Neil Halloran recently released a short video that helps us to digest the tremendous toll that World War II took upon both military and civilian casualties. Halloran, who calls himself a data visualizer as well as documentarian; and co-founder of Higher Media Incorporated based in Texas, has done a splendid job bringing home the poignancy and tragedy of this often-called “Good War.”

But what Halloran has truly done is to highlight the power of data. Humanities scholars from a broad swath of disciplines; History, Social Science, Anthropology, Philosophy, Linguistics, and others have long used data to emphasize key points, reveal changing trends, and highlight the impacts that humans have had upon themselves and upon our planet. Data is power.

But if a picture is worth a thousand words, then Halloran’s “The Fallen of World War II” demonstrates technology’s role in bringing that data to life. Halloran represents, perhaps, the continued trend in visual representations of translating numbers that become abstracts due to their sheer size into digestible tangibles.

Paper Clips (2004)

This movie came out in 2004

Take, for example, the 2004 documentary Paper Clips. This film explored the frustration and solution that a school teacher in Tennessee came up with trying to get students to understand the Holocaust. Six and a half million Jewish deaths at the hands of the Nazi regime during the Second World War is not an easy figure to teach. The idea of using paperclips to represent human beings thus came into fruition. Knowing that each paperclip represented one person, and then seeing what 6.5 million paperclips piled on top of one another looks like was a great analogous solution utilizing visual data.

Thus, the data-driven demonstration that Halloran provides in “The Fallen of World War II” truly needs to be commended and recognized as part of a long and continued trend. At just over eighteen-minutes, the video by Halloran translates admirably those huge civilian and military deaths associated with the war into a digital format that memorizes as well as informs.

However, there are some issues.

Not even thirty-seconds eclipsed when something Halloran stated gave offense. According to Halloran, it is “authors and film-makers” that “rush to capture stories” from World War II survivors “before the connection of memory is lost.” Here, Halloran is apparently referring to movies like Saving Private Ryan and books such as Flags of Our Fathers. But attempts to interview surviving soldiers, sailors, and civilians of the Second World War is not a purview open to only the makers of fiction. I suppose Halloran could argue that authors and film-makers cover the nonfiction realm as well, but it’s not how it came across in the video.

Halloran also repeats that World War II started on September 1, 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland. This is a contentious date, as there will be many who argue that the beginning of the Second World War needs to be pegged in Asia, not Europe. Japan’s invasion of China and some of its other neighbors began in earnest in 1937. Had Halloran used 1937 as a beginning date, than his Pearl Harbor comment (2:25) would have held greater poignancy. The United States delay into entering the war was not two years, but rather four. United States relations with Imperial Japan deteriorated during this four-year span with US foreign diplomacy unable to stop Japanese atrocities in the Pacific – where (last time I checked) Pearl Harbor is located.

At the 4:30 mark, Halloran makes a large gaff when he claims that both the United States and the United Kingdom “took the fight” to the Nazis. This is patently untrue. Not until June 6, 1944 did the USA, the UK, and other Western allies take the fight to halt Nazism in Germany. Most of the fighting between the USA/UK against Germany prior to D-Day had been at the fringes of the brief Nazi empire – mostly in Africa. Up until 1944, the great brunt of dealing with the Nazi armies within the European continent fell to the Soviet Union. There was, in fact, a United States plan to invade Europe in 1942, but the UK vetoed the idea. Rather than taking the fight to Germany, the allies of the West fought around its fringes.

The conflict in Asia also seems curiously underplayed. Halloran begins this at about the 12:00 minute mark but it only lasted until 13:20. A minute and a half to the Pacific theatre is truly too little time.

On the whole, however, Halloran’s efforts deserve praise. The flag graphic alone when counting the United States military deaths (1:49) carries emotional weight. Halloran’s timeline graphics are stunning. The visual representation of the casualties of the Eastern front of the European theatre of engagement simply tears at you. And perhaps the most helpful of the visual graphics that Halloran provides is the proportional devastation of the Second World War compared to other past wars in human history. The Lushan Revolt and the Mongol Conquest were much more devastating proportionally to the human population than World War II. But Halloran also added the two great slave trades of the Middle East and of Africa, and the devastation Europeans had on the natives of the Americas – these were all much more destructive proportionally than the Second World War.

Visuals aside Halloran gets high marks for the audio portion as well, blending in terrific sound effects and music to drive home the visuals.

Over all, an excellent, if not outstanding video that should and must be used in the classroom.

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