In recognition of the 239th birthday of our great country this past week, my family watched the first two installments of Capra’s classic series “Why We Fight.” My wife and I were struck yet again by the similarities between then and now, i.e. Hitler’s (and even Japan’s) approach to manipulating the national attitudes and political/societal reluctance of the Western Powers (France, Great Britain, and the U.S.) to stand-up to his blatant violation of relevant laws, treaties, and agreements and what we’re seeing from Russia, China, and Iran today and the same reluctance from the US, England, France, and Germany, among others.
The big lessons: wishful thinking doesn’t displace reality; certainty and confidence in what one believes and is willing to fight to preserve are essential; and appeasement only increases the cost one ultimately pays when finally forced to confront totalitarianism.
If you’re not family with this series commissioned by the US Government during World War II, here are some snippets from the Wikipedia entry:
Prelude to War (1942; 51min 35s) (Academy award as Documentary Feature) – this examines the difference between democratic and fascist states, and covers the Japanese conquest of Manchuria and the Italian conquest of Ethiopia. Capra describes it as "presenting a general picture of two worlds; the slave and the free, and the rise of totalitarian militarism from Japan's conquest of Manchuria to Mussolini's conquest of Ethiopia."The Nazis Strike (1943, 40min 20s) – covers Nazi geopolitics and the conquest of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Capra's description: "Hitler rises. Imposes Nazi dictatorship on Germany. Goose-steps into Rhineland and Austria. Threatens war unless given Czechoslovakia. Appeasers oblige. Hitler invades Poland. Curtain rises on the tragedy of the century—World War II."Divide and Conquer (1943, 56min) – about the campaign in Benelux and the Fall of France. Capra's description: "Hitler occupies Denmark and Norway, outflanks Maginot Line, drives British Army into North Sea, forces surrender of France."The Battle of Britain (1943, 51min 30s) – depicts Britain's victory against the Luftwaffe. Capra's synopsis: "Showing the gallant and victorious defense of Britain by Royal Air Force, at a time when shattered but unbeaten British were only people fighting Nazis."The Battle of Russia (1943, 76min 7s) Part I and Part II – shows a history of Russian defense and Russia's battle against Germany. Capra's synopsis: "History of Russia; people, size, resources, wars. Death struggle against Nazi armies at gates of Moscow and Leningrad. At Stalingrad, Nazis are put through meat grinder."The Battle of China (1944, 62min 16s) – shows Japanese aggression such as the Nanking Massacre and Chinese efforts such as the construction of the Burma Road and the Battle of Changsha. Capra's synopsis: "Japan's warlords commit total effort to conquest of China. Once conquered, Japan would use China's manpower for the conquest of all Asia."War Comes to America (1945, 64min 20s) – shows how the pattern of Axis aggression turned the American people against isolationism. Capra's synopsis: "Dealt with who, what, where, why, and how we came to be the USA—the oldest major democratic republic still living under its original constitution. But the heart of the film dealt with the depth and variety of emotions with which Americans reacted to the traumatic events in Europe and Asia. How our convictions slowly changed from total non-involvement to total commitment as we realized that loss of freedom anywhere increased the danger to our own freedom. This last film of the series was, and still is, one of the most graphic visual histories of the United States ever made."
Capra was convinced that the most compelling case for U.S. involvement in Europe and the Pacific could be made by using the enemy’s own propaganda to reveal their perspectives, plans, and objectives; news reporting to show on-the-ground realities; and America’s own history to illustrate the differences between our values and interests and those of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperialist Japan. I think much the same can be said today with regard to Putin’s Russia, Khamenei’s Iran, Kim’s North Korea, or al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State.
You can purchase the DVD set online but can also access all the films on YouTube: