The History Channel, once known for its exceptional documentaries on the human past, has long since become something of a joke. Between the documentary on “Ancient Aliens” and the strange reality shows, the History Channel really ought to have changed its name to the Weirdo Channel.

Recently, the History Channel has tried to actually live up to its name with a mini-series on how WWI shaped the lives of key WWII figures such as Roosevelt, Churchill, Hitler and Stalin. One can complain of the clear American bias – Patton and Eisenhower are referenced, but Montgomery or frankly any of the Russian or German generals are ignored – but the idea itself is sound. It is past time that the idea that WWI laid the groundwork for WWII in various ways be made popular.

Unfortunately, if the intro vids on the show’s site are any indication, this documentary is so superficial and careless with basic facts that it’s hard to take it seriously. While the doc makes many small errors that are forgivable, if annoying, it makes at least one big mistake which makes me wonder just how much they did actual historical research.

In the video on Stalin’s life, the narrator claims the Bolsheviks deposed Czar Nicholas II in the October Russian Revolution. This is completely false – Nicholas abdicated in the beginning of 1917 in the wake of the genuinely popular Revolution of February/March 1917.

When Bolshevik forces stormed the Winter Palace in October/November 1917, they were toppling the Provisional civilian democratic government which replaced the Czar. Nickolas himself was by then a private citizen under house arrest and with no real power. Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks executed the Czar and his family in Ekaterinburg in 1918, even though Nickolas had no interest in reclaiming power.

This is not some nitpick over uniforms or military equipment. The belief that the Bolsheviks were a group of dictators replacing another dictator is a pernicious falsehood which hides the fact that they were revolutionaries out to destroy one of Russia’s few real chances for a genuine if fragile popular democracy – as well as everywhere else in Europe if they could.

The Bolsheviks and their allies didn’t just topple the Russian Provisional Government. They dispersed the Russian Constituent Assembly, the first genuinely representative parliament in Russian history. They conquered republics like Ukraine and Georgia. They tried to conquer or overthrow the newly founded and democratic Baltic countries and even Poland. Some dreamt of marching on Berlin – in 1920.

Pro-Bolshevik forces tried or briefly succeeded to take over countries such as Hungary and Germany, including individual German states. Adolf Hitler was witness to one such coup in Bavaria. The experience of possible revolutionary overthrow informed his worldview no less than any arguments against Versailles. By portraying the Bolshevik takeover as a one-country changing of the dictatorial guard, the History Channel does a disservice to one of the most important factors which shaped international political behavior up to and during WWII.

Which makes me wonder – why did they leave this out? The facts I’ve just recounted are freely available on any website and even Wikipedia. Neither they nor their importance are in any way in dispute.

Perhaps what I’ve said would ruin the doc’s simplistic morality tale of how Versailles was the sole cause of WWII. But given how many other errors the series apparently made, I must sadly conclude that no-one did any serious research for this documentary, or any research at all, really.

Maybe the History Channel should go back to ice truckers and leave history to more serious people.