Why We Fight: Prelude to War
On 27 May 1942, the first of seven films in the series Why We Fight was released. Entitled “Prelude to War,” the piece was directed by noted filmmaker Frank Capra who had by then already gained fame with his work on films It Happened One Night and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and would go on to direct the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life. For his contributions to the war effort, Capra earned the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945.
An immigrant from Sicily, Capra served in the US Army during World War I and became naturalized shortly thereafter. He reenlisted after Pearl Harbor, offered a commission as a Major at the age of 44. Under normal circumstances, the Signal Corps would have likely been assigned the creation of these films, but with a talent like Capra available, Chief of Staff George Marshall bypassed the Signal Corps and assigned Major Capra the job of creating seven films that would be seen less as propaganda pieces, and more as the inspiring films Capra had proven himself more than capable of making.
The first of the series introduces itself as a film “to acquaint members of the Army with factual information as to the causes, the events leading up to our entry into the war and the principles for which we are fighting.” Prelude to War won the 1942 Academy Award for documentary feature. Many of the subsequent films in the series would use the enemy’s own propaganda films, namely Leni Reifenstahl’s infamous Triumph of the Will. What Germans saw in her film as inspiring and patriotic, Capra turned on its head to show as a frightening force against which America must fight.
This post by Curator Meg Roussel