December 30, 2007

The Best Years of Their Lives: Hollywood and Franklin's War

Hatched by Dafydd

This JoshuaPundit piece, which we linked on an earlier Watcher's Council post, raises an interesting question: Why were Americans so much more supportive of World War II -- demonstrating what I would call a "frenzy of patriotism" -- than they are of the current War Against Global Hirabah (WAGH)?

Certainly the WAGH is even more "existential" than the so-called good war: On December 7th, 1941, Japan bombed a fairly remote territory being used as a forward operating naval base in the northern Pacific. When that famous headline appeared -- "Japan Attacks Pearl Harbor" -- I suspect the vast majority of Americans had no idea where Pearl Harbor even was. Or Oahu, for that matter; how many even knew that was an island in Hawaii?

By contrast, every American who wasn't a subliterate troglodyte knew what the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon were. Do you know anybody who didn't (and who was over five years old)?

During the war, many Americans may have fretted that the Japanese and Germans would attack the American heartland; but they never did. By contrast, the 9/11 attacks, which killed more Americans than died at Pearl, struck at three of the four chambers of America's heart: the financial center in Manhattan, the central fortress of the American military, and the political center of the White House or Congress (we don't know the intended target of Flight 93). Had that third prong of the attack succeeded, the devastation could have rivaled the sacking and burning of Washington D.C. during the War of 1812. (The only chamber they missed was some social and entertainment center, such as Disneyland in Anaheim, California.)

Finally, even had we lost World War II, the suffering caused to America would probably be less devastating than it would be if we were to lose the WAGH: Hitler wanted to control America, but he didn't want to kill us all and burn America to the ground.

So why are Americans not particularly anxious to do everything they can to win this war, as they were during World War II? Why do so many Americans urge appeasement, surrender, and even nakedly support the enemy during wartime?

Freedom Fighter's answer was that President Franklin Roosevelt was simply a much better leader than Bush; but I believe that is simply unsupportable. As much as people like to extoll FDR as a leader comparable to Washington and Lincoln, the plain fact is that he just wasn't.

He was likeable; but sheer likeability is not the same as leadership... Bill Clinton was eminently likeable, even lovable; but that didn't make him a leader.

Mere likeability doesn't explain the willingness of Americans to sacrifice virtually every traditionally American verity: the ability to travel freely (rationing of gas and tire-rubber), to eat what we want to eat (food rationing), to be free of massive government intrusion into our lives (the militarization of the country), and even the most essential freedoms of speech, the press, and assembly (censorship, wholesale violation of habeas corpus at Manzanar, even direct control of media outlets by the government).

FDR was certainly not a great leader in terms of policymaking; his response to the Great Depression that brought him to power was an exercise in futility. The unemployment rate spiked to 25% in 1933, then remained mired in the low-20s over the next two years. Until 1940 and the wartime boost in industrial output, unemployment never dropped below 14%, more than five times the unemployment rate of in 1929 (3.2%). Most of the time, it was at 17% or more; that's a lot of Americans out of work and standing in breadlines.

The stellar book by Amity Shlaes, the Forgotten Man, demonstrates quite unequivocably that FDR's economic policies were disastrous and almost certainly prolonged the Great Depression years longer than necessary.

Once I built a railroad,
Made it run,
Made it race against time;
Once I built a railroad, now it's done...
Brother, can you spare a dime

Roosevelt's wartime leadership was hardly any better. Starting with Pearl Harbor, the Army and Navy under Roosevelt made an avalanche of stupid mistakes. It was only because of the even more colossal mistakes by Adolf Hitler, such as holding his Panzer divisions back and allowing the Brits and free French to evacuated more than 300,000 soldiers from Dunkirk, that we were able to stay in the war until our superior industrial capacity could finally put us back in the driver's seat in 1943-1944.

