Film, War and the Military in

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Film, War and the Military in. This entry consists of two articles, the first, Newsfilms and Documentaries, on how war and the military have been portrayed in newsreels and other forms of news footage as well as documentary films shown in theaters or more recently on television; and the second, Feature Films, on how the armed forces and the motion picture industry have cooperated—and sometimes failed to cooperate—in the production of dramatized feature films involving the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps.Newsfilms and DocumentariesFeature Films
Film, War and the Military in: Newsfilms and Documentaries Visual depiction of the military has been a preoccupation of filmmakers since the first actualitiés, or nonfiction films, were shown by Louis Lumière in Paris, in 1895. Within a year, newsworthy footage was being shown by enterprising camera operators in makeshift theaters all over the world. Thomas Alva Edison pioneered another type of newsfilm, the prize fight, as early as 1894. By the outbreak of the Spanish‐American War in April 1898, viewing “actualities”—lasting perhaps a minute or two—was already part of American leisure activity.

These early newsfilms are all documentaries, as are, in one sense, all newsreels. Every selection of subject, every change in camera angle, every decision in editing footage for a final product involves point of view. That hard‐to‐define word documentary, described by the English filmmaker John Grierson as “the creative treatment of actuality,” also involves point of view. In short, there is much more to the concept of documentary than simple documented fact, as compared to, say, the official likeness recorded in a passport photograph.

Early depictions of news events made extensive use of recreations, often amateurish, though this seems not to have provoked much comment. No camera was present at the sinking of the USS Maine when it was blown up in Havana Harbor, 15 February 1898; the best that Edison's operators could do was to film the half‐submerged wreck and the funeral procession for the sailors who had died in the explosion. Such dull footage was replaced with more newsworthy reenactments. Two cameramen proudly recalled faking the naval Battle of Santiago, using cardboard cutouts of U.S. and Spanish warships, pulled by threads across a container filled with water. The proclaimed “authentic” battle footage was enhanced by off‐camera cigar smoke. The tension between the viewer's desire to “see” the face of battle and the camera's inability to do so was clear from the beginning, a tension that still exists.

The Boer War (1899–1902) was filmed by pioneering cameramen. W. L. Dickson could not shoot the Boer positions with an early telephoto lens in December 1899 because of poor weather conditions. To remedy the situation, fully equipped armies of mock British and Boer soldiers “fought” each other in the hills around Orange, New Jersey, site of the Edison motion picture company. It is but a short step from newsreel reenactments to soldiers fighting in some Hollywood costume drama.

The first American newsreel premiered on 8 August 1911—an American version of a French newsreel, Pathé's Weekly. An enthusiastic review in a trade magazine claimed that the best footage showed German soldiers on review at Potsdam near Berlin. The anonymous reviewer felt this footage allowed the viewer to see the perfection of German arms and discipline in a way possible in no other medium. Also praised in this first American newsreel was footage of an American naval vessel, the battleship North Dakota, undergoing repairs at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. From the start, in other words, the depiction of military might and military hardware informed the commercial newsreel in America.

Pathé, a French company that distributed in the United States, was the first of what became five American newsreel companies active until the rise of television in the mid‐1950s. Hollywood's Universal Pictures newsreels did not cease operations until 1967. The newsreel was a series of short stories, lasting eight to ten minutes in total, driven by entertainment values and always meant to hold a paying audience that had come to a movie theater to see a feature‐length fictional film. Military pageantry proved a favorite subject. The newsreel rarely contributed to serious debate over military policy, and almost never turned such to subjects as women in the military, or the relationship of the military to the society from which it found its basis for support.

War posed a special opportunity for cameramen and directors—an opportunity at first missed, thanks to censorship by governmental authorities and the inability of tradition‐bound military officers to understand the potential of visual footage for making the battle front comprehensible to the home front. At first, few recognized the propaganda potential. Nor should one overlook the enormous logistical problems involved in moving cameras on tripods to the front, all too visible to soldiers from both sides.

For North Americans, the story of the Mexican guerrilla leader Francisco (“Pancho”) Villa, his raid on Columbus, New Mexico, and the resulting Punitive Expedition of 1916—part of the U.S. military involvement in the Mexican Revolution—were of intense filmic interest, an interest fueled by a unique contractual relationship between Villa and the U.S.‐based Mutual Film Corporation. In an agreement signed on 3 January 1914, Villa promised to fight, whenever possible, only during daylight hours. In one important battle for the city of Ojinaga, Villa actually delayed his attack until Mutual could bring its cameras into position.

Little of Mutual's footage has survived. What has—uninteresting visually—can be seen at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. But extraordinary still photographs of Villa can be found in two articles by Aurelio de los Reyes, printed in the 1986 and 1987 Library of Congress Performing Arts Annual. The Mutual contract with Villa reminds us that docudrama the combination of documentaries and feature films, is not a concept of entirely recent vintage, and that something more than newsworthiness has shaped the visual record of newsfilm.

World War I represents a turning point for nonfiction film's treatment of the military, a turning point more obvious perhaps for what British filmmakers were able to achieve than for their American competitors, who until 6 April 1917 were recording a war that seemed little more than a curiosity to most U.S. audiences. Most of the footage shot between 1914 and 1918 has long since disappeared. But much of it—the “outtakes”—was never seen by audiences of the day, and has only recently come to light. Those who unthinkingly assume that NBC's Project XX or CBS's The Twentieth Century—both pioneering television documentary series from the 1950s that are still being rerun—have included the relevant surviving footage of battle will be amazed by the existence of some 440 titles in Anouk van der Jagt and Mette Peters, World War One on Television: An Index of Non‐Fiction Programmes (1993).

One of the more dramatic rediscoveries of recent years is a forty‐minute film shot by German cameraman Oskar Messter of wartime production at a steel mill at Poldihütte (then part of Austro‐Hungary) in 1916. The numerous women workers are shown manufacturing shell casings, step by step. No surviving records indicate what contemporary audiences thought of this film, or how many saw it, but its visual brilliance makes it one of the Netherlands Film Museum's outstanding pieces of wartime nonfiction footage. The skillful editing suggests that it was meant as a documentary; it survives to tell us about the role of women in wartime production, as well as to indicate state‐of‐the‐art steel manufacturing in a time of full‐scale war.

The most important documentary to come out of World War I was Britain's The Battle of the Somme (1916). We know that the overwhelming majority of the British populace saw this film in the late summer and fall of 1916, and that is seemed genuinely to convey what it was like to fight in a battle that resulted in 100,000 British casualties on the first day. The unanimity of surviving contemporary opinion makes it clear that this was film propaganda that worked. The seventy‐three‐minute film, available on video from London's Imperial War Museum, has little impact on today's viewer, more eager to recognize the few “over‐the‐top” attack scenes, which were faked, than to accept the film's historical significance: the first feature‐length documentary successfully to justify the meaning of total war to a home front audience.

The impact of this film was not lost on the enemy. Germany responded with a rejoinder, With Our Heroes at the Somme (1917), restricted in scope and unsuccessful with German viewers. Nevertheless, its title demonstrates why Adolf Hitler and Gen. Erich Ludendorff believed that in World War I the British were the master propagandists.

American nonfiction filmmaking in 1917–18 represents a lesser level of achievement. The Battle of the Somme was shown widely in the United States. The Wilson administration's Creel Committee released a seventy‐minute documentary newsfilm, Pershing's Crusaders, in 1918, but the uninteresting footage failed to arouse enthusiasm. U.S. Army Signal Corps camera operators spent much of their time pleading with old‐fashioned field officers who saw no value in film. As a result, American newsreels carried war stories based on the footage of European news cameramen, with little to show save colorful entries into towns freed from German occupation. French civilians looked appropriately joyous for the camera. The exploits of the black 369th Regiment (“Harlem Hellfighters”) are shown (including a sound track with the 369th's jazz band) in William Miles's documentary, Men of Bronze (1977), now available on video. The best guide to American footage, curiously enough, is Roger Smither's 1994 catalogue of the film holdings of the Imperial War Museum, which includes a brief summary of every single film item relating to World War I.

Nobody has a problem locating footage for World War II. Indeed, we first recall that war from film images; few could claim never to have seen so much as a single World War II documentary. American newsreels got their battle footage through a pool system. U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps photographers shot footage at the front; after careful censorship, it was then shared with all five newsreel companies. This does not mean that every story has a dreary visual sameness, but it helps explain why there are no multiple shots of bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for example. It is also true that the overall visual record of American battle footage is not particularly impressive, particularly when compared to the Nazi Wochenschau, or newsreel, now available on home video from Chicago's International Historic Films (IHF). Wartime saw no change in the entertainment‐driven requirements of the American commercial newsreel. Bathing beauties appeared on screen more often than that symbol of women in the workplace, Rosie the Riveter.

Wartime documentary was official; such films must be considered as propaganda, their avowed purpose. Most were made for the government by Hollywood directors, men who had made their reputations in fictional feature production. Best known was Frank Capra, who produced for the military seven feature‐length documentaries explaining the reasons why the United States was at war. The Why We Fight series originally included an eighth film, War Comes to America, Part II, which survives only as a shooting script. The Capra films (available on home video) seem strident to today's viewers, who perhaps have not thought about what they replaced—plodding, well‐meaning lecturers assigned to give recruits fifteen orientation lectures, including all the facts and figures.

Capra's film unit also produced a pioneering documentary, The Negro Soldier (1944), describing overstated prospects for black advancement. Nevertheless, the film by its very existence and its high production values served as a threat to official segregation policy. Its radical premise could not be disguised; career advancement would mark the end of a rigidly segregated military.

The Hollywood director William Wyler directed Memphis Belle (1944), the finest documentary about the experience of flying on a bombing raid produced by any combatant nation. John Huston made San Pietro (1945), a low‐key explanation about how the taking of one small Italian village from its German occupiers explains the grinding attrition of the Italian Campaign, and, by indirection, the meaning of the war to the G.I.s. Some modern viewers miss the skillful reenactments in the film, which is effective precisely because of important scenes shot just before or after the battle. Huston dealt with the problem of battle fatigue in Let There Be Light (1946), filmed at a hospital on Long Island. The film was denied public clearance for twenty years because Huston did not get written releases from the soldiers undergoing psychiatric treatment; for years he falsely insisted that the Pentagon had censored his film because it was antiwar.

The most significant nonfiction footage to come out of World War II is a collective enterprise, reminding us how much the horrors of war and views of the enemy are defined through visual media in the twentieth century. In the spring of 1945, the collective footage of skeletal figures, piles of dead bodies stacked like so much cordwood, of a bulldozer pushing countless naked bodies into a mass grave, and of such well as Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton walking through liberated death camps while inmates were still present, provided documentation for German crimes against humanity presented at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, 1945–46. This visual record made clear in the war's aftermath that Nazi Germany had been an enemy worth fighting. Although the word Holocaust was not used in 1945, we must count the Holocaust footage shot by American, Russian, and British cameramen as one of the most important military uses of the medium of film.

The Korean War was covered by newsreel cameramen; television news based its limited coverage on newsfilm shot by newsreel cameramen. It might be helpful to point out that similar footage was seen in theaters and on television, remembering that a freeze by the Federal Communications Commission restricted the total number of television stations in the United States to just 108 until mid‐April 1952. Korea was an unpopular war. Millions saw Gen. Douglas MacArthur's triumphal motorcade pass through downtown San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City after his dismissal by President Harry S. Truman in April 1951; few found much interest in a war that soon settled into stalemate. The historian Bruce Cumings's 1990 WGBH television series has an appropriate title for Korea: The Forgotten War.

For Vietnam, the distinction between television news and documentary begins to erode. Americans learned of France's war in Indochina from the newsreel; the war which came to occupy American attention was covered by three national networks: NBC, CBS, and ABC, the last too weak to attract many viewers, which is worth remembering when one evaluates the impact of the conservative commentator Howard K. Smith, or such unusual ABC Vietnam television correspondents as the photographer David Douglas Duncan.

The Vietnam War resulted in many documentaries protesting the conflict, most of which failed to find much of an audience. Peter Davis, in The Selling of the Pentagon (CBS, 1971), indicted the military‐industrial complex. His feature‐length Technicolor Hearts and Minds (1974) received an Academy Award for Best Documentary. The film explains American militarism as a direct result of societal enthusiasm for Friday night high school football, and uses an editing trick to jump‐cut from Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who declares that the Oriental places little value on human life, to a Vietnamese woman weeping over the death of her child. Zina Voynow, the film's editor, told me in 1978 that she felt her work on this film to be the most important thing she had done in her life.

Quite different, in what now seems old‐fashioned black and white, is Eugene Jones's The Face of War (1967), now available on video. The film suggests what it was like to be part of a Marine combat unit in 1966. Jones spent three months in the field with the company; his film does a remarkable job of capturing the aural presence of radio in the life of an American soldier in Vietnam. Emile de Antonio's In the Year of the Pig (1969) incorporated archival footage from camera operators from the former East Germany, Hanoi, and the National Liberation Front office in Prague, in a hammer‐and‐tongs assault on American conduct of the war.

The most important piece of newsfilm to come out of the Vietnam War was certainly the NBC color newsfilm of South Vietnamese Colonel Loan executing a Viet Cong sympathizer, 2 February 1968, on the streets of downtown Saigon, at the start of the Tet Offensive, the turning point of the war. A three‐man camera team from NBC and ABC filmed the event; Associated Press photographer Eddie Adams took a Pulitzer Prize–winning photograph of what seemed to be the instant of death. The visual microcosm of disaster suggested that America supported a government that killed innocent victims with no concern for guilt or innocence.

The Communists' Tet Offensive took the war into the cities of South Vietnam. Peter Braestrup, in Big Story (1977), the most comprehensive study of any foreign event ever covered by the American media, indicts both television correspondents and newspaper reporters for missing the meaning of Tet (Braestrup was Washington Post bureau chief in Saigon in 1968). The Persian Gulf War, not Vietnam, was America's first “living‐room war.” As a general rule, television supported the war up to the fall of 1967; elite opinion in Washington—exemplified by the counsel the so‐called Wise Men gave Lyndon B. Johnson in late March 1968—turned against the war before the majority of Americans did so. Antiwar television and newspaper stories did not make American battlefield victory impossible.

The latest development in television newsfilm occurred in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Thanks to satellite cable television, CNN's Peter Arnett was able to broadcast directly from Baghdad, and Saddam Hussein used television to speak directly to President George Bush and the American people. Endless media prognostications about the upcoming allied Coalition assault on Kuwait City from the sea helped mislead Hussein and his advisers as to where the attack would actually come, contributing importantly to his overwhelming defeat.

The Gulf War to date has produced no memorable documentaries. Vast amounts of television programming about that war, recorded from all over the world, can be viewed at archives at the University of Leeds in England. Yesterday's newsfilm is tomorrow's archival footage for the day‐after‐tomorrow's documentaries. A final word of caution may be in order: the recent enthusiasm for faked grainy newsfilm in Hollywood feature films should remind us that never has the distinction between documentary and fictional film been less clear.
[See also Film, War and the Military in: Feature Films; Illustration, War and the Military in; News Media, War, and the Military; Photography, War and the Military In; Propaganda and Public Relations, Government.]


Editors of Look, Movie Lot to Beachhead: The Motion Picture Goes to War and Prepares for the Future, 1945.
Raymond Fielding , The American Newsreel, 1911–1967, 1972.
Erwin Leiser , Nazi Cinema, 1974.
Peter Braestrup , Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington, 2 vols., 1977.
Linda Dittmar and Gene Michaud, eds., From Hanoi to Hollywood: The Vietnam War in American Film, 1990.
David Culbert, editor‐in‐chief, Film and Propaganda in America: A Documentary History, 5 vols., 1990–93.
Philip M. Taylor , War and the Media: Propaganda and Persuasion in the Gulf War, 1992.
Daan Hertogs and and Nico De Klerk , Nonfiction from the Teens: The 1994 Amsterdam Workshop, 1994.
Paolo Cherchi Usai , Burning Passions: An Introduction to the Study of Silent Cinema, 1994.
Roger Smither, ed., Imperial War Museum Film Catalogue I: The First World War Archive, 1994.
John Whiteclay Chambers II and David Culbert, eds., World War II, Film, and History, 1996.

David Culbert

Film, War and The Military in: Feature Films A symbiotic relationship has existed between the United States military and the motion picture industry in the production of feature films, each institution exploiting and benefitting from the relationship with the other. The services want an attractive portrayal; the filmmakers, particularly the studios, want to use the military's equipment, personnel, and aura. Each service also seeks to build public support for its own particular needs.

During the decade before World War I, each of the services began developing its own approach to filmmakers through regulations governing assistance it might render on a particular production. The U.S. Navy, the first service to see the potential of this visual medium, sent pseudo‐documentaries portraying its activities to the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Later, these were used to recruit farm‐boys in the Middle West. By 1916, when the navy loaned Syd Chaplin, Charlie's look‐alike brother, a submarine during the making of Submarine Pirate, the service was regularly providing men and equipment to productions it considered beneficial. On the other hand, it refused to loan a battleship during the making of Mary Pickford's Madame Butterfly (1915) because Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels felt the story did not reflect credit on the Naval Service.

The aviation branch led the army in exploring film's potential. Lt. Henry “Hap” Arnold flew one of the first military airplanes in front of a camera in the two‐reeler Military Scout (1911). Later, Arnold supported the Air Corps' cooperation with filmmakers in such major productions as Wings (1927), the first Best Picture Oscar winner, and Air Force (1943), a World War II epic flying film.

The Marine Corps, seeking to ensure its survival as a unique body of fighting men, cooperated with films that emphasized this, especially those featuring the rite of passage of young boys to mature men. Shortly before the United States entered World War I, the Marine Corps allowed filmmakers to shoot Star‐Spangled Banner at its barracks at Bremerton, Washington. After U.S. entry in April 1917, the service permitted the filmmakers to shoot the combat scenes on its base at Quantico, Virginia, providing the director with 1,000 Marines for his “over‐the‐top” sequence in The Unbeliever (1918). The service's public affairs office helped promote the film by sending news releases to newspapers in all the towns from which the Marine actors had come, explaining that the young men had now arrived in France and were helping to defeat the enemy.

As has happened after virtually every war, Hollywood lost interest in the military once hostilities ceased. Nevertheless, the connection between the two institutions remained. In trying to do for the American Revolution what he had done for the Civil War, D. W. Griffith again approached the army for assistance on America (1923). Secretary of War John Weeks ordered the army to give the director every reasonable help, ultimately including 1,000 cavalrymen and a military band. The army justified its cooperation by saying the filming allowed officers to study the Revolutionary War battles with a precision never before possible.

Hollywood ultimately turned to World War I combat to portray dramatic stories of men in combat. The first of these, The Big Parade (1925), set the standard. Director King Vidor said that he wanted to make “an honest war picture” showing hostilities from the viewpoint of ordinary soldiers and privates. With the army's help, Vidor was able to portray the spectacle of a large‐scale movement of troops and equipment to the front, “the big parade.” In the picture, two of the three doughboys die and the hero loses a leg, causing many people to perceive the film as an antiwar treatise, despite its happy ending. From the military's perspective, if the ending is upbeat, even the death of one or more of the characters remains secondary to the images of men and equipment performing valiantly in the nation's cause.

During the 1920s, each of the services formalized its regulations governing cooperation with filmmakers. Once the War Department or the Navy Department, of which the Marines remained a subordinate branch, had approved a script, the local commander assumed all responsibility for providing assistance. But, the amount he gave depended on the feelings the base commander or ship captain had toward film and the production company. Only rarely did a commander object strongly enough for headquarters to rescind its approval. More often, commanders went out of their way to provide the assistance a director needed, recognizing the public relations value of the completed film.

The making of Wings illustrated this symbiotic relationship during the interwar years. The Army Air Corps saw the story of American fliers in France as a way to boost its branch of the army, and many of the officers at the flying facilities around San Antonio knew director William Wellman from his flying days during World War I. As a result, the service provided him with a good portion of all the airplanes it owned, as well as the troops necessary to recreate the Battle of St. Mihiel. For its nine months of assistance, the Air Corps received a film that glorified army aviation.

Hollywood did make other combat stories featuring the U.S. military during the 1920s and 1930s, but most focused on life in the peacetime armed services. The Marines, for example, assisted on two movies portraying its aviation branch, Flight (1929) and Devil Dogs of the Air (1935).

Navy aviation, of course, reaped the reward of appearing in the film as well as several other stories set aboard aircraft carriers. However, the submarine service faced an inherent dilemma; to make an exciting movie, the submarine had to sink, which did little to aid recruitment for the silent service. The only resolution to the problem, whether in Frank Capra's Submarine (1928) or later in Gray Lady Down (1978), was for the navy to demonstrate its salvage capability. Despite the required love interest, Submarine D‐1 (1937) became little more than a pseudo‐documentary, showing how the service was preparing to deal with the sinking of submarines.

Navy aviation faced similar problems in overcoming the dangers of flight. The service sought to explain its efforts to protect men and equipment. Consequently, in the immediate prewar years, the navy in films such as Flight Command (1940), which detailed efforts to improve navigation equipment, and Dive Bomber (1941), which portrayed the research by Navy flight doctors to overcome pilot blackout.

Hollywood failed in general to deal with the Nazi threat until late in the 1930s, but by 1940 was turning out such pro‐interventionist films as Sergeant York, which depicted the heroic doughboy, Alvin York, of World War I. Isolationists in Congress and across the country accused Hollywood of making propaganda films to draw the United States into the war on the side of Britain. In a Senate hearing in September 1941, the heads of all the major studios denied the charges. While acknowledging that they opposed Adolf Hitler, they argued that they produced movies to entertain and make money.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor rendered further hearings moot and freed Hollywood to produce vehemently anti‐German films as well as movies portraying the military in combat. Like the World War I‐era The Unbeliever (1918), which showed Marines in battle before they had actually reached Europe, the initial World War II movies, such as Bataan (1943), Crash Dive (1943), and Wing and a Prayer (1944) contained fanciful stories, usually implausible and lacking basis in fact. Air Force (1943), for example, made with the blessing of “Hap” Arnold (now a general), began with the historic reality that a flight of B‐17s had left San Francisco in the evening of 6 December, arriving in Hawaii in the midst of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. However, the subsequent adventures of the Mary Ann and her crew, culminating in the almost single‐handed destruction of a huge Japanese armada had no historic basis.

Sometimes, as in Wake Island (1942) and Destination Tokyo (1943), filmmakers combined known facts with fabrications. In reality, the last man off Wake Island before its capture had reported how a small band of Marines defended the island up to the day he left. Hollywood's portrayal of subsequent events remained at best an educated guess. An American submarine had sailed to within sight of Japan to report weather conditions for James Doolittle's raiders. However, Destination Tokyo portrayed the submarine entering Tokyo Bay, landing a team of meteorologists on Japanese soil, and later sinking a Japanese aircraft carrier, none of which happened.

By 1943, however, the war had produced dramatic stories, which served as the basis for relatively accurate accounts of American experiences in combat. In particular, MGM's Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), directed by Mervyn LeRoy and written by Dalton Trumbo, closely followed the story of one of the pilots on the Doolittle raid. Nevertheless, for political reasons, the film did not explain that the Chinese Communists had rescued most of the fliers. Whether or not the combat films made during the war contained more fact than fantasy, they did help the war effort by showing how the military carried the war to the enemy.

Each of the armed services had more important things to do than provide men and equipment to filmmakers, even if the assistance lent an authentic ambiance to the completed movie and showed how the military was winning the war. Still, each service did cooperate with Hollywood as much as possible. Due to General Arnold's long‐standing relationship with filmmakers, the Army Air Force loaned several B‐17s, a fighter, and other equipment for the filming of Air Force. Although the navy and the Air Corps could not recreate the launch of Doo‐little's planes off the deck of the USS Hornet, the Air Corps provided 16 B‐25s for the training sequences and trundled two bombers to the MGM studio for filming shipboard sequences.

Despite the popularity of such war stories, once victory loomed on the horizon, Hollywood began cutting back on the production of combat films, believing audiences would lose interest when the war was over. Two critically acclaimed films—They Were Expendable and A Walk in the Sun—both released in 1945 shortly after V‐J Day, failed at the box office.

Only in 1948 did the small‐scale Command Decision and Fighter Squadron appear in theaters. Relying on Army Air Force gun camera footage for their combat sequences, neither film enjoyed much success at the box office. However, in the next two years, four major World War II movies started a cycle of combat stories that lasted into the early 1960s. Battleground, Sands of Iwo Jima, Task Force, and Twelve O’Clock High received substantial military assistance and each presented a highly positive image of the service being portrayed.

Beyond their recreation of World War II, two of the films became important for their portrayals of leadership. As the tough father figure, Sergeant Stryker, in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), John Wayne passes his knowledge of war to the next generation of Marines and dies having accomplished his mission. Despite his inglorious death from a sniper's bullet, Wayne's performance established him as the quintessential American fightingman and role model in the eyes of most Americans. In contrast, in Twelve O’Clock High (1949), General Savage, played by Gregory Peck, falls into the same trap as had the commander he replaced. After rebuilding the confidence and abilities of his bomber group through strict leadership and appropriate distance from his men, Savage begins to see them as human beings and friends. When they die in combat, Savage grieves, albeit internally, and ultimately suffers a mental breakdown. Probably the best film ever made about the U.S. Air Force, Twelve O’Clock High continues to be used in leadership seminars to illustrate the problems leaders face in commanding subordinates.

Most of the Pentagon's objections to scripts submitted during the 1950s focused on small matters—pilots drinking, rough treatment of recruits—and filmmakers readily acquiesced to requests for changes in order to receive the needed assistance, which gave their movies authentic military ambiance. Occasionally, however, major productions did create problems for one or another of the services that required long negotiations and compromises on both sides.

Hollywood wanted to make two popular novels, James Jones's From Here to Eternity and Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny, into motion pictures as quickly as possible. In the case of Jones's novel, the army did not deny the accuracy of the portrayals, but it saw little benefit in a story of an officer's abuse of power and the cruel treatment inflicted upon enlisted men in prewar Hawaii. Ultimately, the filmmakers agreed to tone down some of the brutality and have the offending officer resign rather than being promoted as in the novel; the army then allowed filming at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, using real soldiers as extras.

Although Herman Wouk thought he had written a pro‐navy story based on his own experiences aboard a destroyer in World War II, the navy was opposed to the title—The Caine Mutiny—arguing (incorrectly) that there had never been a mutiny aboard a U.S. Navy ship. Producer Stanley Kramer refused the suggested title, The Caine Incident. After eighteen months of negotiation, both sides compromised on a script that put the blame for the takeover of the USS Caine on the civilian‐appointed turned wartime officers rather than on Captain Queeg, a regular navy officer.

Ironically, one of the films that the navy thought beneficial and assisted, The Bridges of Toko‐Ri (1954), based on James Michener's novel, contained some of Hollywood's strongest antiwar statements. The navy provided an extraordinary amount of assistance in this portrayal of carrier operations during the Korean War. Although the film contains a strong justification for the need to fight the Communists in Korea, the closing image of the downed pilot‐protagonist, shot dead in a muddy ditch by North Korean soldiers, did little to create enthusiasm for naval aviation or for war itself.

Only on very rare occasions did the Pentagon flatly refuse to provide assistance to a film during the peak of the Cold War in the 1950s. One example was Attack! (1956), in which an enlisted man shoots his incompetent officer. By the end of the 1960s, the interest in World War II had about run its course. Moreover, young, independent filmmakers, not beholden to Hollywood's comfortable relationship with the military establishment, had begun to take control of the industry. Things also changed within the Pentagon as a result of the controversies surrounding the making of The Longest Day (1962), the film that ended the golden age of World War II movies.

The army had, of course, few problems with providing assistance to a movie about the D‐Day landing in Normandy, its greatest moment in World War II. Producer Darryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox received help in recreating the invasion of Normandy not only from the U.S. military but from the forces of the other three major participants in the battle, Britain, France, and Germany. But, when the American media focused attention on the amount of cooperation Zanuck was receiving, the Pentagon began reevaluating its long‐standing regulations on assistance. The producer did not help the inquiry when he shot a scene of American soldiers killing German soldiers who were trying to surrender, which he had agreed not to include, and then refused to delete it despite army demands that he do so.

Although the free and easy relationship between Hollywood and the military came to an end in the 1960s, the film industry was not immediately ready to produce movies openly critical of the armed services; but filmmakers were willing to use the atomic bomb as a focus for antiwar statements. In particular, Fail Safe (1964), Dr. Strangelove (1964), and The Bedford Incident (1965) each argued that the Pentagon did not have the control it claimed over the use of nuclear weapons and that an accident could lead to nuclear holocaust. The air force and navy refused to cooperate on any of these productions. And the navy would have nothing to do with The Americanization of Emily (1964), in which for the first time a Hollywood studio portrayed a U.S. military officer as a professed coward.

To be sure, filmmakers continued to produce traditional military stories with Pentagon assistance during the 1960s and early 1970s. These included PT‐109 (1963), In Harm's Way (1965), Bridge at Remagen (1969), Patton (1970), and Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970). Yet, even these films often contained negative images. Hollywood made one more pro‐air force, pro‐atomic bomb movie, Gathering of Eagles (1962), at the request of Curtis E. LeMay.

John Wayne was involved in an effort to glorify the U.S. military in Vietnam, using army assistance. Unfortunately, The Green Berets (1968) reeked of its propaganda message about an unpopular war. It became Hollywood's sole movie on the Vietnam War until the conflict ended in 1975. Thereafter, Hollywood set about to complete the savaging, begun by the media during the war, of the largely positive image of the U.S. military that American filmmakers had helped to create for more than seventy years.

When presented with the scripts of Go Tell the Spartans (1978), Coming Home (1978), The Deer Hunter (1978), and Apocalypse Now (1979), the Pentagon did not deny that many bad things had occurred in Vietnam. But public affairs officers in each of the services argued that the stories often lacked balance and portrayed events that simply had not occurred or had been aberrations.

