In the wake of such difficult events as the attacks of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Enron scandal, and the war in Iraq, America has been struggling to regains its standing in the world as “land of the free and home of the brave”. Shot against the backdrop of the recent US Presidential election, historian Simon Schama reveals how voters, anxious about a shaky prosperity and an on-going war, have become disillusioned with their government in numbers that haven’t been seen since Watergate.
Part 1: American Plenty
Simon Schama explores how American optimism about the infinite possibilities of its land and resources is in danger of coming to a grinding halt. Nowhere is this more evident than the American West, which has always been a symbol of opportunity and freedom. Oil at $4 a gallon may be dominating the headlines, but here it’s the lack of water that’s an even bigger threat to the American future. The West is in the grip of a nine-year drought. America’s optimism about its natural resources has always been spiced with clashes over conservation, going back to the first man to navigate the Colorado River, John Wesley Powell. American ingenuity made farming on an industrial scale possible in the early years of the 20th century but at the cost of making Oklahoma a dustbowl. The building of the Hoover Dam, a modern American miracle, which provided essential irrigation for farming and for the new city of Las Vegas, now no longer supplies enough water for both. In 1980, Ronald Reagan’s optimism about American plenty defeated Jimmy Carter’s campaign for self-restraint but, in this coming election, neither candidate can ignore the challenges facing America as it enters an era of limits.
Part 2: American War
The world has gotten used to thinking of America as the tough-guy empire; trigger-happy cowboys addicted to the rush of military power. But that’s not the way America sees itself. Simon reveals how Americans really feel about being at war. Two of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, disagreed about whether America should even have a professional army – a division still evident when Simon visits America’s premier military academy at West Point. From the Civil War right through to Mark Twain’s denunciation of President Teddy Roosevelt’s imperial adventure in the Philippines, American wars have inspired profound debate. Nowhere is that more evident than in San Antonio, Texas, a town nicknamed Military City because of its high population of veterans and soldiers currently serving. It is there that Simon finds feelings about the war are deeply divided, and as with the Great War elections of the past, it’s a debate which forces America to dig deep and rediscover what it stands for.
Part 3: American Fervour
Simon Schama explores how faith has shaped American political life. For the first time in a generation it’s the Democrats who are claiming to be the party of God. In the recent Presidential election it was Barack Obama, and not John McCain, who spoke of his faith. The British have long regarded American religion as a conservative force, yet Simon reveals that throughout American history faith helped to shape America, and it was that very search for religious freedom that led thousands to make the dangerous journey to the colonies in the 1600s. After America won its independence, religious freedom was enshrined in the Constitution, making it the first country in the world to do so. Simon also looks at the remarkable role the black church has played, first in the liberation of the slaves in the 1800s, and again in the civil rights movement of the Sixties. It’s this very church that has been the inspiration for Barack Obama, who traces the roots of his political inspiration to his faith.
Part 4: What is an American?
Simon Schama looks at the bitter conflict over immigration in American history. Who should be allowed to enter America and call themselves an American has been one of the nation’s most divisive issues since its founding, and continues to this day. The early settlers were immigrants but they saw America as fundamentally a white and Protestant nation. Simon looks at the key events that challenged this view: the annexation of parts of Mexico in 1848 that made 100,000 non-whites American citizens, the immigration and expulsion of the Chinese in the late 19th century, and the massive immigration from Eastern Europe during the industrialization of the 1920s. Those who have insisted America must stay white if it is to stay true to itself has been defeated by the sheer force of history. John F Kennedy defined America as a Nation of Immigrants in 1964, and Simon presents the view that the election of Barack Obama represents the final triumph of the vision of America as a multi-ethnic nation.
Source: OTA High Definition 1080i
Video Encoding: xvid.1280x720.4300kbps
Audio Encoding: ac3.384kbps-5.1chan
File Size: 1.65GB
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