'It Is Now the War of the Men': How the NBC of the 1960s Saw D-Day

The flattening effects of video, via a mini-documentary made at the dawn of the Vietnam War

In 1962, NBC's DuPont Show of the Week ran a mini-documentary looking back on an event that had taken place nearly a generation earlier: the invasion of Omaha Beach in Normandy. The event that would lead to the Allied victory in World War II. D-Day.

The short segment is embedded above, offering a highly produced re-rending of the footage that served as a first rough draft of history. It's a kind of telephoto lens on Operation Neptune: footage captured at the scene, spliced into the culture and the technology of the early 1960s. One war portrayed at the dawn of another

Our sense of war is, inevitably, heavily mediated by the communications technologies that are available as it's waged. War looks different, sounds different—feels different—depending on the way we learn of it. We knew World War II and Vietnam through radio and TV and print and film. The Gulf War and 2003's invasion of Iraq played out in real time, 24 hours a day, in our living rooms. Afghanistan and YouTube. Pakistan and Twitter. But what's remarkable about the D-Day documentary—the now-historical footage of the now-historical footage—is how recent the invasion still seems in its rendering, even despite the soporific effects of time. Video has a flattening effect: It brings flesh—and, sometimes, blood—to events that would otherwise be consigned to history. And that gives the scenes that play out in the documentary an urgency that remains. Even 70 years after the fact. 

 

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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