The Living Dead: Three Films About the Power of the Past
was the second major documentary series
made by British film-maker Adam Curtis
. This series investigated the way that history and memory (both national and individual) have been used by politicians and others. It was transmitted on BBC Two
in the spring
On the Desperate Edge of Now (30 May 1995)
The title of this episode comes from a veteran's description of the uncertainty of survival in combat. It examined how the various national memories of the Second World War were effectively rewritten and manipulated in the Cold War period.
For Germany, this began at the Nuremberg Trials, where attempts were made to prevent the Nazis in the dock, principally Hermann Göring, from offering any rational argument for what they had done. Subsequently, however, bringing lower-ranking Nazis to justice was effectively forgotten about in the interests of maintaining West Germany as an ally in the Cold War.
For the Allies, faced with a new enemy in the Soviet Union, there was a need to portray World War II as a crusade of pure good against pure evil, even if this meant denying the memories of the Allied soldiers who had actually done the fighting, and knew it to have been far more ambiguous. A number of American veterans related how years later they found themselves plagued with the previously-suppressed memories of the brutal things they had seen and done.