Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday Movies Post

Pearl Harbor Day, and I had a chance to watch something I've never had the chance to see before: the famous "Why We Fight" series from WWII. TMC is, as always, totally awesome. I'll watch the rest of the series later, but I'll write something brief about it now.

So far, I've watched Prelude to War and The Nazis Strike. First of all, they were terrific at what they set out, presumably, to do: tell the audience who the enemy was, and gear them up to fight.

Second, I knew that they were directed by Frank Capra...you all know I'm not exactly a huge fan of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but I like plenty of Capra's work, and if you're ever going to have rousing Americana, these propaganda films seem like a good place for it. At any rate, I think they're very good. What I didn't know is that they were written by Julius and Philip Epstein, who as everyone knows (well, maybe not, but...) wrote Casablanca. Of course, Casablanca is among other things a great propaganda movie, perhaps the greatest of the many that Hollywood produced during the war.

For those who haven't seen these movies, here are the things that struck me, at least as far as the politics were concerned. First of all, unlike recent wars, American propaganda in WWII made it clear that the German people and the the Japanese people (called "Japs" most of the time here) were responsible for the war, not just their leaders. The leaders were evil, no doubt. But they had duped the people because Germans and Japanese both wanted to be duped by crazed military fantasies. The Germans, we're told, had a national love of militarism and a drive to conquer the world; the Japanese were easily swayed because of their fanatical worship of their Emperor/god. No one who watched and believed these movies would have any qualms about killing their soldiers, or even their civilians.

I was also interested in how the Soviet Union would be treated, and the answer is: very well. I know that's the case in the later episode I haven't watched yet about the Nazi invasion of Russia, but I was curious to see how the Non-Aggression Pact and Poland would be handled. Very generously: the Soviets agreed to the Non-Aggression Pact in order to give them time to prepare for what they knew would be the inevitable fight against Hitler, while Poland was lucky that the Soviets advanced from the east after the Germans had destroyed the rest of the country; only the Soviet-occupied areas were spared.

The odd thing about watching these is that as much as they are obvious propaganda, and the racial & ethnic stereotypes are something we would never see today, one of the things that strikes you while watching it that if anything they underplayed just how evil the Nazis were. Of course, they didn't know (in 1943) the full extent of it. Or maybe they don't underplay it (they do say that the Nazis intended to eliminate the entire populations of Eastern Europe), but it's just hard to take seriously the worst of the accusations, even when you know that they were true. At least that was my reaction to the sections about German life under the Nazis. Perhaps it's just me.

Very, very interesting watching. For those interested in movies, in WWII, in propaganda, and in 20th century America, I highly recommend them.

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