"Prelude to War," Chapter I of Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" series, describes World War II as a battle between the "slave world" of fascism and the "free world" of American liberty. In the "slave world," the entire populations of Germany, Italy and Japan have been hoodwinked by madmen, opportunists who capitalized on their people's desperation and weakness to rise to power. These demagogues promised revenge for past losses, and in the process convinced their people to give up their rights and accept dictatorship. In the "free world," the principles of equality, freedom, and liberty characterize the greatest leaders, embodied in the works and words of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. This freedom is a threat to the fascist dictators of the Axis powers, who claim that democracy is weak and must be eradicated. The film claims that the ultimate goal of the Axis powers is to enslave the nations of the "free world," a desire made manifest in the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and Mussolini's destruction of Ethiopia.
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 isolationist 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.
Made from 1942 to 1945, the seven films range from 40 to 76 minutes in length, and all are available on DVD or online.
1. Prelude to War (1942) (51:35) (Academy award as Documentary Feature) - this examines the difference between democratic and fascist states, and covers the Japanese conquest of Manchuria and the Italian conquest of Ethiopia.
2. The Nazis Strike (1943) (40:20) - covers Nazi geopolitics and the conquest of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland.
3. Divide and Conquer (1943) (56:00) - about the campaign in Benelux and the Fall of France
4. The Battle of Britain (1943) (51:30) - depicts Britain's victory against the Luftwaffe
5. The Battle of Russia (1943) (76:07) part 1, part 2 - shows a history of Russian defense and Russia's battle against Germany
6. The Battle of China (1944) (62:16) - shows Japanese aggression such as the Nanking Massacre and Chinese efforts such as the construction of the Burma Road and the Battle of Changsha
7. War Comes to America (1945) (64:20) - shows how the pattern of Axis aggression turned the American people against isolationism.