WWII was a dreadful time, with about 400,000 American military deaths suffered during those four years. Just for perspective, we’ve been in Iraq for almost six years and, thank God, have sustained only 4,200 deaths.
Nevertheless, there’s a tendency to look back with nostalgia on America’s time during WWII, and that’s in part because the entertainment world and the news media were so completely on board with the war effort. More than 60 years after War’s end, the historic record is bathed in a golden glow of national unity, with the conscripted troops the stuff of admiration and romance.
The era is also refreshing in that, in those pre-PC times, Americans felt no compunction about calling the enemy an enemy. The movie makers didn’t need to pretend that Germans and Japanese were basically good people under bad leadership. This freed them from the obligation modern movie makers feel to create only pretend enemies or, even better, paint America itself as the bad guy. Instead, in those old movies, you knew who the bad guys were (them) and who the good guys were (us).
I’ve been watching some of those old movies, which TCM played for Veterans Day and, in lieu of any news about which I wish to comment, am including here two of my favorite clips. The first is from 1944′s Hollywood Canteen (which is a surprisingly awful movie), and the second from Irving Berlin’s 1943 show This is the Army, which is one of my favorite wartime movies, not least because it stars a rather charming Ronald Reagan:
Reagan is in the beginning of this next clip, but the song, which Frances Langford sings, starts at 1:10:
UPDATE: While we’re on the subject, at least one town in England has figured out that its troops do matter, and the townspeople and the troops put on a show suitable for any 1940s movie.