Why We Fought: America's Wars in Film and History

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Film moves audiences like no other medium; both documentaries and feature films are especially remarkable for their ability to influence viewers. Best-selling author James Brady remarked that he joined the Marines to fight in Korea after seeing a John Wayne film, demonstrating how a motion picture can change the course of a human life — in this case, launching the career of a major historian and novelist. In Why We Fought: America's Wars in Film and History, editors Peter C. Rollins and John E. O'Connor explore the complexities of war films, describing the ways in which such productions interpret history and illuminate American values, politics, and culture. This comprehensive volume covers representations of war in film from the American Revolution in the 18th century to today's global War on Terror. The contributors examine iconic battle films such as The Big Parade (1925), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), From Here to Eternity (1953), and Platoon (1986), considering them as historical artifacts. The authors explain how film shapes our cultural understanding of military conflicts, analyzing how war is depicted on television programs, through news media outlets, and in fictional and factual texts. With several essays examining the events of September 11, 2001, and their aftermath, the book has a timely relevance concerning the country's current military conflicts. Jeff Chown examines controversial documentary films about the Iraq War, while Stacy Takacs considers Jessica Lynch and American gender issues in a post-9/11 world, and James Kendrick explores the political messages and aesthetic implications of United 93. From filmmakers who reshaped our understanding of the history of the Alamo, to Ken Burns's popular series on the Civil War, to the uses of film and media in understanding the Vietnam conflict, Why We Fought offers a balanced outlook — one of the book's editors was a combat officer in the United States Marines, the other an antiwar activist — on the conflicts that have become touchstones of American history. As Air Force veteran and film scholar Robert Fyne notes in the foreword, American war films mirror a nation's past and offer tangible evidence of the ways millions of Americans have become devoted, as was General MacArthur, to "Duty, honor, and country." Why We Fought chronicles how, for more than half a century, war films have shaped our nation's consciousness.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The book takes on depictions of every conflict from the American Revolution to September 11 and its aftermath, showing how films have shaped America's understanding of its history." —Colloquy" —

"An excellent compilation of essays on war films." —VVA Veteran" —

"Rollins and O'Connor have provided a starting point with which to analyze the influence of wars and conflicts in movies, documentaries, and television shows." —On Point" —

"The methodology is to examine a particular film, a pair of films or series to explore the reasons given for having to fight it, the portrayal of combat, and the other political and social implications." —NYMAS" —

"Named as a Choice Outstanding Academic Titles." —

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813191911
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 8/1/2008
  • Series: Film and History
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 624
  • Sales rank: 1,305,616
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter C. Rollins is Regents Professor Emeritus of English and American Film Studies at Oklahoma State University and is former editor of the journal Film & History. He is the coeditor of numerous books, including Hollywood's Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film. John E. O'Connor is professor emeritus of the Federated Department of History at New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University. He is also a founding editor of Film & History and the coeditor of several books.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Robert Fyne Fyne, Robert

Introduction John E. O'Connor O'Connor, John E. Peter C. Rollins Rollins, Peter C. 1

Ch. 1 The American Revolution on the Screen: Drums Along the Mohawk and The Patriot John E. O'Connor O'Connor, John E. 41

Ch. 2 Reprinting the Legend: The Alamo on Film Frank Thompson Thompson, Frank 63

Ch. 3 Assessing Television's Version of History: The Mexican-American War and the KERA Documentary Series James Yates Yates, James 77

Ch. 4 Ken Burns's Rebirth of a Nation: The Civil War as Made-for-Television History Gary R. Edgerton Edgerton, Gary R. 99

Ch. 5 "It's What People Say We're Fighting For": Representing the Lost Cause in Cold Mountain Robert M. Myers Myers, Robert M. 121

Ch. 6 The Great War Viewed from the 1920s: The Big Parade Michael T. Isenberg Isenberg, Michael T. 137

Ch. 7 Technology and "Reel Patriotism" in American Film Advertising of the World War I Era James Latham Latham, James 156

Ch. 8 Culture Wars and the Local Screen: The Reception of Westfront 1918 and All Quiet on the Western Front in One German City David Imhoof Imhoof, David 175

Ch. 9 The Peace, Isolationist, and Anti-interventionist Movements and Interwar Hollywood John Whiteclay Chambers II Chambers, John Whiteclay, II 196

Ch. 10 The B Movie Goes to War in Hitler, Beast of Berlin Cynthia J. Miller Miller, Cynthia J. 226

Ch. 11 Why We Fight and Projections of America: Frank Capra, Robert Riskin, and the Making of World War II Propaganda Ian S. Scott Scott, Ian S. 242

Ch. 12 On Telling the Truth about War: World War II and Hollywood's Moral Fiction, 1945-1956 Frank J. Wetta Wetta, Frank J. Martin A. Novelli Novelli, Martin A.259

Ch. 13 James Jones, Columbia Pictures, and the Historical Confrontations of From Here to Eternity J. E. Smyth Smyth, J. E. 283

Ch. 14 Hollywood's D-Day from the Perspective of the 1960s and 1990s: The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan Robert Brent Toplin Toplin, Robert Brent 303

Ch. 15 Cold War Berlin in the Movies: From The Big Lift to The Promise Thomas W. Maulucci Jr. Maulucci, Thomas W., Jr. 317

Ch. 16 Invaders of the Cold War: Generic Disruptions and Shifting Gender Roles in The Day the Earth Stood Still Susan A. George George, Susan A. 349

Ch. 17 Using Popular Culture to Study the Vietnam War: Perils and Possibilities Peter C. Rollins Rollins, Peter C. 367

Ch. 18 Fragments of War: Oliver Stone's Platoon Lawrence W. Lichty Lichty, Lawrence W. Raymond L. Carroll Carroll, Raymond L. 390

Ch. 19 The Quiet American: Graham Greene's Vietnam Novel through the Lenses of Two Eras William S. Bushnell Bushnell, William S. 404

Ch. 20 Operation Restore Honor in Black Hawk Down John Shelton Lawrence Lawrence, John Shelton John G. McGarrahan McGarrahan, John G. 431

Ch. 21 Documentary and the Iraq War: A New Genre for New Realities Jeffrey Chown Chown, Jeffrey 458

Ch. 22 Jessica Lynch and the Regeneration of American Identity Post 9/11 Stacy Takacs Takacs, Stacy 488

Ch. 23 Representing the Unrepresentable: 9/11 on Film and Television James Kendrick Kendrick, James 511

Filmography John Shelton Lawrence Lawrence, John Shelton 529

Bibliography John Shelton Lawrence Lawrence, John Shelton 566

Index 584

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