The United States officially entered WWII in December 1941.  In 1942 the Office of War Information commissioned a series of 7 films.  Directed and produced by Frank Capra.  The films were American documentary style propaganda that was shown to American soldiers. 

The idea was that if American soldiers could see what the Axis powers were attempting to do it would justify to them America’s place in the war and why it became involved in it.   They described how, leading up to the war, the Axis powers tried to annex territories and the results of their cruelty.  The belief was that if American soldiers could see the importance of being involved in the war, they would fight harder.

Capra used newsreels from America as well as other countries, especially the axis countries, as well as animation, narration and maps to create very glitzy yet hard hitting pro-democracy propaganda films.   

Originally intended to be shown just to soldiers, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered that they be available for public viewing.  The films were distributed by the Twentieth Century-Fox War Activities Committee of the Motion Pictures Industry.  The seven films spanned the period from 1942 to 1945. 

They are basically Capra’s answer to Germany’s film “Triumph of the Will” 1935.  With these films Capra hoped to show America that the apathy of other nations, in addition to American desire for isolationism, allowed Mussolini, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito to go unchecked.   

“Why We Fight: Prelude to War” was the first film in the series and was released in 1942.  The film was narrated by Walter Huston.  In 1943 “Prelude to War” won an Academy Award for best documentary film. 

The first film covers the Japanese invasion of Manchuria as well as Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia.  Capra shows the division of the world powers as two separate worlds, the free world, which were the Allied powers, and totalitarian world or the Axis powers.  With Japan’s and Italy’s actions the stage is set for Hitler to start his campaign of destruction. 

The Allied powers consisted of Great Britain, France, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China.  The Axis powers were Germany, Italy and Japan.

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