The 1942 film Why We Fight represents a classical example of American wartime propaganda. Given the fact that, during the course of thirties and forties, the majority of Americans shared an isolationist sentiment, it was crucially important for the America’s policy-makers at the time to convince citizens that country’s joining the WW2 was not optional.1
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However, being a propaganda-piece, this particular film features a number of different of inconsistencies and even outright lies. In this paper, I will aim to substantiate the validity of an earlier suggestion at length.
The main ideological premise, upon which the line of film’s argumentation appears to be based, is being concerned with its creators exploring the apparent dichotomy between what they refer to as a ‘free world, on the one hand, and a ‘world of slavery’, on the other.
According to film’s narrator; whereas, America advances the cause of liberty, the countries of a ‘good ole Europe’ (specifically Germany and Italy), with their ally Japan, advance the cause of an oppression – pure and simple.
What is being particularly ironic about this claim, is the fact that film’s creators went about substantiating claim’s legitimacy by making references to world’s major religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), as such that in their view endorse the cause of liberty.
According to the twisted logic of film’s argumentation, American citizens’ strong sense of religiosity makes them naturally predisposed towards professing the values of democracy.
This, of course, could not possibly be the case, because the very notion ‘religion’ is being synonymous to the notion of ‘intolerance’.2 Nevertheless, even if filmmakers were right about the fact that, people’s strong affiliation with religious values causes them to profess the values of democracy, film’s pathos would still not make much of a sense.
The reason for this is simple – contrary to what it is being suggested in the film, the overwhelming majority of German Nazis, as well as ordinary German citizens who never ceased supporting Nazis right to the very end of the WW2, used to be just as devoted to Christianity as it was the case with America’s founding fathers, for example.3
Another proof, as to a conceptual fallaciousness of Why We Fight, is the fact that throughout film’s entirety, the narrator continues to refer to Hitler as someone who wanted to conquer the world. Such claim, of course, cannot be referred to as anything but extremely ignorant.4
After all, it is not only that Hitler never publically expressed his presumed intention to ‘conquer the world’, but throughout the initial phase of WW2, he actively sought to end the hostilities with Britain and France.5
Whatever improbable it may sound – the actual reason, behind the outbreak of WW2, was Poland’s stubborn unwillingness to allow Germany to build a railroad between Berlin and the German city of Danzig (Gdansk), which in 1918 was separated from the rest of Germany by a Treaty of Versailles.6
If creators of Why We Fight were concerned with trying to protect the world from being conquered, then it would not be Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito featured in their film, but America’s ally Stalin. After all, unlike Hitler, Stalin never had any reservations against coming up with public statements as to the fact that world’s ‘capitalist’ were facing only two choices – to embrace the Communism or to be destroyed.
Right up until the collapse of USSR in 1991, the Soviet coat of arms featured a Communist emblem of a hammer and sickle in the foreground of the whole planet. Moreover, Soviet Constitution openly stated that it was only the matter of time, before world’s independent nations would join USSR as ‘Soviet republics’.7
In the light of recently declassified Soviet secret documents, it appears that Stalin was preparing to attack Germany in July of 1941, with the ultimate purpose of this attack having been the ‘liberation’ of the whole Europe of a ‘capitalist oppression’.
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If it was not up to Hitler’s preventive attack of Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, even as early as by the end of 1941, Europe would have become nothing but a Westernmost part of Soviet ‘workers paradise’.8
After that, it would be the turn for America to suffer the same fate – not an utterly improbable suggestion, especially given the fact that many members of Roosevelt’s inner circle (including his wife Eleanor) were self-admitted Communist spies.9
Therefore, film narrator’s referrals to the scenes of marching German soldiers and to the scenes of German obsolete tanks Pzkpfw-1 and Pzkpfw-2 rolling into Poland, as such that confirm the validity of his claims about the sheer evilness and potency of German war-machine, appear hypocritical, at best.
First of all, film tactfully avoids mentioning the fact that it were not only ‘evil’ Germans that invaded Poland in the autumn of 1939, but their good ‘friends’ from Red Liberation Army, as well. If Poland’s Western allies were so much concerned about protecting this country’s independence, then why did they not declare a war on Soviet Union?
