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Case Number 21039: Small Claims Court

Buy 20th Century With Mike Wallace: America At War at Amazon

20th Century With Mike Wallace: America At War

Acorn Media // 1995 // 470 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // April 2nd, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia hated the 20th century and isn't crazy about the 21st. He's looking forward to the 22nd, though.

The Charge

Crisis and armed conflict from Korea to the Persian Gulf.

The Case

As < one of the first shows to air on the fledgling history channel back in the mid-'90s, 20th Century paved the way for the channel to become what it was (and now only occasionally is): a showcase for historical documentaries. It was certainly important in its time, and the presence of host Mike Wallace (60 Minutes) does lend some credibility to the series. However, 20th Century With Mike Wallace: America at War has aged poorly and doesn't even come close to some of the better shows History has done since then.

Here are the ten episodes compiled on three discs:

Disc One
• "Vietnam: How We Went to War"
A look at the decisions and mistakes that led to America's involvement in Vietnam in 1965.

• "Vietnam: A Soldier's Diary"
Soldiers tell stories of some of the bloodiest and longest battles of the Vietnam War.

• "Vietnam Dilemma: Tet and the Anti-War Movement"
The 1968 Tet Offensive shattered American hopes that the Vietnam War could be easily won and led to a rapid rise in the antiwar movement.

• "Portraits of Courage: Air War in Vietnam and the Prisoner of War"
As the air war increased in Vietnam, the amount of pilots shot down and captured as POWs increased dramatically.

Disc Two
• "Korea: The Forgotten War"
How the United States became ensnared in a complex and unwinnable conflict that had no satisfying resolution.

• "America's Elite Forces: A Checkered History"
The rise of elite forces like the Green Berets and Navy SEALS has not always been welcomed by conventional soldiers.

• "Military Debacles"
How poor intelligence and slipshod planning led to some of the most deadly military disasters of the late twentieth century.

Disc Three
• "The Gulf War Revisited"
Many of the stories surrounding the 1991 war with Iraq were actually manufactured government propaganda.

• "A Few Good Women"
How the end of World War II led to changes in the role of women in the military, even as many men fought to keep them out.

• "The Changing Face of Warfare"
Military technology during the Cold War evolved into new weapons that deemphasized traditional conventional warfare.

20th Century isn't a terrible show. If anything, it at least has actual historical content, unlike much of what passes for programming at History these days. It's just rather dull and superficial. There's not much in the way of new context or conclusions, rehashing the same stories and arguments you've already heard a million times if you're even only vaguely familiar with the stories seen here. The file footage, much of which is taken from CBS News' archives, is not illuminating. The information is often too badly out-of-date to be valuable, and the footage is usually the same footage seen elsewhere. The episodes on women in the military and military technology are especially dated, with information and statistics way too old to be of any use.

The one truly redeeming feature of the series are the interviews with veterans discussing their experiences in various wars. These are always worth hearing and the men and women tell their stories honestly and emotionally. There are times when the stories are too horrific to hear, but even then they're necessary, if only to reemphasize just how brutal war at its worst can be. The episodes on soldiers and pilots in Vietnam have the most stories and are therefore probably the best in the series. Nonetheless, even with those moments, they're not enough to make this set worth buying.

Ultimately, this is hardly the most informative or entertaining of History Channel's many war-themed shows. History has done some more comprehensive and enjoyable shows on the Korean War, the Gulf War, and military technology. For that matter, the section on Vietnam isn't even close to the best Vietnam shows that have aired on PBS and other places. You'd do better to track down those series than spend money on this one, unless you're a war documentary completist.

The full-screen transfer and stereo mix are both satisfactory, though the image does look soft and hazy at times. The only extras are text biographies of such military leaders as Norman Schwarzkopf, William Westmoreland, and Douglas MacArthur. The set also comes with a twelve-page booklet with additional facts and statistics.

The Verdict

Guilty of being superficial and out-of-date.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Acorn Media
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 470 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Television
• War

Distinguishing Marks

• Bios


• IMDb

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