The Great War Premieres April 10

News Release Date: 
March 27, 2017

For Immediate Release

‘The Great War’ Premieres on NET April 10

LINCOLN, Neb. (March 27, 2017) – Marking the centennial of America’s entry into World War I on April 6, 1917, the new documentary “The Great War” premieres at 8 p.m. CT, Monday, April 10. The three-part, six-hour television event continues at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, April 11 and 12, on NET.

Drawing on the latest scholarship, including unpublished diaries, memoirs and letters, “The Great War” tells the rich and complex story of World War I through the voices of nurses, journalists, aviators and the American troops who came to be known as “doughboys.” The new film from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE explores the stories of African-American and Latino soldiers, suffragists, Native-American “code talkers” and others who participated in the war to make the world safe for democracy.

The documentary also explores how a brilliant PR man bolstered support for the war in a country hesitant to put lives on the line for a foreign conflict; how President Woodrow Wilson steered the nation through almost three years of neutrality, only to reluctantly lead America into the bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen, thereby transforming the United States into a dominant player on the international stage; and how the ardent patriotism and determination to support America’s crusade for liberty abroad led to one of the most oppressive crackdowns on civil liberties at home.

It is also a story of little known heroism and sacrifice (including the deadliest battle in American history) that would leave more than 53,000 men dead on the battlefield and more than 60,000 dead from disease. American fatalities would come at a critical time in the war, but they would be dwarfed by a cataclysm of violence that would ultimately claim 15 million lives.

Episode One April 10
Drawing upon a rich visual archive, part one explores America’s tortured, nearly three-year journey to join a war that began in 1914 on the European continent. Although Wilson’s neutrality was widely supported, American volunteers flocked to the hospitals and fighting fields of France as the war’s size and violence grew. Then in April 1915, the German army violated the international rules of war and launched history’s first chemical attack. In May, a German U-boat sank the British liner Lusitania, killing 128 Americans. By 1916, there was a growing sense that the European war was coming closer to home as the Germans resumed a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare.

Episode Two April 11
In the spring of 1917, the United States was utterly unprepared for war. Its army ranked 17th in the world, behind Serbia’s. France and Britain were dubious about America’s might. At home, Congress and the American people remained deeply divided about going to war. Wilson knew he needed to sell the war, and quickly. He turned to a former journalist, George Creel, to head the newly-created Committee on Public Information. Although conscription was controversial at first, branding the draft as Selective Service successfully created the impression that soldiers were volunteering to join the army. In the end, more than 9 million men registered, and 4 million were eventually called to serve.

Led by General John Pershing, these men, known as “doughboys,” became America’s first mass conscripted army. It was also strictly segregated. Most black soldiers were shunted into labor battalions and barred from training with guns. One exception was the 15th New York National Guard — later known as the Harlem Hellfighters — who fought hard to get to the frontlines in France.

Episode Three April 12
Opening in the fall of 1918, on the eve of the bloodiest battle in American history —the Meuse-Argonne in northeastern France — part three charts the ways in which the climactic struggle, and the ensuing peace, forever changed a president and a nation. Wilson had given Pershing just one directive: help win the war so that Wilson could set the terms for peace.

Back in the United States, a deadly new enemy swept through cities and military camps: the flu. At the front, more American soldiers were killed by the flu than in combat. Meanwhile, a small group of Native American soldiers translated messages into Choctaw to confound German intelligence reports and help the American army break through at last. On Nov. 11, 1918, the guns fell silent along the Western Front. The war was over and the country had new ideas of the role it could play in the future as diplomat, warrior, peacemaker and humanitarian.

AMEX2905: The Great War:  Transformed Mon 8p CT

 “World War I was the soil from which so many things today really grew, starting with America’s place in the world,” said AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Executive Producer Mark Samels. “Before the war, America was isolated and uninvolved in world affairs. After the war, America stepped onto the world stage.”

For 28 years, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE has been television’s most-watched history series. On air and online, the series brings to life the incredible characters and epic stories that have shaped America’s past and present. Visit pbs.org/americanexperience to learn more.

NET operates the statewide public service network which includes television, radio and online services. For more information about NET, Nebraska’s PBS & NPR stations, visit netNebraska.org.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Mary Jane Winquest, 402-470-6247, mjwinquest@netNebraska.org.

NET, Nebraska’s PBS Station
NET
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