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"Docudrama" about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 and its results, the recovering of the ships, the improving of defense in Hawaii and the US efforts to beat back the Japanese reinforcements. Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
John Ford's 1943 docu-drama, "December 7th," is an interesting piece of history in its own right. In hindsight, we can see what Ford must have thought when he pulled together this film for the Navy and War Department. Clearly, it had an important purpose and value for that time. And, just as clearly to me, it had more than one message. Remember, up until Pearl Harbor, there had been divergent states of mind in the U.S. about the war.
So, this film set out to wake Americans up and get people to stop to think. It gave us lots of information about Hawaii. Most Americans probably knew of the islands only as a great place to vacation on the beach. How many non-residents knew much about Hawaii or its people at that time? Who knew that 25 percent of the population was of Japanese descent? Or that 122,000 of the 157,000 Japanese then in Hawaii were American citizens? And remember, that was some two decades before Hawaii was to become a state. For that matter, how many people today know much about Hawaii's past up to the start of World War II? I know I had no inkling of much of this data before seeing this film, and then checking some historical references.
This film gives us a broad picture of the Japanese Americans in Hawaii. We see and learn about their businesses, their beliefs, their culture, and their history. The film presents this in a pro and con format between the two main characters. The message seemed clear. Americans should stop to think, and not jump to conclusions. The film should lead viewers to be more open-minded about the Japanese Americans in general. But, also it should help viewers see the need for vigilance by the government because of known Japanese espionage. By this time, we had considerable experiences with the fifth column efforts by Nazi supporters in the eastern U.S. They tried to promote confusion and distrust among the populace and hinder U.S. support for the Allies in the war. Today, we can look at this film and better understand the time, place, moods, fears and concerns of the nation.
My DVD with this film also has some other interesting extras. It has two movie newsreels, a video with interviews when the Ford film was first shown in Japan in 1995, and Frank Capra's 1945 documentary on Japan, "Know Your Enemy."
A cameraman assigned to Honolulu at the time shot the first Universal newsreel of Pearl Harbor. But, its report is quite inaccurate in places. It says that American Army and Navy planes helped repel a fourth wave of attackers. Such guesswork never should have been used by news sources. As we soon learned, the Japanese attack had wiped out the Army airplane force. And, there were no Navy planes because the carriers were out to sea. In another part, a narrator says that the Japanese attack was planned to take place when the carriers were gone. Again, we know that's not true, as the facts later attested. The Japanese planned their attack mainly to knock out U.S. Naval air power as the core of the U.S. naval forces. That would give them a big advantage in the Pacific, and they were surprised to find out that the carriers weren't in port. Later films, such as "Tora, Tora, Tora," give accurate historical accounts of December 7th, including good accounts from the Japanese side.
Finally, the Capra documentary, "Know Your Enemy," was on this DVD. This is an interesting example of a propaganda film. It was produced apparently to show to Americans going to serve in the Pacific in 1945. Some criticize the narrator's tone and derogatory comments in places. I agree. Propaganda should give information truthfully and without racial or cultural slurs. That said, this film gave more interesting and accurate information about Japan. Its history, people and culture of the last two centuries before Pearl Harbor would help Americans understand the why and how of Japan's drive for conquest.
One can see some clear similarities between Japan and Germany in their efforts to arouse the people to support war and conquest. Several news film clips taken in Japan show masses of people being rallied for support of Japan's efforts. The similarity to Nazi Germany is uncanny. One also can see how the nationalistic rallies in this film could lead so many Japanese soldiers to think lowly of other people and be able to treat prisoners, civilians and even women and children so brutally..
Ford's film, "December 7th," is shown in its uncensored and censored parts noted on the screen as it plays. This is an excellent piece of history in its own right. Anyone interested in World War II, and anyone who wants to know and understand the history of that time better, should see this film. The extras that are on this DVD are also of historical value.
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