And then the pinnacle of poor leadership occurred in February 1945, when Roosevelt made the colossal mistake of going to Yalta personally, despite his serious illness, to preside over what turned into the enslavement of half of Europe, handed over lock, stock, and manacles to Roosevelt's great friend, Josef Stalin.

Roosevelt didn't simply honor our Soviet allies... he deified them. One need only watch Mission to Moskow, the FDR-ordered Warner Brothers hagiography of Stalin, to see what I mean... but more on this amazing movie later.

And of course, it's hardly the mark of leadership to allow Stalin's spies to riddle the American administration from top to bottom.

So if it wasn't Roosevelt's putative "leadership" that brought virtually Americans on board during World War II, then what did cause that "frenzy of patriotism," and why isn't it happening today? In a single word, the answer is Hollywood.

World War II was America's first "movie war." While there were newsreels made (often staged) during "the Great War," and even some fiction movies, film was still in its infancy in 1917. But by the late 1930s, movies had supplanted radio (which had, in its day, supplanted vaudeville); film was the dominant American art form and primary entertainment medium in the country. Everybody went to see every film that came out; it was a shared American gestalt that we've only recreated since then for rare, exceptional TV shows, such as the Tonight Show during the decades when Johnny Carson was hosting... and even rarer historical events: the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22nd, 1963; the moon landing on July 20th, 1969; the days right after 9/11.

World War II married the power of the great American medium to the ideological fervor of its creators: The struggle gave leftist Hollywood both an enemy it could truly hate -- Fascism -- and an ally it could truly love, the Soviet Union (at least, after that embarassing little interlude from 1939 to 1940).

Both partners in the nuptials were necessary to produce that frenzy of patriotism. Had we decided to join Germany in its war against the ComIntern, instead of the other way around, we would never have seen the tidal wave of patriotic movies that flooded theaters in the 1940s. But Roosevelt hated Hitler and loved Stalin, so our decision was foreordained (and to be fair, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were certainly the most immediate dangers to the United States).

Counting B-movies and featurettes, I'm sure there were more than a thousand World War II-related movies and shorts produced during the war... and every, single film made about the war during the war was completely and unabashedly on the side of the United States and our allies, and against our enemies.

It is probably the only time in American history that the Brahmins of art and intellectualism were 100% behind the actions of a presidential administration during wartime. Gone was the world-weary cynicism, the smirking and winking, the nihilist anarchy we generally associate with the leftist intellegencia. Peer pressure, ideology, personal economic benefit, and the Vision of the Anointed crashed together in a perfect storm of patriotic production.

Every movie, every radio broadcast, stage production, article in a national magazine, pronunciamento from the White House, and congressional floor speech (from either side the aisle) sent Joe Dokes the same message: If you don't jump aboard the military bandwagon, you're a slug and a creep and fair game to be stomped by your erstwhile friends.

Look, there were anti-war movies before WWII -- though like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and the Road to Glory (1936), most of these pacifist flicks were about non-American forces. And there were anti-war movies made after WWII, including From Here to Eternity (1953), Paths of Glory (1957), and Catch-22 (1970). But from 1942 through 1945, and probably for a number of years after we won, no movie about the war could be produced unless it took America's side.

America's side and the side of Hollywood's favorite American ally: In 1943, FDR personally ordered the very-conservative Jack Warner to produce Mission to Moscow. This flick, astonishing to see today, is a two-hour journey by Roosevelt's ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1936-1938, Joseph Davies, from credulous naïveté to full-blown Stalin worship. You will never believe it until you actually see it; and even then, your mind may boggle at what your eyes and ears tell you. You may think it was somehow faked by Karl Rove; but I assure you, it is absolutely real. And Mission to Moscow is more typical than anyone cares to remember: Song of Russia (1944) also extolled Stalinism; while in Tender Comrade (1943), Ginger Rogers learns the joy of American-grown Communism.

In any event, during the war, more than a hundred million Americans watched scores of movies telling them that their patriotic duty was to sacrifice their time, money, and freedom "for the duration"... movies that had become the bedrock of the shared American community were all pulling in the same direction, like a twenty-mule team.

