The Rise of the American Film: A Critical History

By Lewis Jacobs | Go to book overview

XIV
MOVIES IN THE WORLD WAR

THE critical war period proved motion pictures to be one of the most powerful social agencies of modern times, especially when mobilized officially as a propaganda tool. Films of these years present a vivid and lively picture of American opinion changing from tolerance to intolerance, from progressivism to reaction, from pacifism to militarism. Not only did they reflect the rising war spirit, but they were used to intensify it, to "sell" the public on participation in the world conflict.

The outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 startled and shocked a peace-minded America. The growth of pacifistic sentiment in the United States in the preceding years had been phenomenal in speed and vigor. In 1906 Andrew Carnegie had given ten million dollars for the establishment of the New York Peace Society; in 1911 wealthy Edwin Ginn had endowed the World Peace Foundation; in 1912 the American Peace Society--the first of its kind in the world--had been revitalized. The ideal of pacifism had been carried into religious quarters by the Church Peace League. Business circles had been similarly influenced by the National Association of Cosmopolitan Clubs--the organization that was later to sail for Europe in Henry Ford's historic Peace Ship.

Despite this ascendancy of pacifism in America, pro-war sentiment began growing rapidly soon after the outbreak of war in Europe. Until now united in a firm anti-war stand, the nation found itself suddenly divided by conflicting opinions. Partisan and opposition groups hurled accusations at one another, and pacifist ideology split into a hundred inconsistent variations. In President

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