The Celluloid Foxhole: Hollywood and the War
This is the title, rather a remolded title, of two papers I wrote while in college. One was for a class called American History through Film and the other, an expanded version of the earlier paper, was a senior thesis. Both papers focused on how Americans came to view World War II through the lens of Hollywood’s take on history. Both papers were not nearly as good as they could have been. My research skills have greatly improved since then—which isn’t all that long ago. And this is why I’m revisiting the subject.
World War II by itself is a complex subject to dive into. The political, cultural and economic reasons are too meaty to dive into a paper about how Americans came to understand the reasons behind American’s involvement in the war. Yet, it is impossible to to talk about the America’s initial reluctance to full-blown involvement without going into the madness that led to one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century. Those subjects need to be addressed in the newest paper because all three played a role in Hollywood’s gung-ho attitude post-Pearl Harbor.
This is the failing of the first two papers. I ignored the context.
I also ignored Hollywood’s first pro-war efforts in World War I and the implications that would arise after the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. As the guns of war sounded, the Hollywood studios started to take a pro-interventionist stance. It was with good reason. Many of the studios were led by European immigrants who felt the need to show their patriotism to their new countries. The studio heads were not the only ones. Many directors and screenwriters in Hollywood felt the need to affirm their allegiance to the United States. Slowly, films started showing up in movie houses across the country.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Americans were isolationist—the memory of the Great War (it was not yet known as World War I) still fresh in their minds. Dogged by their own problems, many Americans wanted the government to focus inward. The country was still dealing with the Great Depression. Our problems came first, the world’s second. Let Europe deal with its own problems, the isolationists would say.
Another factor missed in the earlier papers—it was hit upon but not fully explained or studied—was the use of film as propaganda. Something the government and Hollywood did during the Great War to make Americans aware of the war aims and causes.
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, several lawmakers accused Hollywood of making films at the behest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt—who wanted American in the fight in Europe. The Senate held hearings and pointed to films like Sergeant York as banging the drums of war.
All of these will be explored in the newest version.
I look forward to sharing excerpts over the course of 2018.