Future generations will no doubt gain insight into our current zeitgeist by studying the movies, magazines, and books this latest war is likely to inspire. We’ve grown accustomed to pop culture’s efforts to process events as they unfold, yet while the connection between art and war is older than Homer (and we’re referring to the epic poet from ancient Greece, not the guy from Springfield), it’s only been about half a century since the full machinery of modern entertainment (film, radio, and TV) has been available to attempt this kind of immediate response. Whether the conflict was WWII, Korea, Vietnam, or even the undeclared Cold War, each era’s movies, music, paperbacks, plays, comics, and magazines have provided windows into America’s collective psyche. — Michael Barson
WE’RE ALL AMERICANS (ALL TRUE BLUE), KATE SMITH 1941 Written before the U.S. even entered WWII, this feisty ditty contained such lyrics as ”If we’re Americans/Deceived by no one’s tricks/We’ll talk and think and act today/In the spirit of ’76.” But this was just the harbinger of a flood tide of wartime tunes that would permeate the airwaves of America over the next four years, including the likes of ”Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” ”Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” ”I’ll Be Seeing You,” ”(There’ll Be Blue Birds Over) the White Cliffs of Dover,” and, of course, ”Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”
WAKE ISLAND 1942 One of the first major WWII films made by Hollywood, Wake Island re-creates one of America’s earliest — and most disastrous — confrontations, when a company of U.S. Marines held the small but strategically important Pacific island for more than two weeks against vastly superior Japanese forces before finally succumbing. The film earned four Academy Award nominations while demonstrating that a Hollywood movie could be both thrilling and patriotic without descending into mere flag-waving.
BEHIND THE RISING SUN 1943 Director Edward Dmytryk sets a saga in pre-WWII Japan. Tom Neal plays a young Cornell-educated Japanese man encouraged by his father to join the early days of Japan’s aggression against its neighboring lands — a decision they both come to regret. The film’s ad campaign screamed ”SEE children driven to slave labor under the lash of hunger!” and ”The Picture That Makes You Mad Enough to Fight!” — adding to a wave of Japan-bashing screen dramas, chief among them Betrayal From the East, First Yank Into Tokyo, and James Cagney’s Blood on the Sun (all 1945). By the end of the decade, Dmytryk would find himself out of work, imprisoned after refusing to name names before the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee.
THE BOY FROM STALINGRAD 1943 The Soviet Union had been pitted against the Axis powers since the Stalin-Hitler pact was broken in June 1941, so it was only natural that the word would go out from Washington to put some pro-Russia pictures into the studio pipelines. Many B movies resulted, among them Columbia’s The Boy From Stalingrad, in which a gang of resourceful Russian lads and lasses outsmarts the cream of Hitler’s invading forces. The period of Russo-American good vibrations reached its Hollywood peak in 1943, with MGM’s Song of Russia and Warner Bros.’ big-budget Mission to Moscow.