Second, contrary to what film implies, up until 1943, the functioning of a German economy was based upon the essentially peacetime principles. This, however, cannot not be said about the functioning of Soviet economy from 1933 to 1945, which had only one single objective – to manufacture of as many weapons as possible.
This is exactly the reason why; whereas, by the beginning of 1941, Hitler only had 3235 tanks (2500 of which were hopelessly obsolete), Stalin had 2830 tanks (including 700 tanks T-34 and 530 tanks KV-1).10
Nevertheless, one does not have to be a scholar of WW2 to note the essentially hypocritical nature of Why We Fight, as the example of America’s wartime propaganda, because film’s hypocrisies are being well visible even to a naked eye.
For example; whereas, narrator never ceases to state that America’s only objective in the WW2 is to promote democracy, equality and tolerance, on the one hand, he simultaneously continues to refer to Japanese people as ‘dirty Japs’, on the other.
It is fully understandable that, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the majority of Americans have realized Japanese as their enemies. Still, even though film’s narrator portrays Nazis as America’s sworn enemies, as well, he nevertheless does not talk of them as nothing short of sub-humans.
Therefore, it will only be logical to conclude that, despite his pretentious ‘anti-Nazism’, the narrator himself is not being too different from Nazis, to begin with.
I believe that the provided earlier line of argumentation, in defense of a suggestion that many claims, contained in Why We Fight, cannot be considered even slightly objective, is being fully consistent with paper’s initial thesis.
In its turn, this implies that citizens should never cease thinking critically about what the governmentally endorsed propaganda wants them to believe, especially if this propaganda appears to be designed for weakening a self-preservation instinct in people, so that they would not be having any objections against the prospect of being turned into a ‘cannon meat’ overseas.
Boyle, Peter. “The Roots of Isolationism: A Case Study,” Journal of American Studies 6, no. 1 (1972): 41-50.
Carlton, David. “Churchill in 1940: Myth and Reality,” World Affairs 156, no. 2 (1993): 97-103.
Cline, Catherine. “British Historians and the Treaty of Versailles,” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 20, no. 1 (1988): 43-58.
McNeal, Robert. “Roosevelt through Stalin’s Spectacles,” International Journal 18 (1962-63): 194-206.
Nagata, Judith. “Beyond Theology: Toward an Anthropology of ‘Fundamentalism’,” American Anthropologist, New Series 103, no. 2 (2001): 481-498.
Raack, R. C. “Stalin’s Role in the Coming of World War II: The International Debate Goes On,” World Affairs 159, no. 2, (1996): 47-54.
Steigmann-Gall, Richard. The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Suvorov, Viktor. Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? London: Hamish & Hamilton, 1990.
Taylor, A. J. P. The Origins of the Second World War. London: Penguin, 1964.
The War Department. Why We Fight Part 1 – “Prelude to War” (1942). YouTube. [Video]. Web.
Uldricks, Teddy. “The Icebreaker Controversy: Did Stalin Plan to Attack Hitler?” Slavic Review 58, no. 3 (1999): 626-643.
1 Peter Boyle, “The Roots of Isolationism: A Case Study,” Journal of American Studies 6, no. 1 (1972): 44.
2 Judith Nagata, “Beyond Theology: Toward an Anthropology of ‘Fundamentalism’,” American Anthropologist, New Series 103, no. 2 (2001): 482.
3Richard Steigmann-Gall, The Holy Reich. Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 267.
4 A. J. P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War, (London: Penguin, 1964), 15.
5 David Carlton, “Churchill in 1940: Myth and Reality,” World Affairs 156, no. 2 (1993): 101.
6 Catherine Cline, “British Historians and the Treaty of Versailles,” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 20, no. 1 (1988): 54.
7 R. C. Raack, “Stalin’s Role in the Coming of World War II: The International Debate Goes On,” World Affairs 159, no. 2, (1996): 49.
8 Viktor Suvorov, Icebreaker: Who started the Second World War? (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1990): 10.
9 Robert H. McNeal, “Roosevelt through Stalin’s Spectacles.” International Journal 18 (1962-63): 203.
10 Teddy Uldricks, “The Icebreaker Controversy: Did Stalin Plan to Attack Hitler?” Slavic Review 58, no. 3 (1999): 642.