In May 1975, the director Francis Ford Coppola visited the Pentagon to discuss his plans to make a film about the Vietnam War; Department of Defense officials wanted to avoid controversy with the Oscar‐winning director and they sought ways to provide him at least some assistance on Apocalypse Now. However, they contended that the army would never send one officer to “terminate” another officer and so could not assist on a film that used this as the springboard of its story.

In The Deer Hunter, director Michael Cimino turned the My Lai Massacre into a Viet Cong atrocity. However, the film's recreation of the American evacuation of Saigon bore no relation to historical events and the army pointed out that no American prisoners of war had ever been forced to play Russian roulette. The service declined to provide any assistance to Cimino's production.

Each service usually manifested far too much sensitivity in dealing with requests for even limited help on Vietnam War films. Go Tell the Spartans contained a relatively accurate portrayal of the activity of American advisers in the early 1960s. The filmmakers expressed a willingness to negotiate with the army to deal with service objections to the script, but they met with what they considered absolute intransigence from the public affairs office. Again, the Air Force refused to consider cooperation on Rolling Thunder (1977), claiming that there were no known cases of air force officers becoming schizophrenic “there is nothing beneficial for the Department of Defense in the dramatization of this situation.”

The army flatly refused to consider assistance on Hair (1979), equating the Vietnam antiwar movement message in the stage play with an entirely different screenplay. The army even refused to discuss the request with the Defense Department's public affairs office. Only after that office suggested that script contained a moral tale of one friend giving his life for another did the filmmakers receive some limited assistance from the National Guard.

The army did provide full assistance to one movie about combat during the 1970s cycle of Vietnam War movies. Hamburger Hill (1979) gives a highly positive portrayal of American courage in combat. Despite the heroism, however, the film contains a strongly antiwar statement: soldiers conquer an enemy‐held hill at high cost and then retreat, with no explanation of the reasons for either the battle or the withdrawal.

In 1979, the first wave of Vietnam movies came to an end. Ironically, despite the negative portrayals of the American fighting experience that these films had contained, Hollywood had concurrently been rehabilitating the image of the U.S. armed forces. Not so badly tarred by the war as the other services, the navy could serve as a viable subject for filmmakers who wished to create patriotic stories of men in uniform, particularly as the United States celebrated its bicentennial in 1976.

The navy had refused to provide even limited assistance to The Last Detail (1973) and Cinderella Liberty (1973), both set in the peacetime Navy, because its public affairs office believed the films reflected anti‐Vietnam War sentiment. In contrast, the navy embraced Midway (1976), which focused on the Battle of Midway, the first great U.S. naval victory of World War II. The service readily ignored the insipid fictional story that overlaid the documentarylike portrayal of the famous battle, recognizing that aerial combat footage would create high drama and an appreciation of the courage of the participants.

The success of the film, perhaps due to the nation's longing for a military success following the debacle of Vietnam, encouraged Hollywood to return to the navy as a locale for other stories including Gray Lady Down (1978), Raise the Titanic! (1980), and The Final Countdown (1980). Each showed naval officers and men doing their jobs in a competent, highly professional manner.

Paradoxically, the navy refused to become involved with An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), a traditional rite‐of‐passage love story, not at all different from the thirties Hollywood romances for which the service regularly provided men and ships. In this case, the Navy's public affairs office objected to the language, graphic sex, and suicide of an officer who flunked out of the Naval Aviation Officer program. The service recognized its mistake after the film became a box office hit and people assumed the navy had provided the ambiance. As a result, the navy readily agreed to lend the producers of Top Gun (1986) an aircraft carrier and planes, and gave access to the Top Gun school of naval aviators. The top‐grossing film of the year, it marked the final rehabilitation of the American military image.

Admittedly, such films as The Great Santini (1979) and Private Benjamin (1980) also contributed to the more positive portrayals of the armed services. Consequently, even the second wave of Vietnam stories including Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986), Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1988), and Brian De Palma's Casualties of War (1989), despite containing some of the most vivid images, real and imagined, about the American experience in Vietnam, did not seriously affect the nation's renewed confidence in the military establishment.

At the same time, filmmakers have shown less inclination to hide the armed services' deficiencies in their contemporary stories. As a result, the military has more readily refused to provide assistance to such films as Broken Arrow (1996), in which an air force pilot helps steal a nuclear weapon. The Hunt For Red October (1990), however, which was the last film of the Cold War and the first of the “New World Order,” received extensive assistance from the navy. The service did reject a request for assistance on Crimson Tide (1995), arguing that its portrayal of command and control of nuclear weapons aboard U.S. submarines had no basis in fact. Likewise, the army turned down a request for help on Courage Under Fire (1996) because this film about the Persian Gulf War showed some U.S. soldiers being cowardly under fire and lying about their actions.

In the post‐Cold War world, of course, filmmakers face the problem of deciding who poses a threat to U.S. national security. So far, Hollywood has had the armed services fight terrorists of the Irish Republican Army in Patriot Games (1994), Colombian drug dealers in Clear and Present Danger (1995), nuclear terrorists in True Lies (1995), and ultranationalist Russians in Air Force One (1997). To be sure, these enemies do not compare with the threat that Germany or Japan posed in World War II. Nevertheless, Hollywood has portrayed the cinematic sailors, soldiers, aviators, and Marines doing their jobs competently, and the armed services have willingly provided assistance as the symbiotic relationship between the film industry and the armed services continues.
[See also Film, War and the Military in: Newsfilms and Documentaries; News Media, War, and the Military; Photography, War and the Military in; Propaganda and Public Relations, Government.]


Joe Morella,, Edward Epstein,, and and John Griggs , The Films of World War II, 1973.
Clyde Jeavons , A Pictorial History of War Films, 1974.
Jack Shaheen, ed., Nuclear War Films, 1978.
Lawrence Suid , Guts & Glory, 1978.
Steven J. Rubin , Combat Films, 1945–1970, 1981.
Lawrence Suid, ed., Air Force [introduction to and script of the film], 1983.
Bernard Dick , The Star‐Spangled Screen, 1985.
Jeanine Basinger , The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre, 1986.
Lawrence Suid , Sailing on the Silver Screen, 1996.

Lawrence Suid

Music, War and the Military in

views updated Jun 11 2018

Music, War and the Military in. From the earliest major American wars to the Persian Gulf War, music has played an active role in wartime activities of both military and civilian populations. Soldiers wrote their own lyrics, and occasionally even the songs themselves, which they sang and played to pass the time or while marching into war. Civilians at home wrote and sang popular songs to support or oppose the war effort, and composers wrote more involved instrumental or vocal works dealing with the subject of war, often long after a war was over. In this century as well, composers have created music to be part of films and television shows dealing with war. Music and war have clearly had a strong relationship in America since the mid‐eighteenth century.

During the Revolutionary War, several Continental army regiments had small bands, but it was two decades after the war that Congress authorized a Marine band, in 1798. It consisted of thirty‐two members, playing exclusively drums and fifes. Most active during the Revolutionary War were the soldiers who sang ballads and strophic songs, the majority of which were usually set to British tunes since there were few composers in America. For many of those songs the music has been lost; only the lyrics were published in papers at the time. But some of the music is known. The most popular songs during the war were Yankee Doodle, The Battle of the Kegs, and Volunteer Boys. William Billings, the most significant American composer of this era, also wrote important songs dealing with the war, such as Chester, Lamentation Over Boston, Retrospect, and Victory.

Other genres appeared somewhat later, specifically battle pieces, which were popular in Europe and America in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These battle pieces were sectionalized, programmatic keyboard works that attempted musically to reenact battle situations, and often incorporated national airs or military songs. One of the earliest American examples was James Hewitt's Battle of Trenton, written in 1792. Hewitt dedicated the piece to George Washington, composed a detailed program indicating how the general's army marched, crossed the Delaware, and defeated the Hessians, and included popular tunes such as Yankee Doodle and Roslin Castle.

The relationship of music and war during the early nineteenth‐century American wars was similar to that in the Revolution, chiefly patriotic songs and programmatic piano battle pieces. Benjamin Carr wrote one of the most difficult early pieces in his Siege of Tripoli (1801), concluding again with Yankee Doodle. Other works glorified America's victories, such as Denis‐Germain Etienne's Battle of New Orleans (1816), with a programmatic journey including Hail Columbia and Yankee Doodle. The most important song to be written during the War of 1812 was certainly Francis Scott Key's poem The Star‐Spangled Banner (1814), set to John Stafford Smith's song, To Anacreon in Heaven. Not until 1931 did it become America's official national anthem.

Although war‐related music in Europe changed during the mid‐nineteenth century with more sincere forays into seriousness of purpose (particularly in the music of Franz Liszt, Giuseppi Verdi, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky), American music devoted to war remained limited in its focus and quality. However, these pianistic battle pieces and salon works for voice and piano remained popular during the Mexican War. In 1846 and 1847, Charles Grobe composed two piano works, The Battle of Buena Vista and The Battle of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma, dedicated respectively to Gen. Zachary Taylor, “who never lost a battle,” and to the men of the U.S. Army. In 1847, William Cumming composed a simple piano work, Santa Anna's Retreat from Cerro Cordo, in which the composer indicates at specific moments in the score how Antonio López de Santa Anna lost his wooden leg and later his Mexican hat. The most popular war songs during this time were T. A. Durriage's Remember the Alamo, sung to the tune of Bruce's Address, and Park Benjamin's To Arms.

The Civil War was a turning point in song writing. America was sufficiently established to have composers writing both the lyrics and the tunes, unlike the popular songs of the earlier wars that were chiefly set to preexisting tunes. George F. Root was the most gifted of the Union song writers and his Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching, The Battle‐Cry of Freedom, and Just Before the Battle, Mother, were among the most popular songs. Other particularly noteworthy songs of the North were Julia Ward Howe's Battle Hymn of the Republic and Henry C. Work's Marching Through Georgia. Some of the most famous songs sung in the South were Daniel Emmett's Dixie, Harry Macarthy's The Bonnie Blue Flag, James R. Randall's Maryland, My Maryland, and Marie Ravenal de la Coste and John Hill Hewitt's Somebody's Darling. Many songs, however, crossed battle lines with different texts to the same tunes often parodying the originals. Emmett composed Dixie, the most famous song of the war, in 1859 as a minstrel song, but it soon was adopted by both the Union and Confederate states. For the Confederacy, it became an unofficial national anthem; President Lincoln liked it and had a White House band perform it as well.

