Friday, 17 October 2008

The American Future - not perfect but worth watching

I've just watched the second episode of Simon Schama's history of the USA, The American Future.

This is probably a must-watch series for anyone interested in America and its history. It helps set in context some of the contemporary debates about America's future as it gears up for another election.

Schama has been taking a thematic approach to the subject. Following on from last week's look at 'American Plenty', which looked at the economy and resource use, this week he was focusing on America's war record.

By taking a thematic approach, of necessity some things are going to feature more heavily than others. The American Civil War was a key element, and mention was also made of World War II, Vietnam, Iraq and the Spanish-American War. However, this focus did inevitably mean some other things lost out and it's possibly a bit surprising that there was no mention of World War I, Korea or Afghanistan. Nor was there anything about America's isolationist tradition, or for that matter the 'War on Terror'.

But it was still a worthwhile insight into a key aspect of American history. I think Schama was right to examine the potential tensions between citizenship and military power and his conclusion that America still retains its tradition of civilian control of the military is still valid, although he probably needed to talk more about the relationship to the military-industrial complex.

Overall, this TV history does have its flaws, but it's still a fascinating series to watch for anyone with an interest in America.

1 comment:

Rob said...

I was disappointed. I missed the first episode and watched this one because of the write up in the Radio Times, and part of the reason I was disappointed was that the programme was not what the RT said it would be. But apart from that, I think we saw far too much of Schama and far too little of America. The section on West Point was indicative. We spent about five minutes being told by Schama that West Point's ethic was about civilian control while following a cadet around and occasionally getting the odd word from him about when they hear a graduate has "fallen". I would like to have heard West Point cadets, graduates and instructors telling us what they thought the ethos was. The result of that piece is that I still don't know - because I don't really believe Schama.

In the end I felt I didn't get any evidence apart from anecdotal that Schama's view was right. And that's not history, that's just pontification.

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