‘Victory at Sea,’ the global economic crisis, the War on Terror and the Oscars….

23 Feb

On occasional weekend mornings, I have been watching the DVD of “Victory at Sea,” the Emmy-winning TV series from the 1950s. It’s a spectacular work that basically introduced the documentary to American television as it chronicled the Allied victory in World War II.

The multi-episode series has a resonance for today far beyond its obvious historical value. The series is filled with constant illustrations of the industrial power of the U.S. economy of the time (producing countless aircraft, ships, tanks and jeeps). The U.S. produced so much. This productivity provides a jarring juxtaposition with today’s news: Detroit reeling (General Motors’ market capitalization at just above $1 Billion), banks fearing nationalization, and an economy that has not seen the bottom of the worst downturn in 50 years.

In the America that won “Victory at Sea” everything was possible. Today, in contrast, to some observers almost nothing is possible. The current grim times were the subject of Peggy Noonan’s recent WSJ column in which she laments of the current crisis: “People are not feeling passing anger or disappointment, they’re feeling truly frightened (because this) isn’t stock market heebie-jeebies, it’s systemic collapse. It’s not just here, it’s global. It’s not only economic, but political.”

Perhaps. But I can’t help but feel the pessimism is overblown. Is this the same America that won “Victory at Sea?” In some respects, the answer is no, of course. But it is mostly yes.

For one thing, America is larger and more diverse. Yes, Detroit may be on the ropes, the consequence of misalignment of production and consumer demand and a failure to manage change. But the American industrial economy still can build: supersonic military aircraft, high-performance civilian jets, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines. In the information and life sciences, no country has a advantage over the free-market and entrepreneurial conditions that characterize the U.S. economy. In countless other categories (agriculture, clean-technology) the U.S. still has an edge, and that is notwithstanding a free trade system that generally has helped enrichen the entire world, not simply America.

It is worth remembering watching the thousands of soldiers, sailors and marines in the newsreels of “Victory at Sea” that a decade earlier their fathers were on soup lines and selling apples on street corners — victims of the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was hard to imagine then that less than a decade later the world would be at war, and America’s factories would be at full capacity and then some.

Will the war on terror expand in a way that leads to a similar result? God forbid. But amid today’s unrelenting, terrible news, when pessimism abounds, it is perhaps worth remembering that others have walked in this way before.

And the connection to the Oscars? Well, “Victory at Sea” was an NBC series. It won an Emmy, but not an Oscar. On the other hand, anyone with an inclination to revisit those years on today, Oscar-day, can turn their TV to premium cable, where one station is showing back-to-back WWII classics “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and “Patton.”


One Response to “‘Victory at Sea,’ the global economic crisis, the War on Terror and the Oscars….”

  1. TDH Los Gatos February 25, 2009 at 7:53 am #

    Your blog is as good as your old stories in the WSJ. I’d like to borrow these DVDs sometime!

    See you in March.

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