Pianistic battle pieces continued, as seen in the blind slave Thomas Bethune's Battle of Manassas (1866), which quotes Dixie, The Star‐Spangled Banner, and Yankee Doodle, and uses clusters to imitate cannon shots in the lower part of the keyboard. The most serious composer of keyboard music in America during the mid‐nineteenth century, however, was Louis Moreau Gottschalk. He wrote several piano works that significantly elevated both the virtuosity and the quality of battle‐like pieces for the instrument. His L’Union (1862), for which Samuel Adler made an arrangement for piano and orchestra in 1972, is a brilliant showpiece for the pianist, with interlocking offices, rapid figurations, and cannon imitations. By the Civil War period, military brass bands were prevalent, having significantly replaced the drum and fife bands by 1834. During the war, several of these bands—chiefly the Stonewall Brigade Band, the Spring Garden Band, and the Fencible Band—became well‐known, playing concerts and assisting with recruitment.

The Civil War has remained vivid in the American consciousness to the present day, as is evident in the large number of works composed about it in this century—an inspiration due in part to the excellent poetry and prose that emerged about the war from Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Crane, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman.

The most important setting of Crane's War Is Kind is Ulysses Kay's Stephen Crane Set (1967) and the best settings of Melville include Joseph Baber's Shiloh and Other Songs from Herman Melville's Battle Pieces (1991) and Gordon Binkerd's Requiem for Soldiers Lost in Ocean Transports (1984). David Diamond composed his Epitaph (On the Grave of a Young Cavalry Officer Killed in the Valley of Virginia) in 1945.

The poet most frequently set to music is Walt Whitman. Paul Hindemith (1946) and Roger Sessions (1964–70) both wrote outstanding large‐scale works on When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d. Other noteworthy Whitman settings include Howard Hanson's Drum Taps (1935), Norman Dello Joio's Songs of Walt Whitman (1966), Thomas Pasatieri's Dirge for Two Veterans (1973), Ned Rorem's Whitman Cantata (1983), and John Adams's The Wound Dresser (1989).

Numerous composers have also set Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to music. Other works, such as Rubin Goldmark's Requiem (1919) and Ernest Bloch's America (1926), include portions of the address or are based on Lincoln's life. Perhaps the most famous and most frequently performed work about Lincoln is Aaron Copland's A Lincoln Portrait (1942), which uses a portion of the Gettysburg Address. Roy Harris based his four‐movement Symphony No. 6 (Gettysburg) (1943–44) on the address and composed his Symphony No. 10 (Abraham Lincoln) (1965) in honor of Lincoln. Warner Hutchison wrote an experimental Mass: For Abraham Lincoln (1974), and Vincent Persichetti set Lincoln's second inaugural address in A Lincoln Address (1973).

Very few works emerged from the Spanish‐American War, although some popular songs such as Charles K. Harris's Just Break the News to Mother, Good‐bye, Dolly Gray, and Joe Hayden and Theodore Mertz's popular There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight—which became the official song of Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders—were well established. It was finally during the Spanish‐American War that piano battle pieces reached their demise after having dominated American war music during the nineteenth century. In their place, for the first time in America, composers created serious large‐scale compositions dealing with war for chorus and orchestra, such as Walter Damrosch's Manila Te Deum (1898).

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth, John Philip Sousa composed about 140 marches for military band that represented the glorification of the martial, patriotic, and expansionistic spirit of the turn of the century. His most significant marches include Stars and Stripes Forever! (1896), Washington Post March (1889), King Cotton (1895), and U.S. Field Artillery (1917). Many other patriotic tunes related to the military emerged from this era as well, including Alfred Miles and Charles Zimmerman's Anchors Aweigh (1906) and Edmund Gruber's The Caissons Go Rolling Along (1907).

Charles Ives was the composer most interested in writing serious music for World War I. He composed two songs in 1917—He is There!, later expanded to They Are There: A War Song March, and In Flanders Fields. Ives dedicated the Second Orchestral Set “From Hanover Square North at the End of a Tragic Day the People Again Arose” (1915) to the victims of the sinking of the Lusitania. Few American works were written during the war; however, a number of pieces appeared after the war, such as Frederick Converse's The Answer of the Stars (1919) and Ernest Schelling's A Victory Ball (1922). American composers also wrote pieces lamenting those lost in the war, as did their European counterparts during this time. Arthur Foote composed Three Songs 1914–1918 (1919), and Horatio Parker A.D. 1919 for chorus and piano (1919) in memory of the Yale graduates who lost their lives in the war. The American G.I.s enthusiastically adopted British songs, chiefly Harry Williams's or Jack Judge's It's a Long Way to Tipperary, and Ivor Novello's Keep the Home Fires Burning. George M. Cohan's Over There and Johnny, Get Your Gun were two of the most famous popular war songs in the United States.

World War II witnessed the greatest outpouring of war music ever in America. By the midpoint in the war, the American government and other civic organizations were commissioning music for war bonds, films, education, recruitment, and patriotic fanfares. The government supplied 12‐inch, 78 rpm V‐Discs to servicemen abroad (chiefly popular and light classical music), and the Department of Public Instruction in Indiana published a book, Music and Morale in Wartime, for civilians to sing in support of the war effort. The War Production Drive Headquarters even produced a study of the effect of music in armament factories, Wheeler Beckett's Music in War Plants (1943). Otto M. Helbig focused on the therapeutic importance of music in his History of Music in the U.S. Armed Forces During World War II (1966). Eugene Goossens and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra invited composers to create short fanfares that opened their concerts, and the League of Composers commissioned short pieces, based on a war‐associated theme, which the New York Philharmonic premiered between 1943 and 1945. Aaron Copland's A Fanfare for the Common Man was the most important of these, and Copland later incorporated the work into his optimistic postwar Symphony No. 3 (1946).

Many composers dedicated these works to the war effort. Morton Gould dedicated his Symphony No. 1 (1943) to his three brothers in the service and to their fellow fighters; Marc Blitzstein wrote Freedom Morning (1943) for the black troops of the U.S. Army; Paul Hindemith dedicated his When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d: A Requiem for Those We Love (1946) to the memory of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and to the American soldiers killed during World War II; Dai Keong Lee offered his Pacific Prayer (1943) to the fighting men in the Pacific; and Roy Harris originally dedicated his Fifth Symphony (1942) to the USSR before later removing the dedication.

Other composers wrote laments for the soldiers who had died: Bernard Herrmann's For the Fallen (1943); Douglas Moore's In Memoriam (1943); and William Grant Still's In Memoriam: The Colored Soldiers Who Died for Democracy (1943). A large number of popular songs, such as Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer, Der Fuehrer's Face, and Frank Loesser's Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition placed high on the popular charts of the era. Among the most popular of all the music composed about World War II was Richard Rodgers's incidental music to Victory at Sea in 1952.

Some of the most intense works deal with the Holocaust. Both Part III: Night of Morton Subotnick's Jacob's Room (1985–86) and the second movement of Steve Reich's Different Trains (1988) tragically depict a train journey to the concentration camps. Lukas Foss wrote an Elegy for Anne Frank (1989), which he later incorporated into his Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrows) (1991). Morton Gould extracted a Holocaust Suite (1978) from his music for a television docudrama about the Holocaust.

The Korean War produced very few compositions. Only two Americans composed serious works dealing with the war and only one during the actual conflict— Lowndes Maury wrote his Sonata in Memory of the Korean War Dead for violin and piano in 1952, and Donald Erb composed his God Love You Now in 1971.

The Vietnam War, however, marked a significant change. Its art and popular music mirrored youthful perceptions of the war. Early on, Sgt. Barry Sadler's Ballad of the Green Beret paid tribute to these extraordinary new special forces. Later, as young men and women vocalized forceful opposition to the war, their music reflected that protest. Compositions such as William Mayer's Letters Home (1968), Gail Kubik's A Record of Our Time (1970), or Lou Harrison's Peace Pieces (1968) were clearly antiwar works, as were many songs by the popular songwriters, such as Joan Baez, Bob Dylan (Blowin’ in the Wind, A hard rain's a‐gonna fall, and Masters of War), and Phil Ochs (Talking Vietnam and Draft Dodger Rag). Dylan, following in the protest tradition of Woody Guthrie, became the spokesman for the Vietnam era and many musicians sang his songs, including Baez and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Joe MacDonald's I‐Feel‐Like‐I’m‐Fixin’‐to‐Die makes fun of the soldiers and their willingness to die at any cost.

Furthermore, the cynicism found in the novels and films of the early sixties is active in war‐related compositions of the time. Donald Martirano's L'sGA (1968) includes a speaker who cites the Gettysburg Address while inhaling helium gas. Arnold Rosner's A Mylai Elegy (1971), Dai‐Keong Lee's Canticle of the Pacific (1968), and Donald Lybbert's Lines for the Fallen (1971) were all laments for those who died in the war; there were few optimistic compositions. But perhaps the most significant work related to the Vietnam War is George Crumb's Black Angels (1970) for electrified string quartet. The soldiers in the war continued their output of lyrics to preexisting melodies. Joseph F. Tuso's Singing the Vietnam Blues: Songs of the Air Force in Southeast Asia (1990) contains 148 songs written solely by U.S. Air Force combat flyers during the Vietnam War.

