the USSR under Stalin, looked a little too dark so they were lightened up as an honorific and became as gray as any other good guy.

This episode, like the others in this series, is addressed to adults. The aggressors in World War II were not propelled by a desire to do evil. (Who is?) Instead Germany is described as suffering terribly from reparations demanded by the Allies after World War I. Inflation rose to almost 100% a month. And the world-wide depression after 1929 didn't help a bit. It was a desperate situation and the result was a radical change from a democracy to a dictatorship led by Adolf Hitler. At first, Hitler's reign was relatively benign. He put the country to work on the infrastructure, building the Autobahn, the first Interstate Highway System, and revitalized the military and the industry that supported it. When he retook Alsace back from France, it was after a vote by the Alsatians to return to Germany. And when he took the Rhineland and even the Sudetenland, it was seen as a restoration of territory that had originally been German.

In breaking up the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, the map makers had carelessly included the Sudetenland, which was ethnically German, in the newly created country of Czechoslovakia. The British did something similar when breaking up the Middle East in the 1930s, which left us with national boundaries not coterminous with ethnic boundaries.

Japan had come out of World War I in relatively good shape, feeling nationalistic. Twenty years earlier they had been victorious in a war with Russia. But their population was exploding. Japan itself had no natural resources, so were compelled to import them and convert them into commercial and military products. A better solution seemed to be an outright occupation of neighboring Manchuria, which gave them immediate access to raw materials. And, since no one was in a position to interfere, why not China too? The invasion was exceptionally brutal. The cosmopolitan port of Shanghai was bombarded and is only now beginning to resemble the center of commerce and trade that it once was.

In 1936 Japan signed a pact with Germany, ostensibly to protect each other from an attack by Russia. Italy was almost an anarchy in the 1920s until Mussolini was declared dictator. It's ironic that the initial impact of both Hitler and Mussolini was largely beneficial. Mussolini, it was said, "made the trains run on time." And he undertook infrastructure repair and other public works that gained him wide approval. It may be that the most effective form of government is a benign dictatorship. The problem is that dictators are so seldom benign and that they tend to overreach. Democracy is all very well but, as Churchill remarked, "the strongest argument against democracy is a five-minute chat with a voter." Adults have a general idea of where this all led. France and Britain may have objected but they were preoccupied with their own problems. Nobody did anything -- until Germany occupied the part of Czechoslovakia that was ethnically German. There followed a calamity.

British PM, Neville Chamberlain, flew to Munich to seek an end to German expansion. He returned with a solemn promise from "Herr Hitler" that his territorial ambitions were finished. Then, forever captured and replayed on newsreel footage, Chamberlain made the mistake of waving the treaty and claiming he had achieved "peace in our time."

The incident sounded the virtual death knell for negotiations. Today, every time we hear the word "appeasement," we have Chamberlain and Hitler to thank. In today's America at least, negotiations are for sissies. The only proper way to deal with an adversary is to hit him, and hit him hard. Don't bother taking lessons in Farsi or Arabic. Barbaric tongues, we say.

The film has no talking heads or experts, only Robert Powell's sonorous narration. It's explanatory rather than hortatory. It doesn't merely condemn evildoers. It tries to understand how they could assume power. That's an adult perspective.

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