Why We Fight #1: Prelude to War (1942)
The U. S. War Department
The first part of a series of films produced by the United States War Department during World War II. The series explained the reasons for the U.S war effort up to that time. This first part covers the rise of Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany, and Militarism in Japan and juxtaposes their political and social systems with that of the U.S. It also portrays the first examples of Japanese aggression in Manchuria and China, as well as the example of Italian aggression in Ethiopia. Supervised and Directed by Frank Capra.
Prelude to War was the first film of Frank Capra's Why We Fight propaganda film series, commissioned by the pentagon and George C. Marshall. It was made to convince American troops of the necessity of combating the Axis Powers during World War II.
World War II is introduced in black and white terms, with Henry Wallace's quote "This is a fight between a free world and a slave world" pictorialized with the "free world" of the Allies as a brightly-illuminated planet and the "slave world" of the Axis Powers as a planet deep in shadow.
It examines the differences between democratic and fascist states, using footage from Axis propaganda films including Triumph of the Will, but with different narration designed to support the Allied cause.
It is mentioned that after the Nazis smashed opposing political parties and labor unions, they turned their attention to persecution of Christians - in one scene a stained glass window is shattered by a brick to reveal a "Heil Hitler!" poster behind. To emphasize this depiction of Hitler as an antichrist figure, a class of German schoolchildren is shown singing:
Adolf Hitler is our Saviour, our hero
He is the noblest being in the whole wide world.
For Hitler we live,
For Hitler we die.
Our Hitler is our Lord
Who rules a brave new world.
The Axis aim of total world conquest, as shown in Prelude to War. The Axis is depicted as seeking total world conquest. An animated map first shows Mussolini's ambition to re-create the Roman Empire, complete with the Mediterranean as "Our (the Italians') Sea", then Japan's ambition - described in the Tanaka Memorial (Its authenticity is still a matter of dispute) - to conquer Manchuria, China, Indochina, Siam, Burma, the East Indies, India, Australia, New Zealand and Russia east of Lake Baikal, before moving east to crush the United States. The Nazis are shown as first claiming Europe, then moving east through Iraq and Iran into India, then south to conquer Africa. Once this is accomplished, the Nazis would cross the Atlantic Ocean from Dakar to Brazil - meeting up with the Japanese who have crossed the South Pacific. Simultaneously, the Nazis would cross the North Atlantic Ocean from Scandinavia into Canada, meeting the Japanese forces (pejoratively referred to as Germany's "buck-toothed pals") crossing from Siberia. The combined Axis armies then overrun the United States.
Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy is shown making a speech which is deliberately mistranslated (as in other World War II propaganda) as "When war comes between Japan and the United States, I shall not be content to merely occupying Guam, the Philippines, Hawaii, and San Francisco. I look forward to dictating the peace to the United States in the White House at Washington." - this is followed by a scene showing the "conquering Jap army" marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC, as the narration alludes to Japanese atrocities in Nanking, Hong Kong and Manila.
The film exposes the mendacity of Axis claims that they need living space due to their overpopulation, by showing that they deliberately encouraged a high birth rate in order to increase their military manpower. It also points out that while they claimed to lack raw materials, they were able to build enormous war machines. The Nazi Wehrmacht is mentioned to have "30 Panzer divisions, 70 motorized divisions and 140 infantry divisions".
The film notably takes the position that the war started on September 18, 1931 with Japan's invasion of Manchuria, which is covered towards the end of the film along with Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. The animation showing a Japanese dagger plunging into Manchuria is re-used in The Battle of Russia, The Battle of China and War Comes To America.
Prelude to War was one of four films to win the inaugural, 1942 Academy Award for Documentary.