PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

America at War Megaset

The US has been involved in so many wars and conflicts that comparably the depth of this DVD set is very thin

America at War Megaset

Distributor: A&E
Network: History Channel
US Release Date: 2008-02-26

It would not be an exaggeration to say the American war machine is the mightiest to ever trod upon the Earth. Not only does the US arsenal have the most destructive weapons available to man, but it also conveys the most sophisticated application of modern science and technology.

Furthermore, from Gettysburg to Normandy, the US has been involved in the most harrowing and challenging campaigns in warfare history. Arguably, the cultural and social landscape of modern America has been shaped mostly by its numerous battles and their generals.

As a consequence, the multidisciplinary complexity of American military history spans over 230 years and imposes a gigantic challenge to those who try to disseminate its understanding to the general public. Even a mammoth effort such as America at War, a massive 14 volume DVD set running over 32 hours, ultimately falls short of giving a reasonable depiction of US warfare history.

In a nutshell, America at War is a collection of documentaries originally aired by the History Channel. The reach of the set is quite wide, including the revolutionary wars (vols. 1-3), the Alamo (vol. 4), the Civil War (vols. 5-6), World War I (vol. 7), World War II (vol. 8-9), the Korean War (vol. 10), the Vietnam War (vol.11), the Gulf War (vol. 12), and the Iraq War (vols. 13-14).

Such a thematic breakdown makes evident one of the unfavorable issues with this collection. That is, in spite of its staggering size, the US has been involved in so many wars and conflicts that comparably the depth of this DVD set is very thin. And also, the time distribution of the content appears to be completely arbitrary. For instance, history shattering events such as WWI or the Vietnam War have a single disc devoted to their discussion, while the Iraq campaign receives two. But nevertheless, one could argue that a more general discussion of American warfare history would require dozens of DVDs, which would be economically unfeasible for a commercial product.

But then again, a clever, concise, elegant, straightforward, and self-contained presentation of a particular conflict could be presented within a couple of hours, about the maximum amount of time available on a single DVD disc. However, this is not the case with America at War, and this observation actually reveals the main shortcoming with this collection. That is, the included documentaries do not form a consistent and comprehensive overview of US military history. Instead, almost every single volume of this DVD set presents a stand alone documentary discussing a specific aspect of a conflict.

For example, the first of two discs devoted to WWII delves into the final stages of the conflict, and naturally misses several defining battles that ultimately led to the Allied victory. On the other hand, the second DVD is about truly obscure details related to the conflict: the explosion and sinking of USS Eagle 56 off the coast of Maine (which was attributed to a Nazi submarine attack) and the intellectual foundations of Nazi ideology cemented by the works of Munich University Professor Karl Haushofer.

As such, America at War is merely a collection of completely disconnected features which fails to provide a better understanding of the general picture. With such a fragmentary and inconsistent structure, this DVD set remains a mixed bag of goodies.

Therefore, it is to be expected that the viewer wishing to obtain a better understanding of how warfare has shaped American history and culture is likely to be sorely disappointed with America at War. On the other hand, for those arm chair generals like me, who enjoy relearning and revisiting the same battles multiple times, America at War provides a few interesting and insightful discussions that are worth watching.

For example, the three volumes devoted to the Revolutionary War are truly outstanding, discussing the major battles of the conflict, the political and ideological process that led the colonies to achieve independence, and the genesis of the creation of the Republic. But still, at times, somehow these documentaries feel incomplete and fragmentary. Arguably, the reason behind this awkward feeling of frustration and disappointment is that, in all their wisdom, A&E and The History Channel decided to release on America at War only three of the five volumes that originally made the acclaimed American Revolution documentary.

On the other hand, the volumes devoted to the Civil War and the Iraq Conflict offer the complete documentaries. The first one is quite informative, giving a good overview of the gestation, engagement, and resolution of a war that totally transformed the US. On the other hand, however, the discussion of the American campaign in Iraq feels unsatisfactory and inconsequential because it culminates in 2004. Indeed, this documentary is substantially out of date and misses several important events and revelations that helped to define the political and ideological motivations of this controversial war.

Overall, America at War offers plenty of good and insightful discussions relating to key moments in US military history. As such, this set may be of interest to the warfare aficionado. However, by arbitrarily collecting documentaries from diverse sources with different perspectives, America at War feels incoherent, incomplete, patchy, and without a clear intellectual or ideological goal. As such this set emerges as a product remarkably inferior to the sum of its parts.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.