I was researching old newsreels from 1942 for a journalism project I’m working on, and I ran into this fascinating newsreel video on YouTube. Fascinating, because in just a little more than nine minutes, the video manages to completely scrub away the romanticization of the ’40s and World War II that seems so much a part of modern day notions of that era – from films, to notions of “The Greatest Generation”, as Tom Brokaw puts it.
Surely, we must value the achievements of those who fought in that horrible war – and those who helped the war mobilization through sacrifice and industry back at home.
But watching the newsreel, there’s something very dark and horrible that comes through: the notion that all these people, all this mobilization, propaganda, effort, industry – it was all aimed towards the singular goal of killing people… People, I might ad, with whom we are now friends.
That’s the horror of this film. Perhaps, it’s something that all world leaders today should watch.
It’s so easy to villainize an entire group of people – from the Germans and “Japs” of World War II, to the Iranians and “Islamic fundamentalists” of today. Will we be visiting each other in 70 years as old war veterans, swapping horror stories and remembering comrades who died in vain?
At the same time, watching this newsreel also puts our times in perspective. It’s a wonder that anyone living through the ’40s didn’t think the world was coming to an end. It seemed the whole world had lost it senses.
Yet, here we are today. While we are in relative peace and prosperity – despite the harsh economic times, and distant wars and violence – we seem much more overwhelmed by the challenges of our times. Some people I talk to – smart, educated people – seem almost ready to throw their hands up and quit.
Perhaps that’s what Brokaw means by “The Greatest Generation.”
Back to that newsreel: I can’t help but wonder what we could accomplish if we had the kind of mobilization, singular focus and determination that you can see on that reel with regards to the war. Is it possible for us to have that kind of drive towards something related to peace and building up – rather than war, killing, and tearing down?
I would much like to hope so. And yet, there’s not been any evidence to warrant such hope.