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TV REVIEW

A war that changed California

August 23, 2007|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

For all but its older viewers, tonight's "California at War" on KCET will present a world they've never known: America at war abroad and united at home. The California Connected documentary assesses the impact of World War II on the Golden State and vice versa. Either way you look at it, the impact was immense.

With period film clips and a sprinkling of talking heads, "California at War" argues that the war put California at the center of the national consciousness, a spot it has never relinquished. GIs stationed here marveled at a sunshine-drenched playground; unemployed Americans flocked west for war-industry jobs.

Rosie the Riveter, the Hollywood Canteen, the seriocomic Battle of Los Angeles, the long lines at recruitment centers, the patriotic movies -- all are mentioned. But "California at War" avoids indulging in a "Greatest Generation" stroll down memory lane. The internment of Japanese Americans, the "zoot suit" riots in Los Angeles and the ammunition explosion at Port Chicago in Northern California that killed hundreds of African Americans are fully explored.

The focus of "California at War" is on Los Angeles and San Francisco, with a bit of Santa Barbara. San Diego rates not a mention, a disappointing omission given the city's transformation during World War II into what it is today: one of the nation's major military centers.

Much is made, appropriately, of the Northern California connection to the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo (the planes, troops and carrier Hornet were from California) and later the building of the bomb (much of the scientific brainpower was from Berkeley), though it goes unnoted that many of the Marines who fought ashore in the island-hopping campaign had trained on the beaches near Oceanside.

Still, "California at War" is a keeper, a lesson in where the state has been and maybe where it's going. Historian Kevin Starr, who does yeoman work throughout, provides the moral: World War II "fast-forwarded" California into the future.

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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"California at War," KCET, 8 tonight.

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