America's Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Motion Pictures

By Jerome Christensen | Go to book overview

2 MGM and the Invention of the
Postwar Era
Mrs. Miniver and Battleground (1940-1949)

i. In the Name of a Rose

Determining when the postwar era started is not the same as dating the end of the war. The end of a war is an empirical event. In the modern era, however, the postwar has been a figure of grand strategy. Leaders achieve a conceptual breakthrough, which is propagated through the news media in order to bring about a tidal shift of belief in the populace. In Hollywood Goes to War, S. Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black declare that

the tide of war began to shift about October or November of 1942. “This is it,” people
sang out. The United States mounted its first offensive in the European theatre, in
North Africa, on November 6, and though the news from Kasserine Pass was bad,
we were finally giving it to the Nazis. We scored a victory at Guadalcanal. And there
was another morale-boosting event of great symbolic significance—Eddie Ricken-
backer, the World War I ace, was found alive after drifting for twenty-four days on a
raft. We could feel at last that victory would be ours, perhaps as early as 1944.1

As Dwight D. Eisenhower recalled in his memoirs, Crusade in Europe, the perception of a turning point was necessary to provide political cover for the long range planning of the military objective of an invasion of northwestern Europe.2 The press’s willingness to share and propagate that perception provided the base in public opinion on which to build a postwar strategy. In the United States, safe from bombing or invasion, the shape and conduct of the war— and particularly the 1942 offensive in North Africa—were attuned to the registration of public opinion about the war. Koppes and Black can legitimately mix the results of battles with symbolically significant rescues because for the United States victory over the foreign enemy and over the demos were radically implicated: in a liberal democracy, especially one that is fighting because it chooses to fight, military latitude is constrained by political imperatives, which in turn are quantified as public opinion. Eisenhower recalls that Britain had no choice but to mobilize to fight a total war that fused homefront and battlefront.

-105-

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