War Movies As Propaganda Vehicles

August 14th, 2014 by callrid Leave a reply »

Movies portraying fictionalized wartime heroics or retelling stories of real people affected by combat have entertained, thrilled and enlightened moviegoers for almost a century. There is also another side to war movies. Governments in the U.S. and throughout the world have used war movies to deliver propaganda messages to viewers.

When the “Birth of a Nation” debuted in 1915, it was advertised as following the effects of the American Civil War on two families as they lived through it and the reconstruction period that followed. Acclaimed as a critical success for its cinematic achievements in depicting the events of a nation at war with itself, the film quickly became a recruiting tool for the Ku Klux Klan even as its director disavowed any such intent.

War documentaries were shot by both sides in the conflict during World War I in an effort to win support from neutral countries. This trend continued during World War II as warring factions exchanged bullets on the battlefield and allegations at the movie theaters.

The British were the first to create movies based upon fictional stories, but shot in a manner that made them appear to be documentaries. The purpose of such films leaned more toward conveying a propaganda message than pure entertainment. England, Germany and the United States all made use of propaganda films to inspire, educate or sway their citizens.

After World War I, the Soviet Union used war movies to expose audiences to subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, propaganda-laden messages. The Russian film “The Battleship Potemkin” is recognized as a masterpiece by filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, but its portrayal of the 1917 revolution in Russia was influenced more by a desire to promote communism than it was by a devotion to historical accuracy.

Hollywood filmmakers used their talents during World War II to produce war movies that remain as cinematic achievements in their own right, but they also functioned as carriers of propaganda messages. Films such as “Casablanca” and “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” continue to be heralded as great movies long after their propaganda use passed.

Even Charlie Chaplin was recruited into Hollywood’s efforts in support of the American war effort. The Chaplin classic, “The Great Dictator,” was uncompromising in its unflattering comedic portrayal of Adolf Hitler. The movie premiered before America’s entry into the Second World War. Before Chaplin released his film, Hollywood had already taken cinematic shots at Hitler in a Three Stooges Film.

War movies in the U.S. during World War II focused on patriotism and the sacrifices that would be needed to defeat the country’s enemies. Films showing men leaving their families to join with other Americans in the fight against the nation’s enemies improved morale and contributed to high enlistment rates. The idea of civilians joining forces to fight a common enemy was a frequent theme in war movies produced in countries on both sides of the battle.

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