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When I was growing up in the 1970's, I was attending a Catholic grade school full of the children of World War II and Korean War veterans. My father fought the Japanese, his brother had been killed fighting the Germans. Their father had been gassed fighting the Germans in the First World War. We played army incessantly when we were kids. Our parents _always_ bought us toy guns when there was occasion to buy us gifts: birthdays and Christmas were times to buy war toys for the boys, and we all had piles of pastic and metal weapons that reflected the fact that we were American children, stoked on the lore of warfare and the culture of weaponry. It was a strangely testosterone-charged youth culture for kids twelve years old and younger. I was ten years old at the height of my fascination for 'playing army' and for toy guns. And as for myself, I was the Arsenal of Democracy: Donnie down the street generally played 'Son of Hitler' and I played 'The Americans'. The kids on my side lined up in the basement of our house, a row home about twenty minutes southwest of Philadelphia, and accepted my plastic and metal rifles and pistols on loan. My metal bolt-driven (German-style) machine gun with heavy-guage plastic and a red plastic effect popper in the front end was reserved exclusively to me. I loved that toy gun; I got it for Christmas when I was eight years old and I played with it heavily until I broke it falling out of a tree when I was ten. I was heartbroken. I'm not sure what it says of me that I'm still just a tad mournful about it, in some childlike corner of my heart, to this very day at forty years of age. It was like a childhood talisman of manliness and power and I had conceded it to the obliterative power of accident and Time. Toy guns like it are no longer sold today, not even on eBay that I can find, and I don't think I'll see another like it. It makes me very sad. I look back on my memories of that toy machinegun with enormous fondness: little kids used to love lining up against the wall of the Bascalia Family's house (they lived on the end of another row, by the driveway on our street back to the driveways and garages of our neighborhood) and machinegun them in mass executions. I pulled back the metal bolt again and again as I hosed them down with imaginary killing rounds from my murderous war toy, and they died grinning and convulsing like laughing martyrs, completing our communal romance with the thoroughly American act of killing and dying by a machinegun. If we'd been much older it might have been sordidly sexual. Kids who were particularly good at dying received the complimentary bonus hosedown, and I continued to spray their joyously convulsing bodies with invisible bullets in morbid glee, and they died well. It only ended when they were tired of being on the ground or had to go home, or indeed when I finally tired of killing them. Even spectacles of mock-brutality become tiresome to the most Americanized, psychologically weaponized boy. What drove us to kill each other with toy guns and imaginary ammunition? Why did our fathers stockpile our toyboxes with these replicas of the tools of murder and mayhem so willfully? We were all fine student historians who watched Public Television's finest British documentary on World War II with religious ferver every afternoon. (This was only after our daily serving of Ultra Man, George of the Jungle and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons on Channel 17 - and these were the days of VHF and UHF television.) What was this wonderfully educational program that inspired such savage, playful violence in all of the little boys on Crescent Drive? 'The World at War' was one of the most educational programs I ever watched as a child, and it has remained part of my 'media conscious' throughout my life. Its anthemic, martial and dark-toned theme is indelibly part of my musical memory, as well as many of its horrific images and its famous burning, tombstone-like logo at the beginning of every episode. It is a fine, comprehensive history of the Second World War that I enjoyed with my father on many afternoons and no doubt had a large effect on me, who am an excellent amateur historian with a taste for the lore of the past and now a sociopolitical radical. It is because of this program and others like it, largely via media venues such as Public Television and the BBC, that I have a more solid grasp of history from various points of view than the vast majority of Americans and can teach my students all of their literature in a firm historical and geopolitical context. 'The World at War' is a bulwark in my personal, private efforts at educating myself about history and the world, and I am grateful for it. Today, I'm grateful to finally own a copy of the entire series on DVD. I purchased it the other day at BJ's Wholesale (a wholesale club requiring membership but well worth the cost), $60US. It consists of 26 episodes plus supplementary materials on 11 DVD discs in a boxed set, with an excellent if relatively simple menuing system and fully remastered for picture and sound for today's media. Sir Laurence Olivier's exquisite and expressive enunciation wonderfully enlivens the highly instructive commentary and the tremendous wealth of imagery, both photographic and moving-picture, in color and in black-and-white. There is nothing that detracts from this powerful series even after more than thirty years' time since its production and broadcast in Britan, America and the world. It is truly a classic and a choice addition to the DVD library of an educationally-conscious collector. I rate it at five out of five stars, and encourage everyone so inclined to run out and purchase a copy post-haste. As for myself, I will share it with my father, a disabled veteran who continues to read constantly about the conflict in which he and his brother participated. He now also watches innumerable DVD documentaries thanks to my recent purchase of a DVD player for him after my mother's passing, on all kinds of subjects; now we can reminisce about our times as father and young son watching this fine series - and my ritual of summertime warfare and make-believe quartermaster. This boxed set is published in the United States by Arts & Entertainment (A&E) Network.

