'Cold War' a fine piece of history Preview: Turner, CNN sweat the details of amazing documentary.

September 26, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

It would be hard to imagine that any aspect of the Soviet-American conflict is left untouched by "Cold War," an exhaustive, 24-part documentary debuting tomorrow on CNN.

Initiated and funded by Ted Turner, the world's richest history buff, "Cold War" chronicles, in often astonishing detail, nearly a half-century of blustering, bluffing, maneuvering and battling between two superpowers and a world that became increasingly under their domination as the conflict dragged on.

The first four hour-long segments, which run on successive Sunday evenings through Oct. 18, detail the origins of the confict, from the Yalta and Pottsdam conferences marking the end of World War II up to the Korean War. Neither side comes off squeaky clean.

Following a World War that saw 27 million of his people killed (40 times the combined casualties of the U.S. and Great Britain), Russian dictator Joseph Stalin set out to realize two goals: make certain Germany would never again be a threat, and spread Soviet influence (or more precisely, control) over as much of Europe and Asia as possible.

Those plans didn't sit well with the United States. The two countries maintained an uneasy alliance in thwarting Hitler, but with that war over, the U.S. became obsessed with stopping the spead of communism. At the same time, it saw a revived Germany as key to Europe's postwar recovery.

Thus the differing world views were in place for a stalemate that would dominate the latter half of the 20th century, as the Americans and the Soviets struggled to protect what they were convinced were mutually exclusive self-interests.

Although most of the principals are long gone -- oh, for the chance to hear what Stalin might have said to CNN -- "Cold War" features interviews with an impressive array of men and women who were there on the front lines of history, everyone from preidential aides to Russian peasants, from Clark Clifford and John Kenneth Galbraith to Wojciech Jaruzelski, an officer in the Polish first army who would later become his country's last communist ruler.

The interviews are fascinating and, by all appearances, candid. While it's dangerous to trust that political leaders are telling the entire truth, no matter how far removed they are from office, it's invaluable to be able to see and hear them comment on their roles in shaping history.

Which is where the main value of "Cold War" lies: it's an excellent historical tool for future generations trying to understand a conflict that eventually produced enough firepower to destroy the entire planet.

Later episodes deal with such topics as the Red scare and the McCarthy hearings (Nov.1); the space race (Nov. 15); the Cuban missile crisis (Nov. 29); China and Mao (Jan. 24); trouble in the Middle East, including the Iranian hostage crisis (March 7); spies (March 14); and President Reagan's "Star Wars" missile defense system (March 21).

Crisp editing keeps the narrative flowing freely, while Kenneth Branagh's voiceovers help fill in the gaps and keep things in perspective. Future episodes, beginning with an Oct. 25 look at the Korean War and culminating with the destruction of the Berlin Wall, include interviews with such key figures as Fidel Castro, Robert McNamara, Anatoly Dobrynin, Henry Kissinger, William Westmoreland, Lech Walesa, Mikhail Gorbachev and former Presidents Carter, Ford and Bush.

If nothing else, CNN and Turner deserve plaudits for preserving these recollections. Turning them into 24 hours of compelling television is a bonus.

The first 12 hour-long episodes of "The Cold War" air from 8 p.m.-9 p.m. on consecutive Sundays through Dec. 13. The series then picks up with episode 13 on Jan. 3 and runs on consecutive Sundays through April 4.

'Cold War'

When: 8 p.m. tomorrow on CNN The first 12 episodes air Sundays at 8 p.m. through Dec. 13.

Pub Date: 9/26/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.