In Prelude to War, the first film in Frank Capra's Why We Fight series, World War II was depicted as a battle between the “slave world” and the “free world.” America's enemies -- Germany, Italy, and Japan -- were portrayed as evil, militaristic, dictatorial regimes that sought to enslave the world. In contrast, America was portrayed as a just, peaceful, egalitarian society that sought to liberate the world.


You are to evaluate Capra's characterization of the United States during World War II. Discuss the ways in which the American government presented the war, the degree to which the government lived up to its rhetoric of freedom, and the way in which wartime realities often conflicted with the government's idealistic presentation of the war.

The Film: Online

Film: Prelude to War, Directed by Frank Capra, 1942 [ link ]

Background and Context

World War II: Domestic Affairs [ link ]

World War II: Foreign and Military Policy [ link ]

Presentation of the War

Four Freedoms Address, President Franklin Roosevelt, January 6, 1941 [ link ] [ listen ]

The Atlantic Charter, Winston Churchill & Franklin Roosevelt, Newfoundland, August 14, 1941 [ link ]

War Message Against Japan, President Franklin Roosevelt, December 8, 1941 [ link ]

Images: Four Freedoms Series by Norman Rockwell, 1943 [ link ]

World War II poster collection [ link ]

Posters of the Second World War in the Minneapolis Public Library [ link ]

World War II Propaganda, Cartoons, Film, Music, and Art [ link ]

Conflicting Narratives: The African American Experience

Article: "African Americans and World War II," Andrew E. Kersten, OAH Magazine, 2002 [ link ]

Exhibit: World War II Segregation Abroad and At Home [ link ]

Chart: The Impact of the Poll Tax from the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax [ link ]

Article: Dorie Miller and Pearl Harbor [ link ]

Article: Biography of A. Philip Randolph [ link ]

Image: March on Washington Movement poster, 1941 [ link ]

Document: Executive Order 8802 | President Franklin D. Roosevelt | June 25, 1941 [ link ]

Article: Pittsburg Courier and the Double-V Campaign [ link ] [ student site ]

Article: History of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) [ link ]

Article: Detroit Riot of 1943 [ link ]

Article: Toni Frissell and the Tuskegee Airmen [ link pdf ]

Document: Why Should We March, A. Philip Randolph Papers [ link1 ] [ link2 ]

Document: Executive Order 9981 | President Harry Truman | July 26, 1948 [ link ]

Conflicting Narratives: The Japanese American Experience

Article: "Incarcerating Japanese Americans," Roger Daniels, OAH Magazine, 2002 [ link ]

Article: "Japanese Americans and the U.S. Army: A Historical Reconsideration," James McNaughton, Army History, Summer/Fall 2003 [ link ]  

Archive: Densho: Preserving the testimony of Japanese Americans incarcerated during WWII [ link ]

Archive: JARDA: Japanese American Relocation Digital Archives [ link ]

Conflicting Narratives: American Women And De-Mobilization

"American Women in a World at War," Judy Litoff & David Smith, OAH Magazine, 2002 [ link ]

National Park Service: Rosie the Riveter Historical Park [ link ]

Betty Friedan, Chapters One and Two from The Feminine Mystique (1963). [ link1 ] [ link2 ]


Other Resources

Oral History Interviews from the Rutgers Oral History Archives [ link ]

Edward R. Murrow, Reporting on London Bombings, 1940 [ link ]

Radio Broadcast, 1939-1943 [ link ]

Robert F. Oliver [ link ]