The Persian Gulf War, in contrast, was a popular war and the majority of songs supported the war effort. A new outpouring of patriotism could be seen in Whitney Houston's performance of The Star‐Spangled Banner and Lee Greenwood's God Bless the U.S.A. which were regularly heard during the conflict. Most recently, Aaron Jay Kernis premiered Colored Fields (1996), a three‐movement concerto for English horn that deals with the fighting in Bosnia.
[See also Bosnian Crisis; Culture, War, and the Military; Vietnam Antiwar Movement; World War I: Military and Diplomatic Course; World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


Edward A. Dolph, ed., “Sound Off!”: Soldier Songs from the Revolution to World War II, 1942.
Richard B. Harwell , Confederate Music, 1950.
Willard A. and and Porter W. Heaps , The Singing Sixties: The Spirit of the Civil War Days Drawn from the Music of the Times, 1960.
Irwin Silber, ed., Songs of the Civil War, 1960.
Kenneth A. Bernard , Lincoln and the Music of the Civil War, 1966.
Francis A. Lord and and Arthur Wise , Bands and Drummer Boys of the Civil War, 1966.
Paul Glass and and Louis C. Singer , Singing Soldiers: The Spirit of the Sixties, 1968.
Barbara Dan and Irwin Silber, eds., The Vietnam Songbook, 1969.
Carolyn Rabson , Songbook of the American Revolution, 1974.
Raoul F. Camus , Military Music of the American Revolution, 1976.
Kenneth E. Olson , Music and Musket: Bands and Bandsmen of the American Civil War, 1981.
Kent A. Bowman , Voices of Combat: A Century of Liberty and War Songs, 1965–1865, 1987.
Ben Arnold , Music and War: A Research and Information Guide, 1993.
Les Cleveland , Dark Laughter: War in Song and Popular Culture, 1994.

Ben Arnold

Literature, War and the Military in

views updated Jun 11 2018

Literature, War and the Military in. Fascination with war continues in the twentieth century, and no less fascinating is the literature that war has spawned. In novels, poems, memoirs, and plays, the subject finds an immense readership. Half a century after the end of World War II, books continue to issue from major publishers. Manuscript memoirs circulate widely among former warriors. Diaries and journals (kept secretly during wartime service, and subject to court‐martial if discovered) surface every day to find their way into print. As the literature of war grows, readership grows too among combat veterans, professional historians, and students of the matrix of twentieth‐century military life who yearn for the intimate details of war told by those who experienced it.

War fiction—short stories and novels—has had a major impact on readers in this century. For the most part, the significant war fiction finds its roots in the classic tales of earlier centuries. Writers on war often cite Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage as inspiration. At the core of Crane's small masterpiece lies a preeminent theme: the rapid, tragic maturation of youth. This theme is also included in Erich Maria Remarque's classic, All Quiet on the Western Front, the tale of a naive and idealistic German lad who slowly loses his idealism as trench warfare inexorably destroys his comrades and, eventually, himself. No novel of World War I more poignantly captures the utter futility of war and of an epoch.

Much of this nihilistic attitude is also found in William March's Company K and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises. Although the last cannot be categorized as a novel of World War I in the sense that it is a chronicle of combat, it does speak of the aftermath of that war and the symbolic emasculation of all its participants. The Australian novelist Frederic Manning addresses this same futility in The Middle Parts of Fortune, first published anonymously in 1929 and a year later in an expurgated version, as Her Privates We.

The poetry of World War I continues to reach as wide an audience as did the fiction of that war. Thematically, this verse differed little from the novels: loss of innocence, idealism, and patriotism; the shock of combat and its aftermath; the wanton destruction of the natural world. Wilfred Owen (the best of the poets), Rupert Brooke, Julian Grenfell, Isaac Rosenberg, Edward Thomas, and the American soldier‐poet Joyce Kilmer, all died in the Great War, leaving behind them a considerable body of small masterpieces. Others— Edmund Blunden, Herbert Asquith (son of the British prime minister), Robert Graves, A. P. Herbert, Herbert Read, and Siegfried Sassoon—survived the war, but each in his own way was indelibly marked by it. They expressed their psychic wounds in a number of memorable poems, all speaking to the same theme: the intense violence of battle, the long reflection after combat, and the anguish suffered over lost comrades. The war's greatest verse is marked by these themes.

Much of the literature evinces language that war itself engenders. Warriors tend to be word merchants. They manufacture words and phrases that seem appropriate to themselves and to their plights. In every war—and surely most obvious in World War II—warriors created a vocabulary that proved to have remarkable staying power. Few military men or women speak a genteel language, for the very magnitude of what they do and the traumas they undergo spawn a vocabulary that fits their moods, actions, thoughts, and ideals. The ubiquitous word fuck (used with great frequency for every situation and as practically every part of speech) began to appear in print soon after the end of World War II. (In World War I, the British bloody served a similar function.) Hemingway's Across the River and into the Trees appeared first in Cosmopolitan magazine. His Colonel Cantwell's “f‐ ‐ ‐” was considered a breakthrough in the era's publishing censorship; but in Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, fuggin became for the general reading public what all veterans of World War II (and other wars) understood: The warriors' curse. The ingenuity of their cursing became the subject of some mirth and eventually found its way into a great deal of the literature of the twentieth century. Some language was simply dusted off from earlier wars: K.P. and AWOL date from the American Civil War. But the scope, mechanization, and immensity of World War II gave rise to an entirely new and highly imaginative language. The acronyms WAVE, WACK, and SNAFU, along with words and phrases like “TS cards,” “flak,” “chickenshit,” “K rations,” “jerry cans,” “gremlins,” “sky pilot,” and the ubiquitous “Kilroy Was Here,” all attest to the fanciful coinages of war. Thus no novel, poem, or short story needed a gloss to help readers define terms or fathom dialogue. And years after that war, many such words and phrases (for veteran and civilian alike) remain in our vocabulary. The wars in Korea and Vietnam have added to, and in some cases enriched, the language. The flexibility and breadth of English in great measure account for this phenomenon.

The huge differences between World Wars I and II account in some ways for the quality and scope of their literature. World War I, as historians and literary critics have noted for years, was a relatively contained war; that is, the major battles were fought in the trenches and bunkers of Western Europe. Day after day, week after week, stalemated armies fought and died over a few yards of mud and rubble. There were no great decisive sea battles in World War I—battles involving massive task forces, submarines, and thousands of aircraft. The daily horrors of trench warfare, then, became the metaphors of the war and found their way into impressive works of literature. World War II was a vastly different war. It covered a huge geographic area, involved far more combatants and civilians, and resulted in far greater casualties. It also involved massive amounts of highly sophisticated and deadly efficient weapons (radar, aircraft, tanks, and the like) and at times moved with blinding speed across the terrain. Unlike World War I, when battles like the Somme and Verdun symbolized the entire war experience, World War II was marked by many battles sprawled across vast areas, each one a tragic symbol of the era. Guada canal, Midway, Iwo Jima, Kasserine Pass, Anzio, Leyte Gulf, Okinawa, the bomber campaign over Germany, the invasion of Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge—all represented separate and distinct facets of the World War II experience.

Just as American novelists from the World War I era strove to share their stories soon after the armistice was signed ( William Boyd's Through the Wheat and William March's Company K), novels of World War II began to appear as early as the mid‐forties and into the early fifties. First, in 1944, was John Hersey's A Bell for Adano. In 1946, Thomas Heggen's Mr. Roberts was published. John Horne Burns's The Gallery and James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific appeared in 1947; and a year later came James Gould Cozzens's Guard of Honor. Irwin Shaw's The Young Lions and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead were both published in 1948. James Jones's From Here to Eternity appeared in 1951, as did Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny. All were critically acclaimed; several became successful films; Hersey, Cozzens, and Michener won Pulitzer Prizes.

American dramatists soon followed suit. In 1947, Arthur Miller's All My Sons was staged. In one sense, Miller's drama was a more political statement than the famous World War I play by Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings, What Price Glory? A chronicle of wartime profiteering, All My Sons dwelt on many of the same themes employed by the fiction writers of the period: human waste, Pyrrhic victories, and self‐aggrandizement in both military and civilian life. Since then, Vietnam (far more than Korea) has become a metaphor for American involvement in foreign wars—as well as the basis for a literature of angst that has dominated the contemporary creative imagination.

England's role in World War II has been captured in a number of significant novels, many of them masterpieces of the genre. Alexander Baron's From the City, from the Plough, written soon after the novelist's return from six years as a combat infantryman in the British army, is a graphic account of a rifleman's life given in a tone that belies its content. No better novel of the war at sea has been written than Nicholas Monsarrat's The Cruel Sea; and few novels of World War II—or any war—captured the degradation and pain suffered in prisoner‐of‐war camps better than Pierre Boulle's Bridge on the River Kwai, based on the story of the Burma‐Thailand rail line built by British POWs and impressed native laborers.

Now, more than half a century from the end of World War II, personal memories dominate the English and American literary scene. In recent decades, the works of both professional and amateur writers have flooded the market; many have received high praise, and rightly so. Joseph Heller's Catch‐22 is both a comic novel and a bitter indictment of war. The book quickly became a cult favorite, and the title has become part of contemporary vocabulary. War in the air has been graphically portrayed by Samuel Hynes's Flights of Passage, Elmer Bendiner's Fall of Fortresses, and Richard Hillary's The Last Enemy. Last Letters from Stalingrad, edited by Franz Schneider, reveals the full horrors of Adolf Hitler's military and political madness in throwing German youth against Russia's might and its winter ally. Guy Sajer compounds those horrors in The Forgotten Soldier, the best German warrior's memoir of the eastern front. Harold Bond's Return to Cassino and Farley Mowat's And No Birds Sang are gripping accounts of the Allied campaign in Italy. John Hersey's Into the Valley, Richard Tregaskis's Guadalcanal Diary, and Eugene Sledge's With the Old Breed on Peliliu and Okinawa deal with Pacific jungle warfare in all its Goyaesque images. Few prisoner‐of‐war chronicles achieve such power and poignancy as Manny Lawton's Some Survived. Donald Burgett's Currahee, told with chilling fidelity to detail, is the only first‐person account of the invasion of Normandy by an American paratrooper. D‐Day, a collection of memoirs by participants in the greatest seaborne invasion in history, has been edited by Stephen Ambrose.

In all of these memoirs, themes found in World War II fiction are evident; and all speak of the sense that each participant in war is aware in some vague way that he or she is involved in a monumental undertaking—but that the full scope and significance of that participation can never be fully fathomed. Personal memoirs of war also focus on the demeaning nature of man in battle, the atavistic nature of combat, and the agony experienced by boyish warriors assigned tasks they never believed they would experience. The most memorable memoirs all ring with war's bitter truth spoken by Walt Whitman: “I was the man, I suffered, I was there.”

