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Harlem Hellfighters on the boat right after it docks at New York City. Members of the 369th [African American] Infantry, formerly 15th New York Regulars. (undated photo)
Courtesy of National Archives
Harlem Hellfighters on the boat right after it docks at New York City. Members of the 369th [African American] Infantry, formerly 15th New York Regulars. (undated photo)

Airs Tuesdays, June 19-July 3, 2018 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Discover how WWI transformed America through personal stories. #GreatWarPBS

Scheduled in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into the war on April 6, 1917, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE “The Great War,” a three-part, six-hour documentary, premiered in April 2017 on PBS.

Featuring the voices of Campbell Scott, Blythe Danner, Courtney Vance and others, “The Great War” is executive produced by Mark Samels and directed by award-winning filmmakers Stephen Ives, Amanda Pollak and Rob Rapley.


Drawing on the latest scholarship, including unpublished diaries, memoirs and letters, “The Great War” tells the rich and complex story of World War I through the voices of nurses, journalists, aviators and the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 series explores the experiences of African-American and Latino soldiers, suffragists, Native-American “code talkers” and others whose participation in the war to “make the world safe for democracy” has been largely forgotten.

The Great War: Transformed

"The Great War tells the rich and complex story of WWI through the voices of nurses

“The Great War” 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;
  • 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 in American history.
Men registering for the draft in New York City (June 1917).
Courtesy of National Archives
Men registering for the draft in New York City (June 1917).

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.

The Great War: Chapter 1

"In the summer of 1917

“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, and that continues today with our troops becoming involved in conflicts around the world. The current debate on the balance between national security and civil liberties also began with World War I. The debate over immigration reached its apex during World War I. The film is not only about what happened 100 years ago, but how what happened then transformed our nation and the world in ways still being felt today.”


Episode 1 repeats Tuesday, June 19 at 9 p.m. - Explore America's tortured, nearly three-year journey to war. Reports of German atrocities and submarine attacks on American ships erode neutrality, finally leading to Wilson's proclamation that "the world must be made safe for democracy."

Episode 2 repeats Tuesday, June 26 at 9 p.m. - Follow America's entry into the war as patriotism sweeps the nation, stifling free speech and dissent. A diverse group of men becomes the country's first mass conscripted army, while women continue to demand the vote.

Episode 3 repeats Tuesday, July 3 at 9 p.m. - Discover how the violent and bloody conflict transformed the nation forever, as America steps onto the world stage for the first time. But while many heralded the peace, others worried about democracy at home.


All 3 episodes from this series are available to stream on demand with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members ($60 yearly) using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

“The Great War” will be available on DVD from PBS and can be purchased at


AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and you can follow @AmExperiencePBS on Twitter. #AmericanExperiencePBS #GreatWarPBS

#WarLetterWednesday is a weekly social media challenge to showcase stories of wartime correspondence.

American troops cheering with U.S. flag in Russia at the end of the war (circa 1919).
Courtesy of Library of Congress
American troops cheering with U.S. flag in Russia at the end of the war (circa 1919).


AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is a production of WGBH Boston. Series Producers are Stephen Ives and Amanda Pollak. Original music by Peter Rundquist and Tom Phillips. Co-Producer is Gene Tempest. Archival Producer is Lizzy McGlynn. Coordinating Producer is Nazenet Habtezghi. Senior Producer is Susan Bellows. Executive Producer is Mark Samels.

Episode 1:

Written and Directed by Stephen Ives. Produced by Amanda Pollak. Narrated by Oliver Platt. Edited by Jon Neuberger and Merril Stern.

Episode 2:

Produced and Directed by Amanda Pollak. Written by Stephen Ives. Narrated by Oliver Platt. Edited by Seth Bomse.

Episode 3:

Written and Directed by Rob Rapley. Narrated by Oliver Platt. Edited by R. A. Fedde