Full Program Description
Civilians become targets -- contributing to the war effort with their labor and their lives
Original broadcast: Monday, June 22 at 9pm
(check local listings for re-broadcast dates)
By mid-century, the nature of war is about to change. From now on, war will pit whole societies against each other -- and civilians, for the first time in modern history, will both support the war effort and find themselves in the line of fire.
In Total War, eyewitnesses from Britain, Germany, Russia, Korea, Japan, and the United States tell the story of how millions of civilians participated and came to be legitimate targets in the Second World War.
Survivors from bombings in Plymouth, London, Hamburg, and Tokyo remember watching their homes, and often their families, destroyed in air-raids. Russian peasants recount German atrocities as entire villages were razed, the population exterminated or deported to work in German factories. Japanese soldiers and Korean slave-laborers describe the brutality of war in Asia. Total War reminds us of the extraordinary suffering -- and of a people's war like none before.
Plymouth, with its significant naval dockyard, was the most densely bombed city in Britain. Betty Lawrence was a nurse at Plymouth General Hospital on the night of 1941's worst raid: "[It] was terrible walking through Plymouth. No buildings, no buildings at all. Absolutely nothing. You couldn't believe it, you just [thought] 'Where am I, where's Plymouth?' It was the only time during the war that I felt a sense of defeat, that we were finished."
The British government worried that morale was collapsing, and Churchill visited the city to promise that they "will mete out to the Germans the measure, and more than the measure, they are meting out to us." Betty Lawrence remembers: "Yes, I thought that if they could do this to us, do it to children, we should do it to them. I know it wasn't a nurse's philosophy at all to feel like that, but that's the way I felt then. 'Do it to them.'"
It would be another year before retribution was rained on Germany. In the meantime, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor would bring the United States into the war. President Roosevelt was quick to enlist the whole of American society in the war effort, declaring that "the militarists of Berlin and Tokyo started this war, but the massed, angered forces of common humanity will finish it."
In the summer of 1943, the Allies set out to stop German munitions production by "de-housing" German workers in Hamburg. The Allied bombing ignited a firestorm with winds of 120 miles per hour. Fireman Hans Brunswig captured the scene with his movie camera and shares the film in Total War: " The fire was unusual because it moved so fast. All our previous experiences were turned on their head. The way the fire joined up to all the streets -- there had never been anything like this before."
Temperatures soared to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Eight square miles were ablaze. Civil defense worker Margarete Zettel was caught in the middle of the raid: "It was an inferno, pure chaos, there was an unbelievable storm. The next thing we noticed was the disgusting smell. I still have it in my nostrils now. Blood, mortar, everything was burning. The mixture was absolutely gruesome. [People] were crying out in despair, they were crying out for their families. It was a chaos of feelings and pain, spiritual and physical pain. Of course, we were broken." Forty-two thousand people died -- more than all British deaths sustained in the whole of the Blitz. In Eastern Europe, Nazi racial policy gave way to "total war" as German soldiers set out to kill or deport and enslave huge numbers of the Soviet population. Those who were left behind were engulfed by a conflict that would take more civilian lives in the Soviet Union than in any other single country.
But it would be the extraordinary privations of Leningrad that would become the symbol for the suffering of all Russian citizens. In September 1941, a siege had begun that would last two-and-a-half years. Almost a million people died from starvation and cold. Elena Taranukhina's mother became delusional, consumed by hunger: "Mama tried to bite a bit of flesh from my little daughter Leila. She was quite a plump little child. So I never left my daughter on her own at home. I took her with me every time I went to queue at the bakers. My mother died soon after."
By the time the siege was lifted in 1944, war in China was in its seventh year -- and Chinese civilians received much the same treatment at the hand of the Japanese. The Japanese, like the Germans, wanted to expand their territory and treated their enemies as subhuman. Japanese troops were given orders to make the land uninhabitable. Hakudo Nagatomi, one of the Japanese who took part in atrocities against the Chinese, remembers the army's slogan -- "the Three Alls: 'Burn all, steal all, kill all.' That means if there were people, kill them. If there was a house, burn it. If there were cows or sheep, slaughter them." Nagatomi is still haunted by the memories: "I rounded up the women and children in the villages, shut them into buildings, piled up fire wood, and burnt them. I did many terrible things."
Meanwhile, Japanese workers were told to speed up the pace of war production. Children were taken out of school and sent to work in munitions factories. At twelve, Katsumoto Saotome helped to produce grenades: "The school wanted us to look military and I've kept this over the years. It says 'Kamikaze' in Japanese. Our teachers told us that in Japan we have an Emperor who is descended from the Gods. So whatever happens, in the end, the divine wind will blow and win the war for us. We used to tie [it] around our heads before we went to the factory."
On March 10, 1945, the United States dropped half-a-million incendiary bombs on Tokyo, setting the city ablaze. Earlier concerns in the West about the morality of bombing civilians were long forgotten. Yoshiko Hashimoto remembers: "Bedding, broken wood, bits of doors, things like that came flying at us. Then they fell on people running away and set them alight. Their hair caught fire. I saw a woman, a woman standing there burning. People writhing around in agony, in a ball of fire."
Three hundred thirty-four planes killed 120,000 people in just a few hours -- more than any other single action in the war. In August 1945, it would take only one plane -- and one bomb -- to devastate Hiroshima, and later Nagasaki, in just a few seconds. Japan surrendered. In all, the war had cosumed some fifty-five million lives -- more than six times the number lost in the First World War. But even more shocking than the sheer numbers was that millions more civilians -- men, women, and children -- had lost their lives than soldiers in uniform.
Total War is produced and directed by John Bridcut; the narrator is John Forsythe. People's Century is a co-production of WGBH and the BBC -- filmed around the world and shaped in Boston and London. Executive producer for WGBH is Zvi Dor-Ner; senior producer is David Espar. Peter Pagnamenta is executive producer for the BBC. National corporate sponsorship for the series is provided by Conseco, Inc. Major funding is provided by public television viewers and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding is provided by the Richard Saltonstall Charitable Foundation and The Lowell Institute.
About the Series | Episodes | Timeline | Your Stories | Thematic Overview | Teacher's Guide
People's Century | WGBH | PBS Online | Search PBS | Feedback | Shop | ©