It's hardly a shock that Americans patriotically supported World War II like no other before or since: They received the word from on high, delivered by the holy bishops of Hollywood, from Jimmy Stewart to Irene Dunne, to Spencer Tracy, Esther Williams, John Wayne, Rita Hayworth, Humphry Bogart, Jane Wyman, Errol Flynn, Ann Miller, Henry Fonda, Betty Grable, Gary Cooper, Marlene Deitrich, Clark Gable, Carol Lombard, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Van Johnson, Hedy Lamarr, and on and on. If the Almighty could be half as persuasive as the American cinema in full cry, He would be a happy deity.

Not to mention the songs, of course... from Vera Lynn to Dinah Shore to Sophie Tucker to the Andrews Sisters (I won't bother listing any guys, you know who they are). In every jukebox in America and on every radio broadcast, citizens back home could expect to hear "The Last Time I Saw Paris," or "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B," or "Der Fuhrer's Face," or any of a thousand other pro-war, anti-Nazi songs.

It was not government leadership that drove patriotic support for the war; it was the vise-like grip on popular media by the pro-war Left. There were also pro-war novels, plays, production numbers, paintings, and pin-up girls. You couldn't hardly swing a dead Kraut without hitting some elitist member of the Communist Party or fellow traveler -- from Ernest Hemingway, to Dashiell Hammett, to Lillian Hellman, to Dalton Trumbo, to Paul Robeson, to Pete Seeger, to Eleanor Roosevelt -- manipulating some aspect of the mass media to promote victory over the "right-wing" hordes in World War II.

And of course, the right-wingers in the arts (John Wayne, Adolph Menjou, Jimmy Stewart, et al) were bright enough to keep their mouths shut about any disagreements they had with the way FDR ran the country -- or even the war itself -- and just pull along with everyone else... a talent that the Left has sorely lacked (when the president is Republican) since "the big one."

The distinction between then and now is manifest... and maddening. For years, Hollywood simply ignored the WAGH, as if it were all just a crashing bore. And now, finally, they're releasing some war-related product. But what do we get?

  • Paradise Now (released on October 28th, 2005);
  • Jarhead (November 4th, 2005);
  • Syriana (November 23rd, 2005);
  • Day Night/Day Night (May 7th, 2007);
  • In the Valley of Elah (September 14, 2007);
  • The Kingdom (September 28th, 2007);
  • Rendition (October 19th, 2007);
  • Lions for Lambs (November 9th, 2007);
  • Redacted (November 16th, 2007).

Can anyone find a single moment in any of these movies that takes America's side in the war on global hirabah? Can anyone think of a single serious movie -- with the possible exception of a Mighty Heart (June 22nd, 2007) -- that was released after the 9/11 attacks that unambiguously takes America's side in this war? (Even considering comedies, I can only think of one: Team America, October 15th, 2004.)

In music, there are some Country-Western songs that are pro-America or anti-terrorist, from Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue" to Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten?" to Chely Wright's "the Bumper of My S.U.V.," probably lots of others. But the saturation is nowhere near as overwhelming as it was in the 1940s; I can't offhand think of a single rock song that fits the category.

And of course, the nattering nabobs of the elite "news" media keep up a steady tom-tom beat of negativism: We're losing, we've already lost, even if we win we've lost our soul; America is on the verge of collapse, we're going to hell in a hambone; say... did George W. Bush bring down those buildings by controlled demolition?

The huge gulf between the movies, music, arts, and literature of World War II and the same sources today explains the difference in patriotic fervor quite nicely... and much more believably than the supposed "leadership" of FDR, or the concomitant "leaderlessness" of George Bush. There is no need to look any deeper for an explanation than the hurricane of bleeding hearts and artists, and what they tell today's media-driven culture, about commerce and conquest, freedom and sharia, the modernity of the West and the Mediaeval pinings of radical Islamists -- and the steel-cage death match they're fighting between them for control of tomorrow.

