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Prelude to War (1942)

Not Rated | | Documentary, War | 27 May 1942 (USA)
The official World War II US Government film statement defining the various enemies of the Allies and why they must be fought.


Frank Capra (uncredited), Anatole Litvak (uncredited)

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Credited cast:
Victor Bulwer-Lytton Victor Bulwer-Lytton ... Himself (archive footage) (as Lord Lytton)
Kai-Shek Chiang Kai-Shek Chiang ... Himself (archive footage) (as General Chaing Kai-Shek)
Walter Darré Walter Darré ... Himself (archive footage) (as Darré)
Otto Dietrich Otto Dietrich ... Himself (archive footage) (as Dietrich)
Hans Frank Hans Frank ... Himself (archive footage) (as Frank)
Joseph Goebbels ... Himself (archive footage) (as Doctor Goebbels)
Hermann Göring ... Himself (archive footage) (as Goring)
Rudolf Hess ... Himself (archive footage) (as Hess)
Adolf Hitler ... Himself (archive footage) (as Hitler)
Saburo Kurusu Saburo Kurusu ... Himself (archive footage) (as Kurusu)
Robert Ley Robert Ley ... Himself (archive footage) (as Ley)
Yosuke Matsuoka Yosuke Matsuoka ... Himself (archive footage)
Frank McCoy Frank McCoy ... Himself (archive footage)
Benito Mussolini ... Himself (archive footage)
Puyi Puyi ... Himself (archive footage) (as Henry Pu-yi)


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 <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

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Documentary | War


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Release Date:

27 May 1942 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Why We Fight, 1 See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


(copyright length)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


In the book-burning scene, the books shown on-screen (suggesting they would be banned in Nazi Germany) are the collected works ("gesammelte werke") of poet Heinrich Heine, "Martin Eden" by Jack London, "All Quiet on the Western Front" ("Im Westen nichts Neues") by Erich Maria Remarque, "A Farewell to Arms" by Ernest Hemingway, "The Magic Mountain" ("Der Zauberberg") by Thomas Mann, the operetta "Orpheus in the Underworld" by composer Jacques Offenbach, and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's "Songs Without Words" ("Lieder ohne Worte"). See more »


During the (silent) footage of Ethiopians shouting, the angry voices are actually shouting in Kiswahili: "Kwenda!" ("go:), etc. The principal language of Ethiopia is Amharic. Kiswahili (commonly known as "Swahili") is the main language of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. See more »


Narrator: [Last line] For this is what we are fighting: Freedom's oldest enemy, the passion of the few to rule the many. This isn't just a war. This is the common man's life and death struggle against those who would put him back into slavery. We lose it, and we lose everything. Our homes; the jobs we want to go back to; the books we read; the very food we eat. The hopes we have for our kids; the kids themselves. They won't be ours anymore. That's what's at stake. It's us or them! The chips are down. Two ...
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Followed by The Battle of Britain (1943) See more »


Beautiful Dreamer
(1862) (uncredited)
Music by Stephen Foster
Played in the score
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User Reviews

Jingoistic and propaganda documentary co-realized by Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak
2 June 2010 | by ma-cortesSee all my reviews

¨Why we fight ? ¨ , results to be a series of seven information films Special Service Division Information Film , produced by the War department , SOS , with cooperation of research Council Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences . This film the first of a series has been prepared by the War Department to acquaint members of the Army with factual information as to the causes , the events , leading up to our entry into the War and the principles for which we are fighting.

E. G. Marshall chief of staff tells : ¨A knowledge of these facts in an indispensable part of military training and merits the thoughtful consideration of every American soldier ¨ . ¨We are determined that before the sun set on this terrible struggles , our flags will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand , an overwhelming power on the other ; no compromise is possible and the victory of the democracies can only be complete with the latter defeat of the war machines of Germany and Japan¨. And Vice-President Henry Wallace says : ¨This is a fight between a free world and slave World ¨.

Meanwhile in Germany, Italy and Germany is prohibited the reunion , public assembly of more than five persons is strictly forbidden, violators will be prosecuted ; only the application of brutal force used continuously and ruthlessly can bring about the decision in favor of the side it supports : ¨Mein Kampf¨ . As foes of Putch slain in Munich, the ex-premier crushed Hitler's attempt to seize power in 1923 ; in Italy Giacomo Matteotti socialist leader murdered to silence him and slain by Italian Fascisti ; in Japan General Watanabe and Viscount Saito are assassinated by Tokyo clique and Japanese statesman murdered in bed by rebel force of Army officers, plus Inspector General of Military Education slain by group of young rebels and Inoyuye Minister of Finance is also slain . Furthermore in Germany Roehm assassinated in Nazi purge with hundreds dead . Hitler attempts the Christian cross is to be removed from all churches and cathedrals and is to be replaced by the immortal symbol of Germany, the swastika. Berlin , 1935, 700.000 members of the Protestant youth organizations were forced to disband , Nazis storm cardinal Faulhaber's palace and bricks and clubs are hurled at windows . Pastor Niemoller is sent to prison camp and other Pastors are imprisoned in homes ; Nazis jail priests , friars and nuns , arrest follows search and rampage of convents and monasteries. Nazis vent rage on Jews , riots all over Germany, mobs kill , loot and burn . The fascism , Imperialism and Nazism have their own slogans as Hitler says : ¨I want to see again in the eyes of youth the gleam of the beats of prey ¨ ; as Japanese Army slogan : ¨To die emperor is to live forever ¨; as Mussolini : ¨Three cheers for war , noble and beautiful above all ¨ .

The film terminates with a patriotic words : ¨Victory of the democracies can only be completed with utter defeat of the war machines of Germany , Italy and Japan ¨. The story is interestingly written by Philip and Julius Epstein , Casablanca's writers . This documentary-propaganda is well directed by Frank Capra and by Anatole Litvak , though uncredited .

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