World War II memoir writers pay homage to their predecessors, especially the artists of World War I. English participants in the Great War wrote a remarkable number of evocative memoirs. The tone of most is modest and straightforward, but beneath their surface lies a deep vein of anger, fear, and chaos engendered by the daily brutality of trench warfare. Among the genuine classics in this genre is Siegfried Sassoon's trilogy, Memoirs of a Fox‐Hunting Man, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, and Sherston's Progress. Assuming the persona of George Sherston, Sassoon relates his wartime experiences, the Edwardian world he grew up in, and his growing bitterness at the graft, political maneuvering, and civilian indifference to the meaningless slaughter on the western front. No writer of his generation was more responsible for the widespread antiwar movement in England in the years following the war.

War correspondents—men and women who sketched, painted, photographed, and wrote about war from front‐line positions or as part of vast sea and air armadas—achieved some considerable measure of distinction through the quality and quantity of their work. Their collected dispatches have now become a distinct genre in the literature of war and deserve high praise. Among the best journalistic writings to emerge from World War II are those of Ernie Pyle—Brave Men; Bill MauldinUp Front; and Homer Biggart—Forward Positions. Biggart's fierce competitor and colleague, Marguerite “Maggie” Higgins, reported brilliantly from Korea. Her dispatches are among the finest from that war.

Stanley Karnow's Vietnam: A History is the definitive work on the period and the war, while Michael Herr's Dispatches is among the best work by a correspondent who covered the jungle battles. A gripping, fanciful novel on Vietnam is Tim O'Brien's Going After Cacciato. Ron Kovic's Born on the Fourth of July is among the finest of the personal accounts of war and the nation's attitude towards its returning veterans. Nathaniel Tripp's Father, Soldier, Son is a brilliant memoir of Vietnam; the work alternates between the Vietnam years and Tripp's father's emotional struggles in World War II.

To many, verse is not an art form that lends itself to a depiction of war. Yet the shock of combat and the chaos of the battlefield became a muse for a number of American and British warrior‐poets of World War II. The best of these poets seemed to find that only verse could capture the immensity of what they had experienced—that only verse could speak the unspeakable. World War I verse disproves William Butler Yeats's maxim that “passive suffering is not a theme for poetry.” Compared with the quality and quantity of poetry of the Great War, however, little verse from World War II measured up. The lengthy immersion in war by British soldiers on the western front from 1914 to 1918 supplied them with the subject matter of the loss of all illusions and death in its most horrible forms. At the same time, there seemed to develop among these poets a particular sensibility and ironic feeling that in the beauty of verse lay the vehicle to express that what they were doing and seeing. During and after World War II, no American poet captured the vision or intensity of an Owen or a Sassoon. But a handful of American poems stand out. Among them are Randall Jarrell's Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, Richard Eberhart's The Fury of Aerial Bombardment, and Louis Simpson's The Runner. In England, Henry Reed's collection, Lessons of War, represents one powerful voice to emerge from the era.

From the ancient historian Thucydides to those writing in the waning decades of this century, men and women continue to strive for words to articulate their war experiences and to share them with others. One thing is certain, however. Thomas Hardy, too old to serve in World War I but caught up in the hideous drama unfolding before him, wrote that one day “war's annals will fade into night.” Judging from the continuing flow of war literature in our time, it appears that “war's annals” are far from that. Rather, they lie at the dawn of the memories and imaginations of creative artists.
[See also Korean War; Vietnam War: Postwar Impact; World War I: Postwar Impact; World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course; World War II: Postwar Impact.]


John H. Johnson , English Poetry of the First World War, 1964.
Stanley Cooperman , World War I and the American Novel, 1967.
George G. Panichas, ed., Promise of Greatness, 1968.
Peter Aichinger , The American Soldier in Fiction, 1880–1963, 1975.
Paul Fussell , The Great War and Modern Memory, 1975.
Jean Morton Cru , War Books, 1976.
Peter G. Jones , War and the Novelist, 1976.
Jon Stallworthy, ed., The Oxford Book of War Poetry, 1984.
Margaret Higonnet, et al., eds., Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars, 1987.
Helen Cooper,, Adrienne Munich,, and and Susan Squier , Arms and the Woman: War, Gender and Literary Representation, 1989.
Jon Glover and Jon Silkin, eds., The Penguin Book of First World War Prose, 1989.
Paul Fussell, ed., The Norton Book of Modern War, 1991.
Samuel Hynes , A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture, 1991.

Alexander Medlicott, Jr.

Sermons and Orations, War and the Military in

views updated May 11 2018

Sermons and Orations, War and the Military in. The role of religious ideology in military history is often overlooked. Military matters are frequently touched on in connection with religious history, but only to reinforce the prevalence of religious trends, not to demonstrate religion's impact on military operations. Yet throughout American history, religion has served distinctive militaristic purposes as preachers have conjoined military action with piety to foster a sense of duty, mission, and historic connection to God's will.

In seeking to justify war, ministers in colonial America emphasized conflict as a natural consequence of sin. The Puritan minister Urian Oakes examined the internal struggle with sin and its external manifestation in war. In his 1672 military sermon (The Unconquerable, All‐Conquering, and More‐Than‐Conquering Souldier), Oakes superimposed the metaphysical struggle between good and evil onto the military necessities of colonial New England. In the aftermath of King Philip's War, Samuel Nowell emphasized a more practical theme, self‐preservation, in Abraham in Arms (1678). He argued that God was a man of war and concluded that the colonists should resist both Indians and European nations. Such messages promoted a sense of military obligation to God and the state, linking civil religion to patriotism and military training.

Religious ideology emphasized the orderly, manly, and godly aspects of European‐style war. The colonial militia trained in linear European tactics, despite the fact that the Indian forest warfare made them useless. In this instance, religious ideology hindered effective operations. The Puritan minister John Richardson (The Necessity of a Well Experienced Souldiery) noted in 1675 that learning the art of war gave much glory to God, “the author of every commendable art or science.” The pursuit of reason and order through the militia training may have encouraged God's favor, but it did little to prepare colonists for irregular warfare.

A second, functional level of military activity responded to shifts in the conduct of operations. The reality of non‐European opponents fighting in unorthodox and “unmanly” ways caused colonists to learn, at great cost, new ways of fighting in dense forests: that maneuver was as important as volley and fire. Without open fields, small units composed of light, mobile troops became the most effective means of combatting the Indians. Such warfare was at odds with both Puritan theology and accepted military practices. In a sermon entitled Military Duties Laid Before a Trained Band (1686), the eminent Puritan minister Cotton Mather addressed Indian tactics and God's will, emphasizing the Christian aspects of military duty and likening the Puritan‐Indian struggles to those of the Israelites and the Philistines. New England's success in King Philip's War, he concluded, proved the justness of war and the efficacy of prayer.

In defining accepted behavior, most ministers emphasized the just causes of war. In an election sermon preached to the Honorable Artillery Company of Boston during King William's War (Good Souldiers a Great Blessing, 1700), Benjamin Wadsworth argued that war was not only lawful, but necessary. Obedience to God and resistance to Indian treachery were the reasons to learn war; like Mather, he reinforced historic connections to Israel and urged participation in militia training. Both Mather and Wadsworth fostered a kind of religious nationalism by praising military action.

Preachers in the evangelistic era of the Great Awakening (1740–45) suffused this religious ideology with a growing awareness of political rights and liberties. As their sermons reveal, motives for war were no longer strictly religious and defensive; rather, war could be seen as a guarantor of civil liberties.

At the outset of the French and Indian War, the Presbyterian minister Samuel Davies insisted that warfare was both a civic responsibility and a Christian duty. In August 1755, Davies preached to a company of independent volunteers from Hanover County, Virginia, on the theme “Religion and Patriotism the Constituents of a Good Soldier.” Davies rebuked the congregation for unmanliness in failing to support the frontier army, which as members of the body politic they had a responsibility to do. Three years later, Davies preached “The Curse of Cowardice” to a general militia muster, taking his text from Jeremiah 48:10: “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood.” Davies used associations with Israel to define the condition of service as something owed both to God and to country. Thus, between the 1740s and the 1780s, many preachers fused political patriotism with religious nationalism. The result was a religious ideology that defined godliness and manliness through the performance of military obligation.

The rise of the political oration in the Revolutionary War era marked the first shift away from the military sermon. The Boston Massacre Day orations serve as partially secularized functional equivalents to New England artillery sermons. In 1774, John Hancock (An Oration Delivered … to Commemorate the Bloody Tragedy of the Fifth of March 1770) employed traditional religious imagery to convey an essentially political message: that colonists “fight pro aris & focis, for their liberty, and for themselves, and for their God.” Key to his message was his order of delineation: liberty, self, and God. By contrast, John Lathrop, pastor of the Second Church in Boston (A Discourse Preached on March the Fifth, 1778), based his commemoration on the biblical text of Genesis 6:13: “… The earth is filled with violence.” Lathrop argued that North America had been “reserved in divine providence as the last retreat” for those who placed God above “the will of any temporal monarch.” These examples bridge the gap between artillery sermons and quasi‐religious commemorative speeches, and they mark the beginning of a shift in the control of popular ideology from the pulpit to the political platform.

In the post‐Revolutionary era and beyond, these trends became more pronounced. On the one hand, sermons serving to articulate military and political values and to mobilize public sentiment declined generally; yet in times of crisis or impending war, clergy often integrated familiar themes that reinforced cultural attitudes about God's will and just war.

The Civil War was perhaps the last example of overwhelming ministerial unity on the propriety of war, with sectional interests serving as the justification. Although denominations split along sectional lines, both Northern and Southern ministers used the pulpit to promote their region's cause, and each employed similar themes to reinforce the intended message. When, in 1862, the Northern Congregationalist minister James D. Liggett (Our National Reserve) preached to a crowd in Leavenworth, Kansas, he relied on historic connections to Israel and the justness of the antislavery cause. Meanwhile, Joel W. Tucker (God's Providence in War), a Southern Presbyterian preacher from Fayetteville, North Carolina, made similar connections to Israel and declared that God had ordained the war for Southern independence despite human efforts to prevent it.