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 30, 2007, at the time of 11:57 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman

When I hear the usual meme'

The War is a Disaster

I think

Compared to WHICH previous War we have been in?

I mean just picture Roosevelt being held to the same level as the Media holds Bush?

Would the cries for impeachment have stated with Peal Harbor, or Bataan?

The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 31, 2007 7:51 AM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

Well, I don't let Bush off the hook that easily.

Admittedly he started off with enormous disadvantages. A close and controversial election. A divided government.

Also, do not neglect the fact that he is a Republican. While a Republican can and will support a president that does the right thing during war, Democrats are much less likely to do so. How would WWII gone with a Republican president - would Hollywood have supported the war so fervently?

But a great president might have overcome these disadvantages. He might have clearly and concisely communicated to the American people what was occurring.

Bush is merely good, not great. FDR was vastly overrated - Yalta is and always will be an unforgivable crime.

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 31, 2007 9:32 AM

The following hissed in response by: Rovin

"Can anyone find a single moment in any of these movies that takes America's side in the war on global hirabah?"

And I don't expect any in the near future unless our liberal friends are shamed and shunned as much as the world needs to scorn any terrorist who straps on a vest and indiscriminately tears human body parts to pieces in the name of Allah.

Geoman makes some excellent points, but is the lack of a "great President" truly an excuse to turn our backs on the reality of the threat to this nations security for political gain?

Will BDS make it into our history books?

On a slight O/T, I took some time to thank Dafydd here for allowing me to comment at Big Lizards while also celebrating my third year anniversary of blogging.

Happy New Year,


The above hissed in response by: Rovin [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 31, 2007 10:35 AM

The following hissed in response by: cdquarles


Let us not forget that the GOP of the day was only slightly less left than the Democrats. Country Club/NorthEast blue blood it was, and it was just as enamored with "planning" and being "progressive" as the Democrats were. It took John F. Kennedy, after all, to lower the Depression/War time income tax surcharges that resulted in a 94% top marginal rate to a 70% top marginal rate.

What is truly remarkable now is that after over 100 years of failure, the religion of Socialism/Communism has not been renounced for being the failure that it is. Only the Fascist denomination has been so denounced, and, in my book, only because that brand lost the war. Let no one be fooled.

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 31, 2007 11:56 AM

The following hissed in response by: Bookworm

Brilliantly stated. When I get back from interminable end of the year errands, I'm linking.

The above hissed in response by: Bookworm [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 31, 2007 12:32 PM

The following hissed in response by: Terry Gain


I couldn't agree with you more. Hollywood's lack of support for the liberation of Iraq is not only troubling but undermines the effort. The effect of good deeds and heroism of the America's best is blunted if the story isn't told.

If Hollywood, to its shame, won't tell the story the administration must and I hope that Romney or Giuliani will have a significantly different and more effective communications strategy.

The above hissed in response by: Terry Gain [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 31, 2007 9:24 PM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

Yet another post proving this to be the most intelligent blog on the internet.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 1, 2008 10:30 AM

The following hissed in response by: Ymarsakar

While Bush had initiative in 2001-3, Bush was unwilling to put the boot down on Hollywood and clamp them down. This resulted in insurgency, much as was the foreign insurgency that sprung up in Iraq. Without law, without control, without the strongman of the White House in charge of minutial details, people get into their heads that they can oppose the status quo.

It's peer pressure, that's what propaganda targets because it is ineffective trying to convince everyone. It is far more effective to attempt to create a critical mass of people, that will be enough to influence and coerce other people to believe in the same things. That way you don't have to convince everyone with your propaganda, you just have to convince a majority or a plurality.

