« Our Communist Milblog… | Home | An Introduction to On… »

Our Band of Brothers Sequel Pitch

(To read the rest of our series on Band of Brothers, please click here.)

I prefer any form of narrative--TV show, film, comic book, novel, whatever--that avoids pitting a “good” protagonist against an “evil” antagonist. I can’t relate to the battle of good versus evil.

Which brings me to Band of Brothers and The Pacific. Both series root for the goodly protagonists (the American military, obviously, along with their trusty sidekicks the British and Australians) versus the evil antagonists, the Nazis and Japanese. It’s pretty obvious who Americans root for when they watch each series.

But as I pointed out in “Band of Brothers' "Why We Fight" or: No, That's Not Why We Fought” and “The Myth of the Good War: Band of Brothers “Points”, World War II, like every war that’s ever been fought, wasn’t that simple. For example, Stalin, our loyal WWII ally, was as evil a dictator as Hitler. Russia committed massive war crimes before, during and after World War II. America interned over 100,000 Japanese citizens and refused to take in Jewish refugees from Germany.

War isn’t simple, which leads me to my proposal for HBO’s next World War II era miniseries, should they ever choose to do one:

Eastern Front.

So far we’ve had Band of Brothers, from the perspective of the Army, and The Pacific, from the perspective of the Marines. Both cover Americans. Eastern Front will show the German and Russian soldiers, who did most of the fighting and dying in World War II on the deadliest frontline in world history.

Following a German platoon and a Russian platoon, we see the war take shape: the initial German surprise attack, Operation Barbarossa, which sets the Russians on their heels as local insurgents help the Germans. Midway through the series, we move to Stalingrad, with its starving population and under-supported Russian soldiers. We see the counter-attack, as Germans lose ground. We end with the Russians “raping Berlin”.

What happened on the eastern front intrigues me more, from a thematic perspective, than the traditional WWII narrative. Who do you root for? On one side, you have America’s enemy during World War II, the Germans/Nazis. On the other side you have America’s next enemy, the Russians/Communists that America would spend the next fifty years demonizing. The series would open detailing the cruelty of the Germans towards the Russians. The series would ends with those same Russians enacting cruel, cruel revenge. Both sides commit war crimes against one another, or themselves. (The Russians scorched their own land to prevent the Germans from using it.) Both countries were led by vicious dictators, who killed millions of their own people under corrupt ideologies.

I’m not the first person to propose something like this. Clint Eastwood, while writing Flags of Our Fathers, decided to reverse the lens and depict the Japanese experience on the same island. The resulting film, Letters from Iwo Jima, is the superior movie.

Is there any chance this miniseries could get made? Possibly. David Benioff, who currently co-created and showruns HBO’s hit drama series (and On Violence favorite) Game of Thrones, wrote the excellent novel City of Thieves about the Russian experience in Stalingrad. (Read On Violence’s glowing review here.) If there were ever anyone to work on this show, or at least produce it, it would be him.

On the other hand, I imagine HBO is in the business of making money, and a WWII miniseries from the perspective of the Germans (Nazis) or Russians (Communists) won’t make money.

Not to mention the worst part: the ending. Americans, as I endlessly complain about on this blog, view World War II through a glowing sepia-toned fog of remembrance that edits out all of our misdeeds. One of the things we forget (or ignore) is how messily World War II ended. In the second to last episode of Band of Brothers, the Americans punished the Germans by making the civilians bury the dead bodies from the concentration camps. The Russians, on the other side of the front, raped as many German women as they could, looted cities, and murdered Germans who surrendered. Instead of decrying the Holocaust, our allies, the Russians, murdered Jews as well.

It’s not simple, but its true. The other side of the coin we don’t see nearly enough.

seven comments

Have you guys seen the movie “The Last Time I Saw Archie”? It was made in 1961 and is about some American soldiers in WWII whose prime activities are gaming the system and avoiding combat assignments. Given some of the themes of your writing I think you would be interested in it.

Some of the movies made in the ten or fifteen years after WWII are pretty are pretty gritty. “Attack” is one.


If it means anything, Soviet atrocities on the Eastern Front went to a deeper, lesser-known extent. On a few occasions, Red-Army soldiers raped the emaciated victims of liberated concentration camps—many of whom were fellow Russians.
Also, I recommend the movie We Were Young (based off the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young), which does a better job than most at portraying both sides.


Hey guys,

I think you’re right, American audiences will not buy an Eastern front series. Very few people beyond a small selection would ever watch a movie on that front that isn’t American/Brit made – Enemy at the Gates. As an example of this action, how many people have ever watched Stalingrad (1993)? Even Downfall freaked a lot of people out.

Like you, I was also terribly disappointed with The Pacific, and for many of the same reasons. But I happened to be studying a lot of Korean War literature when it was on the air and this was my thought: a BoB-like series on the 1st Marine division.
It can start with learning Amphib ops, move into Inchon, Seoul, into the hinterlands, Pyongyang and the Chinese border, ‘Frozen Chosen’, the retreat to the 38th, stalemate, and finally the withdrawal.

There would be a lot more to discuss than another WW2 series: Cold War issues; Presidential power; Civ-Mil relations; ideology; American adaptation; the politics of the retreat, stalemate, and negotiated ceasefire, and so on.

Thoughts?


@ Carl – We could probably get a whole list of good films, including Combat, which I still haven’t seen…

“The Last Time I Saw Archie” sound slike it has a lot of similar themes to Catch-22, which people treat more like a Vietnam era book than a World War II novel.


I think a series following the 1st Marine Division in Korea is a grand idea. Like you said it will cover about every aspect of fighting there is, amphib landing, city fighting, winter fighting, mountain fighting, pursuit, retreat, evacuation, static line fighting etc. And you would get the added bonus of the USMC enthusiastically supporting the production.

I am not sure you could work in issues beyond the experiences of the Marines in the Division though. That is the compelling part. The movie Pork Chop Hill worked in some things other than the experience of the infantry company and I thought it was handled ok. But it would be a hard thing to do.

Eric: You gotta see Combat.

That is a bit ironic that Catch-22 is treated like a Vietnam era book. It was written by a WWII guy about WWII and inspired I am guessing by his experiences in WWII. A WWII book resonating with Vietnam era people goes to show ya that the big machine doesn’t change.


Carl,

Glad you liked the idea. I hadn’t even thought of the support the Marines would bring. I’d forgotten how much money they put into promotion.

Agreed, Pork Chop Hill did bring in a bit of politics, and it did an alright job, but not great. However, in a series you have a very long time to draw out a few issues. And as BoB did, they threw everything into the final two episodes. For this, the beginning and end would be the prime place for it, with hints and comments throughout – MacArthur’s dismissal, for example. I wasn’t overly suggesting hitting people over the head with a political message, more that you have many more issues to discuss, as the On Violence gang were noting in their original post.

And I just thought of something fun, you could have a few seconds/minutes of Damien Lewis, as Winters, training officers.


When weighing up the evils of the Nazi and Stalinist armies during the Second World War it is important to understand the oppression that ordinary Soviet soldiers suffered at the hands of their own army. No other army in history has had to fight such a ruthless enemy as the German war machine while at the same time being under Stalin’s terror. Soviet soldiers had a very narrow window during the war when they could speak their mind without being imprisoned or sent to a penal detachment.
This does not excuse the war crimes of the Red Army during the war, but in my opinion it’s important to understand how brutalised the Red Army became by war’s end.

For an amazing book about what it was like fighting with the Russian partisans try to find ‘Destined to Live’ by Leon Berk.

By far the best Soviet war film is ‘Come and See’ (1985) a lyrical yet brutal masterpiece.