At the same time, new and varied ways to express political values contributed to decline of the traditional military sermon. Public orations increasingly expressed familiar themes in this secularized form, linked to religious themes but not denominational affiliation. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln employed this style in his speech dedicating the cemetery at Gettysburg (1863). In his address, Lincoln made clear that those who had perished in the fight to preserve the Union did not die in vain, for through their sacrifice the nation would have “a new birth of freedom.” Here, Lincoln relied on ingrained Christian beliefs to make his point without a formal exegesis of their religious underpinnings. Lincoln had at his disposal an entire history of engendered religious attitudes to carry his meaning home to his audience.

In the late nineteenth century, increased secularism and the waning of providentialist reasoning hastened the decline of clerical consensus on the question of just war, particularly among Protestant clergy. Though both the establishment of religious freedom and the disestablishment of state churches had emerged as consequences of the Revolution and American independence, ministers maintained the power to help influence public opinion. By the turn of the twentieth century, however, the public oration clearly predominated. In 1898, the New York reformer Theodore Roosevelt appealed to “muscular Christianity” and its values of manly self‐sacrifice to encourage participation in the Spanish‐American War; in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson acted as a moralizing evangelist to stir public sentiment in support of American involvement in World War I.

The linking of religious ideology to military action and public support for war necessitates a reassessment of American civil‐military relations. Religion encouraged, if not demanded as a Christian duty, military participation. This, in turn, helped prepare Americans for war. Religion established a just war model and often equated a just war with a holy war. Many ministers joined a sense of religious nationalism to notions of civic republicanism, and transformed both into a political nationalism tinged with highly charged religious metaphors. Thus, emerged a civil religion that defined both religious identity and citizenship through war. Public orators adapted the sermon style to play on traditional themes with the added emphasis of state support. Although the clergy split over several American wars, such as the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, this trend has persisted into the modern period.
[See also Commemoration and Public Ritual; Militarism and Antimilitarism; Religion and War.]


Babette May Levy , Preaching in the First Half Century of New England History, 1945.
Emory Elliott , Power and Pulpit in Colonial New England, 1975.
Richard Slotkin and James K. Folsom, eds., So Dreadful a Judgment: Puritan Responses to King Philip's War, 1676–1677, 1978.
David M. Kennedy , Over Here: The First World War and American Society, 1980.
Marie Ahearn , The Rhetoric of War: Training Day, the Militia, and the Military Sermon, 1989.
Harry Stout , The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England, 1989.
Eric Carlton , War and Ideology, 1990.
David B. Chesebrough, ed., “God Ordained This War”: Sermons on the Sectional Crisis, 1830–1865, 1991.

Edward D. Ragan

Illustration, War and the Military in

views updated May 23 2018

Illustration, War and the Military in. What distinguishes art from illustration has long been a vexing problem, but it is less a judgment of relative quality than ultimate purpose. As the famous American illustrator Norman Rockwell pointed out, “The illustrator has, unlike the painter, a primary interest in telling a story.” Illustration in addition is almost always commissioned, and its ultimate purpose is reproduction and dissemination.

War and the military have long been subjects for both artists and illustrators. In the Revolutionary era, Paul Revere's widely disseminated engraving of the Boston Massacre of 1770 helped inflame public opinion. In 1775, Amos Doolittle (1754–1832) issued contemporary en gravings on the battles of Lexington and Concord; Bernard Romans did the same for the Battle of Bunker Hill. During the Revolution, the Continental army used illustrations on recruiting posters (usually showing sharply dressed professional soldiers going through the manual of arms).

By the War of 1812, hand‐colored engravings publicized U.S. naval victories in the Atlantic and on Lakes Erie and Champlain, the burning of the nation's capital, the successful resistance of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, and Andrew Jackson's victory in New Orleans.

In the early nineteenth century, wood‐block engraving was increasingly displaced for producing inexpensive “news” and “history” prints for the general public by lithography, a process in which the illustration was drawn in reverse with crayon on a porous stone plate, which produced much finer gradations and values than sharp‐line wood‐block engraving. The most noted firm, Currier & Ives (initiated by Nathaniel Currier in 1834 and joined by James Ives in 1852), issued “news” prints of American military conflicts from the Mexican War to the Spanish‐American War. They issued thousands of copies of some 100 different prints of Civil War battles. Since the firm never sent any artists into the field, but relied upon newspaper accounts for their research, the prints have little value as firsthand visual accounts of particular battles. However, they did have considerable impact upon large numbers of Northerners as Union propaganda; the legends described every battle as a Union victory, regardless of the true outcome.

By the mid‐nineteenth century, photography began to emerge as a competitor in disseminating to the public scenes of war and the military (for example, the Civil War photographs of the teams headed by Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner). But the slow exposure time for photographic plates of the period made it impossible for cameras to capture action except as a blur.

It was artist‐illustrators as well as photographers who made the Civil War the most visually documented war up to that time. Developments in printing had led to new weekly and monthly illustrated magazines such as Harper's, Frank Leslie's, and Century, which sent teams of “visual reporters” to accompany the Union army on its campaigns. Among those sending back on‐the‐spot drawings of camp life and combat to the Northern magazines and weekly newspapers were Winslow Homer (1836–1910), Edwin Forbes (1839–1895), James E. Taylor (1839–1901), and Alfred R. Waud (1828–1891). Conrad Wise Chapman (1842–1910) was one of the well‐regarded illustrators on the Confederate side. In the 1880s, as nostalgia set in, there was another outpouring of Civil War battle illustrations, such as the famous Kurz and Allison thirty‐six–print set Battles of the Civil War and in the heavily illustrated four‐volume series Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.

Beginning in the late 1890s, the new photomechanical process of halftone printing contributed to an astounding growth of illustrated mass‐market newspapers and magazines. Sensationalist New York newspapers such as William Randolph Hearst's Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's World sent artist‐illustrators to Cuba to cover the Spanish‐American War, among them Frederic Remington (1861–1909), William Glackens (1870–1938), and the noted marine artist and naval officer, Henry Reuterdahl (1871–1925).

It was World War I, however, that expanded the wartime role of American illustrators, particularly via the medium of the poster. Emerging in France in the 1890s as a major commercial force through the combination of art and lithography, the large‐scale poster became widely used as a means for informing and persuading the urban masses. During World War I, all the belligerents employed posters for mobilization, not simply to recruit for the armed forces but also to encourage the public to buy war bonds, increase munitions production, conserve food, hate the enemy, and support the war effort. To mobilize public opinion when the United States entered the war in 1917, the Wilson administration created a Committee on Public Information, which in turn formed a Division of Pictorial Publicity headed by noted artist Charles Dana Gibson (1867–1944), president of the Society of Illustrators. Gibson obtained the services of some of the most famous illustrators, who worked almost exclusively in hand‐prepared, full‐color commercial lithography. Among them were Howard Chandler Christy (1873–1952), Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874–1951), Joseph Pennell (1860–1926), Edward Penfield (1866–1925), and James Montgomery Flagg (1877–1960), whose self‐image as “Uncle Sam” pointedly declaring: “I Want You for U.S. Army” is perhaps the best‐known poster in American history. The armed services also commissioned combat artists to record the war.

By World War II, motion picture and still photographers had taken over production of most of the visual record of war and the military for newspapers, magazines, and movie theaters. Nevertheless, well‐known artist‐illustrators continued to work in the field, including Flagg, Reuterdahl, and Leyendecker, who had produced such notable posters in World War I. Others like Norman Rockwell (1894–1978) produced both posters, such as his famous Four Freedoms series, and magazine illustrations, such as his well‐known Saturday Evening Post cover of “Rosie the Riveter.” Mead Schaeffer (1898–1980) did a series of action covers for that magazine to characterize personnel from the particular branches of the armed services; Noel Nickles (1911–1982) did a similar series for Life magazine. Walt Disney (1901–1966) contributed his artists' efforts in many ways, including the design of some 1,200 unit insignias. The armed forces also had combat artists, but the most widely reproduced battlefield illustrations were undoubtedly those of the bedraggled foxhole denizens “Willie” and “Joe,” in Bill Mauldin's cartoons for the army's overseas newspaper, Stars and Stripes.

With the extension of photographic and television coverage of war, illustrators participated to a much lesser extent in American conflicts after World War II. Political cartoonists drew caricatures in the Cold War and the “hot” wars of the period. The armed forces commissioned illustrators to record the Korean War, among them John Pike (1911–1979), Steve Kidd (b. 1911), Clayton Knight (1891–1969), William A. Smith (b. 1918), and Ward Brackett (b. 1914). The antinuclear organizations' peace and antiwar movements of the Vietnam War also used cartoons and posters. Robert T. McCall (b. 1919) and Robert Benney (b. 1904) recorded everyday military life in Vietnam, and Charles Waterhouse provided more than 500 combat drawings of the navy and Marines in Southeast Asia. By the end of the twentieth century, illustrators had been largely replaced by still and motion picture photographers in the on‐the‐scene portrayal of war and the military.
[See also Commemoration and Public Ritual; Culture, War, and the Military; Nuclear Weapons and War, Popular Images of; Propaganda and Public Relations, Government.]


Henry C. Pitz , 200 Years of American Illustration, 1977.
Walton H. Rawls , The Great Book of Currier & Ives America, 1979.
Marshall B. Davidson , The Drawing of America, 1983.
Walt and and Roger Reed , The Illustrator in America, 1880–1980, 1984.
Walton H. Rawls , Great Civil War Heroes and Their Battles, 1985.
Gloria Gilda Deák , Picturing America, 1494–1899, 2 vols., 1988.
Walton H. Rawls , Wake Up, America! World War I and the American Poster, 1988.
Walton H. Rawls , Disney Dons Dogtags, 1992.
Peter Paret,, Beth Irwin Lewis,, and and Paul Paret , Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution, 1992.
Bill Mauldin , Up Front (50th Anniversary Edition), 1995.

Walton H. Rawls

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