Why We Fight is a series of seven propaganda films commissioned by the United States government during World War II to demonstrate to American soldiers the reason for U.S. involvement in the war. Later on they were also shown to the general U.S. public to persuade them to support American involvement in the war.
Most of the films were directed by Frank Capra, who was daunted yet also impressed and challenged by Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda film Triumph of the Will and who worked in direct response to it. The series faced a tough challenge: convincing an only recently non-interventionist nation of the need to become involved in the war and ally with the Soviets, among other things. In many of the films, Capra and other directors spliced in Axis powers propaganda footage—recontextualizing it so it promoted the cause of the Allies instead.
Why We Fight was edited primarily by William Hornbeck and is among the best examples of stock-footage montage ever produced, although some parts were re-enacted "under War Department supervision" if there was no relevant footage available. The animated portions of the films were produced by the Disney studios – with the animated maps following a convention of depicting Axis-occupied territory in black.
The films were narrated by Academy Award winning actor Walter Huston. This narration, though factual for the most part, is replete with nationalist and racist rhetoric describing implacably warlike Germans and "blood-crazed Japs." Conversely, it lionizes the courage and sacrifice of the British, Soviets, and Chinese. Realistic sound effects and soaring symphonic music complement the dramatic scenes.
At the end of each film, the quotation from Army Chief of Staff George Marshall that "...the victory of the democracies can only be complete with the utter defeat of the war machines of Germany and Japan." is shown on screen, followed by a ringing Liberty Bell over which is superimposed a large letter "V" zooming into the screen, accompanied by patriotic or military music on the soundtrack.
Why We Fight also contains many scenes from Triumph of the Will when talking about the Nazis.
Made from 1942 to 1945, the seven films range from 40 to 76 minutes in length, and all are available on DVD or online.
Function as propaganda
After World War I the methods used to gain support from troops and civilians needed to change. Therefore propagandists had to be more creative. Giving speeches to both soldier recruits and the American public was no longer effective. Film became the medium of choice to persuade the American soldier recruits that war is necessary. As Kathleen German states, “this was the first massive attempt to influence opinion in the U.S. military” through film. Film was also chosen because it combined the senses of sight and hearing, giving it an advantage over radio or print. Capra, who had no experience in documentary films, was chosen because “of his commitment to American ideals” and because of the popularity of some of his earlier feature films. He was thought “to understand the heart and soul of American audiences.” Once the documentary series was completed, it was said to contain the “Capra touch.”
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