By the end of 1919 – when our story starts – it was all done and dusted. The terms had been hammered out at Versailles, the great and powerful had signed the papers, the echoes of war were fading and the new age, the age of a hard-won peace, was beginning.
It would last just twenty years. The twenty years that occupy our series. Twenty years is not a long time. This is the story of what went wrong.
WW1 might have been dubbed ‘the war to end all wars’ but a little over twenty years later the world fell headlong into a second world war, and one which was even more devastating than the first.
Numerous previous documentaries have examined the various causes of WW2, but most tend to begin with the rise of Hitler in 1933. Impossible Peace winds the clock right back in order to suggest that WW2 was the inevitable result of the uneasy and unstable 1918 peace.
Impossible Peace is an eight part series (each edition approx. 50 minutes) developed by WildBear Entertainment and directed by Michael Cove. An Australian production company, WildBear have nevertheless ensured that Impossible Peace has a strong British flavour. The narrator – Rod Mullinar – is a British born, Australian based actor who possesses the sort of deep and authoritative tones which fit perfectly with the style of this documentary. True, he sometimes sounds a little overwrought but that’s no doubt due to the occasional patches of purple prose contained within the script.
Interspersed between the substantial archive footage are contributions (often brief, but always insightful) from a crop of British based academics. And although political and military matters are heavily favoured, popular culture (including fashion, music and movies) are also featured – in this way, a more rounded picture of these two tumultuous decades can be formed.
The eight episodes are as follows:
1. The Lap of the Gods 1919-1921
After four years of vicious fighting, the survivors of WW1 expected that peace and prosperity would follow. But with so many economies and societies shattered (some maybe beyond repair) this would be far from straightforward.
2. Just Like the Arabian Nights 1922-1925
The victors of World War 1 believed that keeping their vanquished foes under-armed would guarantee peace. And so as the US and Great Britain began to increase their military holdings, it was at the expense of a humiliated Germany.
3. Mussolini Is Always Right 1925-1929
Technological advances were embraced by some – but not all – whilst Mussolini began his autocratic rule in Italy.
4. Dancing On A Volcano 1929-1931
By the late twenties, Europe – France especially – appeared to have put the bad old days of economic strife behind them. A few voices warned that this boom time would have inevitable consequences, but the majority weren’t listening ….
5. I’m Alright 1932-1933
With Europe now in the grip of a deep depression, where were the strong, charismatic leaders able to negotiate their way through this crisis period?
6. Everyone Trusts Him 1933-1936
With the United States also suffering, Japan took the opportunity to increase their empire. Turning their attention to East Asia, they plotted the invasion of Manchuria.
7. History Stopped 1936-1938
By the mid thirties, Adolf Hitler’s ambitions seemed clear to all. If the great powers had acted earlier, would their intervention have prevented WW2?
8. Peace For Our Time 1938-1939
For some, appeasement was the only way (repeating the disaster of WW1 had to be avoided at all costs). But with Adolf Hitler at the other end of the negotiating table, this was a strategy doomed to failure.
Concise and absorbing, Impossible Peace rattles along at an impressive rate. With such a wide-ranging scope, it’s true that some topics can only be lightly touched upon, but I’ve always tended to find that documentaries like this are useful for sparking an interest in certain topics which can then be researched in more detail by acquiring specific books, documentaries, etc.
If I have one quibble, then it’s the constant musical soundtrack. There were times when I would have preferred the visuals and the narration to have spoken for itself as the ever-present musical underscore (especially when it’s in full-on dramatic mode) can be somewhat counter-productive.
This apart, there’s a great deal to appreciate in Impossible Peace (a three-disc set with no subtitles) and it comes warmly recommended.
Impossible Peace is available now from Simply Media, RRP £19.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).