This famous propaganda piece, used as a U.S. Army training film in WWII before theatrical release, asks 'why we fight.' The answer compares the 'free' and 'slave' worlds. Included: development of dictatorships in Italy, Germany and Japan, while anti-militarism and isolationism rise in the USA; a look at enemy propaganda; and the first acts of aggression. Walter Huston narrates a combination of archival footage, maps, and other graphics. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
In the year 2000, the United States Library of Congress mandated that this film (and the other six documentaries in the 'Why We Fight' series)were "culturally significant" and selected them for preservation in the National Film Registry. See more »
Prelude to War is the first in a series of well-made propaganda films that were co-directed by Frank Capra during World War II with the intention of educating new U.S. soldiers about the war while inspiring them to fight for "what's right". Watching them at this point in time, they are fascinating as a glimpse into more or less official propagandistic stances. Of course it's to be expected that the films go to pains to dehumanize, even demonize, then enemy cultures. Because this specific material is so far removed from our current stances and concerns, it's instructive to watch and especially to show it to students, because it's much easier to see through the propaganda tactics, enabling similar tactics to more easily be identified in modern politics.
But perhaps surprisingly, Prelude to War and the other films in the series also contain a good deal of accurate factual information, so that unless you're a World War II buff, you can learn quite a bit about how the war progressed and at least one side of why it progressed (one of many necessary sides)--if you watch the series with a critical eye.
The series also contains a lot of intriguing historical footage--including films of Axis military campaigns in execution, and some of the more typical newsreel-type shots of the three Axis leaders--Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito, their right-hand men and their military and civilian support systems. Just as notable now is footage of various aspects of American life that would have passed by without much thought in 1943--such as cars traveling on relatively sparse, newly built U.S. highway interchanges. You can gain as much from Prelude to War by simply watching the images and keeping in mind the historical context as you can by listening to the narration.
There are a couple rough spots--a montage of Axis armies marching like huge, well-oiled machines probably goes on too long 60-something years later, but surely the aim was to put just a bit of fear as well as an increased fervor to conquer into the new U.S. military recruits.
This film isn't crucial viewing for everyone, but for those who study history, politics, sociology, the military and especially World War II, it is essential.
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