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RALPH R DONALD, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study examines American war films released during World War II to determine what kinds of persuasive appeals were used to propagate support among the American people for the war. As well, the symbiotic wartime relationship between the Federal Government and the Hollywood film industry was investigated. The examination of 37 war films, 10 per cent of the total number of war films released from 1941 to 1945, yielded 48 different aural or visual persuasive appeals. These appeals were characterized in the form of statements with which their communicators desired the audience to agree. Examples include "The enemy is a savage, whose actions are cruel and barbaric," "We will win because the enemy underestimates our will," or "The enemy bombs indiscriminately." The appeals were classified under five main categories found throughout the history of war rhetoric: Guilt (the enemy, not we, caused this war), Satanism (comparisons that create polarities between us and our enemy, with the enemy always characterized in the negative), the Illusion of Victory (America's ultimate triumph is inevitable), Apocalypticism and Typology (Biblical metaphors and allusions promoting the notion that "God is on our side"), and Territoriality (the enemy poses a threat to us, our families and the American way of life). In the analysis, the general appeal category of Satanism was found to be the most used, utilizing nearly half of the appeals found in the sample. A harmonic relationship was found to exist between the major appeal categories, resulting in inter-category cooperation, e.g., a Satanism appeal used to amplify an illusion of victory statement. As well, this investigation noted that the plot conventions, icons and character types found in typically American genre films of the 1930's such as the western, foreign intrigue spy film, and the gangster film, were utilized, especially during the first year of the war, to aid in the successful packaging of these appeals.

Subject Area

Mass media|Motion Pictures

Recommended Citation

DONALD, RALPH R, "HOLLYWOOD AND WORLD WAR II: ENLISTING FEATURE FILMS AS PROPAGANDA" (1987). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI8727038.