"You"re a grand old flag.
You're a high-flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave!"
George M. Cohan.

    In 1941, as the United States moved inexorably towards war, Lillian Gish wrote an article in which she argued for peace:

    "War is not merely a matter of guns and bullets and bombs and death.

    "It is also a spiritual thing and requires spiritual as well as material preparation. The spiritual preparation for war is hatred.

    "Before you can turn a peace-loving people into a war which they do not want, you must blind them with intolerance and spur them with hate.  As factories turn out weapons and ammunition, so propaganda mills manufacture false causes and mass hatreds.

    ". . .We are told that our neighbor's house is afire and implored to save it by setting fire to our own.  Once more we are offered slogans about democracy to obscure the fact that the real objectives of the war we are urged to enter have never been disclosed.

    "Only this time, alas, as the tide of hatred rises it is not confined to Britain's military enemies.  It is also being visited on every American who ventures to suggest that America can be better served by peace than by war . . . and this in spite of the fact that eighty-two percent of our people are opposed to entering another of Europe's ruinous and futile struggles.

    "Since I made my recent talk before an America First rally, I too have come in for my share of that hatred.

    "I have received many letters addressing me as, 'You rat!' Others accuse me of being not only a Nazi sympathizer, but a Nazi tool. Some threaten my life. One of my anonymous correspondents wrote:

    " 'When the time comes, I'll have you riddled with bullets.'

    "So we have the spectacle of certain Americans as a preliminary to a crusade to establish the four freedoms everywhere else in the world, abolishing them at home . . . 

    "Before I spoke, I realized what the result would be because I know what propaganda-engendered hate can do.  I faced the fact that to make my convictions public might well mean the end of my career . . .

    " . . . our 1917 propaganda succeeded so well that on our return to the United States, our countrymen asked us, in all seriousness, if it were true that the Germans cut off the hands of old people and little children.  After the war Sir Philip Gibbs revealed that these stories were created out of whole cloth for propaganda purposes-propaganda that made our people think and talk like idiots . . .

    "However much we may love the neighbor whose house is ablaze, we cannot help him much by setting fire to our own."

Jack Benny and Carole Lombard    "Without a word of warning. . .war.  It's really war.  People are going to kill each other and be killed."
—Carole Lombard as Maria Tura reacting to the news of the German invasion of Poland in Ernst Lubitsch's TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942), the actress's final film completed shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the US into World War II.

    In 1942, Lew Ayres, the star of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, declared himself a conscientious objector, an action which led to boycotts of his films in the US. He stated at the time:

    "It was in early childhood that I was first introduced to the Christian creed of nonresistance to evil.  It is a vague and nebulous doctrine to the United States and it has taken years of gradual realization and patience for me to understand the full significance of its world-healing possibilities.

    "Today I stand convinced that as like attracts like, hate generates hate, murder incites revenge, so charity and forgiveness reflect their kind, and the world's brotherhood will be made manifest not through economic experiences but through man's awakening to the irresistible power of love."

    In an interview published in Esquire in 1981, Frank Capra indicated that his experiences in World War II contributed to his largely abandoning the cinema in the post-war years:"The war was a terrible shock to me.  I hated the unnecessary brutality.  Women and children being killed, terrified, huddling in fear.  Going around dropping bombs on women and children.  What the hell is wrong with us?  I used to think.  And the same thing was going on in Germany."  He was troubled by the thought of America bombing civilians en masse.  "I thought that perhaps I had put too much faith in the human race."

    Capra had recorded his anti-war sentiments at the time in entries in his wartime diaries written in 1943 during the London blitz:
"Old ladies and children cower in the hallways.  Maids and valets talk reassuring to them.  These old ladies suddenly make war silly, stupid and brutal.  I was scared but I was more sick at the thought of these dear old ladies and little girls being mangled.  How far has man suddenly gone mad?  Will we never learn to get along better than to drop bombs on each other?  Surely God didn't mean that to happen?  Please God put understanding and love into the hearts of men. . .Overhead drones of British planes headed for Germany, where other old ladies and children cower in darkness.  Surely this must all be madness?"

    "Wars, conflict, it's all business. One murder makes a villain;  millions a hero. Numbers sanctify."
Charlie Chaplin in the title role of his MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947).

    "All my life I have always loathed and abhorred violence.  Now I think these weapons of destruction-I don't think I'm alone in saying this, it's a cliché by now-that the atomic bomb is the most horrible invention of mankind, and I think it is being proven so every moment. I think it is creating so much horror and fear that we are going to grow up a bunch of neurotics."
Charlie Chaplin at a 1947 press conference for MONSIEUR VERDOUX during which he was continually grilled about his political beliefs.

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Introduction copyright ©1991, 1998-2001 by William M. Drew.  All rights reserved.

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