Anniversaries are delicate when the important events are concerned. In modern times there are few anniversaries more important than the VE Day of the World War Two. Allies defeated Nazis in Europe in May of 1945 and the consequences of that victory we can still see today. The world in which we’re living now is formed by that victory. There are many movies made about WW2, but few came close to HBO’s “Band of Brothers”. That is (in my opinion) the greatest depiction of the WW2 in Europe ever done. Based on a book by Stephen Ambrose, historian and researcher; produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks “Band of Brothers” redefined the WW2 in popular culture. Creative team assembled for the project was stunning, and in the intro we could see all the elements crucial for the ingenuity of the “Band of Brothers”:
Specialties of the show were documentary insights from the real war heroes, and its focus on real and not fictional events made it important in the historical sense too. Stephen E. Ambrose is a historian, his methods of collecting data were highly scientific, HBO honored them by implementing a historical point of view into the “Band of Brothers”. That made a distinct difference between “Band of Brothers” and any other movie or TV series made on the subject. During the course of ten episodes we followed the members of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Stephen Ambrose based the book on historical research, and the protagonists were members of the Easy Company. The series also follows the members of the Easy Company from their training camp in the US through their combat actions in WW2 Europe. Powerful intro into the series was composed by Michael Kamen. In it we can see the initial premise. To quote an Ambrose’s book in which he took the words of philosopher J. Glen Gray:
“Organization for a common and concrete goal in peacetime organizations does not evoke anything like the degree of comradeship known in war… At its height, this sense of comradeship is an ecstasy… Men are true comrades only when each is ready to give up his life for the other without reflection and without thought of personal loss.”
That kind of comradeship, the kind that makes men to be something closer than just warriors in the same company, is the initial premise of the book and the series respectively. They are not just soldiers, they are not just friends. They are – Band of Brothers. Through the mini-series, we’re following the story centered on Dick Winters, the man who, according to witnesses, “turned our lives around” when the Easy Company was formed. From the very beginning, in the first episode, there is an intense dramatic conflict between Herbert Sobel (David Schwimmer) and Lt. Winters (Damian Lewis). Sobel is the kind of officer nobody likes, the kind which makes his man tough for his own personal goals. He is a hypocrite, incompetent and he doesn’t know how to earn the respect of the man he’s supposed to lead. However, when the members of E-Company are interviewed, they all say that they’ve become as successful as they were in spite and because of Captain Herbert Sobel. David Schwimmer was a good choice for such unsympathetic role. The repulsiveness of Sobel was mirrored in his acting, and that first episode (“Curahee”) gave space for the other characters (Malarkey, Nixon, Winters) to shine. After “Sobel tortures” Easy Company was ready to face anything thrown at them in the horror of war. Second episode gave the greatest depiction of D-Day I’ve ever seen on the screen. Kamen’s music intertwined with the scenes of the aerial and naval landing into Normandy. Easy have had the first combat experiences and the stage was set for “Band of Brothers” to become the greatest WW2 series ever made.
I don’t want to write here about every episode specifically because it’s best to watch them again and again as the time passes by, but I would like to point out the great moment in which the series was made. In 2001 when “Band of Brothers” were made, most of the participants were still alive. First hand witnesses were active protagonists in the making, and that’s why there will never be series quite alike to “Band of Brothers” again. During the series we’ve had the privilege to learn from the people, which were actually there, which had no ambition to make thing greater and better than they were. They spoke about the shortcomings and errors, they spoke with respect about their enemies and their motives for fighting. That will not be paralleled ever again. I would say that Steven Spielberg should learn from their approach since his last movies were filled with sugarcoating of the great people and events. “Band of Brothers” gave us the insight into the acting skills of Damian Lewis. Today, he is the star of the “Homeland” but for me he will remain (and I will forever connect him with) Richard Winters, the soul of the Easy Company. His diary entries are the source for the book and the series, and it’s interesting to see the thoughts of the officer in the midst of what would later be known as the greatest airborne-naval operation in the history of warfare (Normandy landings). Through Carentane and Bastogne Easy Company faced the impossible odds against a desperate enemy. Bastogne was the turning point of the war. Artillery made the Allies stuck in the grave winter, and the shells were devastating their psyche and the surrounding forest alike. Without supplies, without meds, with stretched lines and lack of air cover due to the fog, Easy Company was lost in the freezing forests of Bastogne during the last great German counter-attack on the western front. Bastogne was the centerpiece of the season because it showed the lack of equipment for the Allied forces, and the moment in which the scissors were equivalent to gold was especially important. One of the soldiers there said: “When the night is especially freezing (you can ask my wife) I still say: ‘Thank God I’m not in Bastogne.’” Bastogne was a symbol, it showed the enduring of E-Company, endurance which began in Curahee with Sobel, and ended in Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. 8th of May 1945 is the European Victory Day. The 70. anniversary of the event reminds us of the great undertaking which took place to overcome the evils of Nazism and Fascism in Europe, and HBO’s “Band of Brothers” are the best reminder of them all. Today’s Europe is the continent made in the midst of that conflict, made by the brief alliance between the Soviet Union, United States and the European Allies (Great Britain, France…). A brief alliance between Communism and Democracy won against the Nazi regime, and the fact is today easily forgotten. The Nazi war – machine broke its spine on the Soviet effort on the Eastern front, and the Allied forces on the Western front had their share in splitting the German forces in two. Victory would be impossible without any of them. Some, as Oliver Stone, consider World War II as the last justified war of them all, last war in which the evil was evident and clear. Critics and the viewers recognized how exquisite “Band of Brothers” are. A middle rating of 9.6 on IMDB is one of the best of all TV series ever rated, and reviews are as positive as they could be. Uniqueness of the series is shown in the last, special episode, which is pure documentary. We had both fictional and documentary parts of the series in the regular ten episodes, but that last eleventh episode showed us that the journey which started in Curahee and ended in Eagle’s Nest is one of the most difficult ever taken by any group of soldiers. It also showed us that the protagonists of the series were human, they are not as Rambo or some other action movie hero. They were men, they were soldiers and finally – they were brothers. Today, when the army is mostly made of professionals, it’s hard to imagine how the challenges of the war were damaging for those which were in it. Because of that, if you ever wanted to understand how the psyche of regular men works in the extreme conditions, if you ever romanticized war, you should watch “Band of Brothers.” Without any doubt it’s one of the greatest shows ever made. The generation that fought the World War II is slowly disappearing, new first-hand accounts of the events will soon be impossible to get. That makes “Band of Brothers” a historical source, material for the scholars and fans alike. “WE STAND ALONE TOGETHER” (The Man of Easy Company) is the title of the documentary which accompanies the series. Indians would translate it as “Curahee”. The circle is finally closed. That’s why “Band of Brothers” are something unparalleled when it comes to the movies and series about WW2. No coincidences. Men bruised by the Depression came to serve in the Army, volunteered to be paratroopers, had one of the greatest percentage of casualties in the war, and helped liberate France, Holland and Belgium from the Nazi oppression. Finally, they took infamous Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and came home. They were narrators of their own story. 70 years since the war ended, their stories still resonate. The best way to honor the defeat of the Nazism and victory of freedom is to watch it over and over again. They deserve it just as it was made by HBO.