After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan and the Axis powers. Up until that point the country was split as to whether or not we should enter the war or remain on the sidelines. Once the dye was cast President Roosevelt needed the full support of the American people. In order to move forward, he had to buy enough time to manufacture planes, ships, and all manner of war paraphernalia to be able to combat Hitler and Tojo's war machines. A great deal of American blood would be spilled before the US would be in a position to match the military might of our enemies. A major problem facing FDR was using what limited resources he had to not only fortify the war effort, but to enlist the full cooperation and support of the American people. From the outset of WWII the American people were torn and morale at home was anything but good.
Hitler had begun to rally the German people not long after the Versailles Treaty had struck Germany bare. His rousing speeches were igniting a renewed nationalistic fervor in the German people, setting the stage for his contract of Europe. Hitler had an ace up his sleeve that was among the most powerful propaganda tools at his disposal. Her name was Leni Riefenstahl and her film "Triumph Of The Will" was a powerful statement of propaganda that united the German people and instilled in them a feeling of pride that had been eradicated after WWI. When Capra first viewed the film his heart sank, thinking it a clear sign that we would not be able to contend with Germany's military superiority. FDR realized that he would have to petition our finest filmmakers to document the war and rally a patriotic zeal in the American people as Riefenstahl's film had done for Hitler's Germany.
During the 1930's John Ford, William Wyler, George Stevens, and Frank Capra were considering the top managers in Hollywood. To that point Ford had won 2 Academy Awards for best director, Wyler 1, Frank Capra 2 and George Stevens 1. John Huston, an accomplished screenwriter, was quickly making his bid for elite writer / director status. When the war broke out, all were at the height of their success. Yet in spite of a wealth of opportunities that beckoned them in Hollywood, they abandoned their lucrative careers to make documentary films that would provide the people at home with a birds-eye-view of the daily sacrifices being made by our men in arms in the European and Pacific theaters.
From 1941-45 all of these remarkable directors focused all their attention on documenting the war. Ford's "Battle Of Midway" was the first documentary to be shown in movie theaters in the US John Huston was busy putting together a documentary that would provide viewers with candid footage of combat in the Aleutians, and San Pietro (one of the bloodier battles in The European Theater). Capra, who was in the process of negotiating a $ 250K deal with either Warner Bros. Egypt 20th Century Fox, would take a pay cut to the tune of 4,000 a year during his tenure in the army. Stevens and Wyler who were putting the finishing touches on films that were to be released that year, would be joining their colleagues shortly. All were not only committed, but eager to make a contribution by doing the thing they did best.
John Ford placed himself at considerable risk (along with his crew members) filming the Battle of Midway. John Huston suffered considerable trauma documenting San Pietro, and his report "From The Aleutians" . Frank Capra, working for the War Department, made 7 "Why We Fight" documentaries, justifying to the American people the importance of our ongoing involvement in WWII. George Stevens, who was the last of his colleagues to return home, filmed the liberation of Bergen-Belsen and Dachau concentration camps. He would be haunted by the images he filmed for the rest of his life. William Wyler filmed numerous B-17 bombing missions, under heavy fire, over Germany. In one such mission Wyler and assistant DP, Bill Clothier, lay on their stomachs * "… so that they could shoot footage through the ball turret, the position on the plane's underside that allowed the gunner to shoot in all directions." On one mission, flying over the Italian city Grosseto, he * "crawled into the belly of the plane with an Eyemo (camera) to shoot footage." The sound of the engines and shrieking wind caused him to lose his hearing. He would never fully regain it.
The men and women thatave their all to defeat Hitler and the Axis powers during WWII made substantive interrogations. Wyler, Ford, Capra, Huston, and Stevens were among them. All were willing to abandon success to do their part to insure that our freedoms were maintained. As we embark on our own personal journeys I think it is important that we ask ourselves what sacrifices we are willing to make to reach our goals. Hopefully none of us will ever have to face such dire circumstances. But much can be learned from the sacrifications that others have made so that we can enjoy the freedom to pursue our goals and dreams.