Since Bush couldn't count on Hollywood to work for America, Bush had to break the power of Hollywood in order to prevent a sufficient cadre of individuals free or sufficient amount of propaganda from Hollywood to be produced. It's not an immediate result, but Bush could have tried. It would have curtailed Hollywood's ability to produce insurgent and propaganda operations against the US. Bush was so busying causing trouble for the Arabs in Iraq that he forgot that there was a domestic enemy he had to fight and attack as well. A domestic enemy with their stronghold in Hollywood.

Bush said that we must take the fight to the enemy where they live, which happens to be Iraq and Afghanistan and other areas in the middle east. What Bush should have asked is why none of his advisers wanted him to attack the other enemy, Hollywood.

Pre-emption is only good if you go all the way.

The above hissed in response by: Ymarsakar [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 1, 2008 5:23 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


While Bush had initiative in 2001-3, Bush was unwilling to put the boot down on Hollywood and clamp them down. This resulted in insurgency, much as was the foreign insurgency that sprung up in Iraq. Without law, without control, without the strongman of the White House in charge of minutial details, people get into their heads that they can oppose the status quo.

How exactly was President Bush supposed to "put the boot down" on private movie studios?


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 1, 2008 7:28 PM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

We watched "The Sum of All Fears" today, while recovering from holiday colds. The irony of that movie is that while it was attempting to be patriotic. Yet even this movie shows the kowtowing of Hollywood to Islamist pressure groups. INstead of the original story about Arab terrorists, Hollywood caved to CAIR and implied Israeli culpability and a ridiculous and non-credible Nazi plot.
Hollywood today is anti-patriotic in general, and mostly makes unwatchable formulaic pap. Its stars are bizarre people, and as people get to know them, like Tom Cruise for example, turn away in droves.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 1, 2008 7:54 PM

The following hissed in response by: simplegarak

Dafydd, I'm surprised you also didn't mention that there was a whole slew of comic book support for the war.

A lot of which can be observed here.
(specifically here)

The above hissed in response by: simplegarak [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 3, 2008 10:27 AM

The following hissed in response by: shiningcity

One other example of "conservative" patriotism when the zeitgeist was not in their favor: sudio heads like Jack Warner, Louis Mayer, Sam Goldwyn, and Darryl Zanuck were all conservative Republicans who put their productions solidly behind the war effort despite the fact that conservative aspirations were hung out to dry by the war.

The above hissed in response by: shiningcity [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 3, 2008 4:10 PM

The following hissed in response by: SDN

How exactly was President Bush supposed to "put the boot down" on private movie studios?

Well, he could have taken a few pages from Lincoln.

Which is what it will take. The Stalinist Left is going to win if the debate is limited to words, as you yourself point out. They simply lie better than we do, and no one can call them out on it because they control the megaphone.

The above hissed in response by: SDN [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 4, 2008 5:27 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


How exactly was President Bush supposed to "put the boot down" on private movie studios?

Well, he could have taken a few pages from Lincoln.

You mean suspend habeas corpus and simply put movie producers in jail if they don't make the kind of movies the president likes -- the way Lincoln jailed 13,000+ peaceful citizens for the "crime" of discouraging enlistment in the Union Army?

There was a lot of opposition to the suspension even back in 1861 and 1862... and at that time, the country was torn asunder by the worst war we have ever had, before or since. In 1862, the Confederates definitely looked like they might win the war, ripping America in half and leaving both pieces so weak that we would always be at the mercy of European powers.

Do you see us, SDN, in a comparable position today anent the war against global hirabah?

Do you really think this would be acceptable to the American people today? Does anybody here besides SDN believe this would not result in an immediate impeachment and near certain conviction?

And SDN -- if the president suspended habeas corpus and began jailing his political opponents (including movie producers and novelists), and if he were subsequently impeached in the House and convicted in the Senate... do you counsel that he should ignore the impeachment and simply declare full-blown martial law, with himself as Leader for "the duration?"

If not, then what would have been gained by the suspension, were it to be followed by the swift removal of the president from office?


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 4, 2008 12:46 PM

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