The Alienist

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The following comments are for "'The World at War', WW2 documentary DVD set"
by The Alienist

Hi Alienist...loved this piece!

This really took me back. My children are roughly ten years older than you are...but they two were happily involved with war toys. Remember GI Joe? They built model planes...bombers, spit fires etc. But as 6 yr olds, they were heavily into cowboys and indians... the lone ranger mesmerized them for hours on a saturday afternoon giving me a guaranteed hour of peace (not necessarily quiet!)

As for your preoccupation with ww2, I LIVED that era, fearing the Japaneses would come over at any moment to bomb us off the map! The boys played soldiers while the girls were recruited as nurses to bind up imaginary wounds. For us children, this was a terrifying period to say the least...we had air raid drills in school instead of fire drills! Patriotism was NOT a dirty word in those days, and we thrilled at the exploits of our local soldiers.

To us...war was real!

Thank you for the memories. (I touch on the war years in my CHILDHOOD VIGNETTES

( Posted by: Beatrice Boyle [Member] On: December 18, 2006 )

As I was saying....
Sorry Alienist...I wasn't finished with my comments above, when I hit the wrong button and left my sentence in mid-air!

I was unable to comment or log on to Lit for several months early this year due to illness and my computer died an early death, so I was not aware you had lost your mother.

What a lovely tribute to her...she must be so proud as she watches over you from above. They never really leave us...they just watch over us from a different vantage point...that little voice you hear in the back of your head and the guilty feeling when you do something her way of prodding you back to the straight and narrow before you go too far off the beaten path.
HEED the warning...Mom truly is watching and waiting!


( Posted by: Beatrice Boyle [Member] On: December 18, 2006 )


I have to say this piece was quite an eye-opener. If I may ,I too ,have some impressions to share about the War, albeit at several removes.

My late father was doing his PhD in plant genetics at Kings' London just before the war.Well ,working flat out, he managed to get his degree a couple of months before War was declared.

From whatever he told us of that period ,one in particular stands out. Apparently in those times there were quite a few young Germans studying in the UK.At Kings' for example, there was a young undergrad German of around 19 or 20 . He was concurrently a member of the Luftwaffe ,and I'm told even had his own little plane - a rarity in those days - parked at Croydon airfield. On the long weekends he'd fly off to Germany to spend time with his girlfriend and family - all courtesy the Luftwaffe.

I'm sure there must be thousands of such vignettes ,memories and images from those times . Many perhaps , that remained unrecorded , have been forever lost to us .

( Posted by: RJKT [Member] On: December 19, 2006 )

I agree...'s too bad that more people didn't do something to pass these on. Thaks for that memory, btw.

( Posted by: the alienist [Member] On: December 20, 2006 )

Alienist & RJTK
Someone DID preserve those memories for their grandchildren...ME!

Check out my CHILDHOOD VIGNETTES in the archives. Part one is early grammar shcool days in the 30's and Part two and three...the High School & War years. Check it out!


( Posted by: Beatrice Boyle [Member] On: December 22, 2006 )

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