WWII: The Propaganda Battle

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The outbreak of World War II saw two motion picture experts from Germany and the United States battle each other with as much ferocity as any army or navy. Their respective missions: to ignite a public desire to wage and win a global conflict. This program contains interviews with Fritz Hippler, chief filmmaker for the Nazi Party, and Frank Capra, renowned filmmaker who worked for the Allied cause, noted for his gentle, humane films about ordinary folk standing up to oppression.


BILL MOYERS: I’m Bill Moyers. Propaganda has been around ever since the serpent seduced Eve with the illusion that a taste of forbidden fruit would make her the equal of God. It worked. Eve bit, and learned that rose gardens don’t grow from green apples. But it worked. And that’s what counts about propaganda — Not whether it’s true, but whether it moves someone to act. The aim of the propagandist is to create attitude and mold behavior.

Long ago, rulers and priests used magnificent monuments — august palaces and dazzling emblems, magic totems and wondrous legends, simple parables and proverbs, all to inspire awe and obedience from the common folk. We owe the actual word to the church, to those cardinals who, in 1622, organized a [INAUDIBLE] missionary work in the name of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.

BILL MOYERS: But it’s our century, the 20th, that created the superstate and put into the hands of its propagandists a power beyond the dreams of the ancient sorcerers. This power, the power of film. Until this century, people had to be won over by individual persuasion or in crowds. Mass communications changed that, film in particular. Now the propagandist could reach the whole crowd at once, and yet touch each person in that crowd individually.

We saw this powerfully and frighteningly demonstrated during the Second World War, the first war in which both sides used motion pictures as weapons. Our broadcast is about that war of ideas, whose combatants fought not with artillery and tanks but with images and symbols.

BILL MOYERS: Berchtesgaden, Germany. A popular ski resort in the German Alps. Fritz Hippler has been living here among these sunny slopes since 1948. He is a retired but robust 70 years old, a respected member of the community. But 40 years ago, Fritz Hippler was a filmmaker for Adolf Hitler. His name is in the history books as the director of the hate film of all time, The Eternal Jew.

BILL MOYERS: [OVER CLIP FROM “THE ETERNAL JEW”] Audiences gasped at scenes like this one, sensationalizing the Jewish practice of ritual butchering. The shock of such scenes reinforced a calculated campaign of anti-Semitism aimed at arousing Germany emotions to accept the coming Nazi slaughter of the Jewish people.

BILL MOYERS: Today, he lives on this quiet little street. His house commands a view of the German Alps, and the former country estate of Adolf Hitler. Fritz Hippler is obviously not a man troubled by his memories.

FRITZ HIPPLER: You see there the famous Auberzitz barrack, where Hitler’s housed in up to the date where it was blown up some years after the war. In the last months of the war, it was bombed by Allied air fleet. And some days after it was blown up, it disappeared. And there, above the peak of the hill, you’ll see a little house. That’s the so-called Eagle’s Nest, the house where the guests of Hitler were transported when they visited him.

BILL MOYERS: A frequent guest was Fritz Hippler’s boss, Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda. These color movies, taken by Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun, show the comings and goings of the men who ran Nazi Germany. Joseph Goebbels was one of the most powerful. His job — screen movies of all kinds. One night, Goebbels arranged to show The Lambeth Walk. This was a short film produced by the British to ridicule the Nazis. Hitler’s propaganda minister was eager to see what the enemy was up to. His Chief of Motion Picture Production, Fritz Hippler, was there.

FRITZ HIPPLER: Goebbels was with his family in his room where he showed the film performances. I arrived a little later. And then he told to me, you must see a little film. That’s the greatest shameless impertinence I ever saw, invented by a Jewish brain. See it and make your decision.

This impression was, for me, so terrible that I fell into a laughter which I couldn’t stop. It was like, we call it krumph…I don’t know your word. I could not stop to laugh. And while laughing, I saw into Goebbel’s face, who looked at me very strange, and told me that I had strange ideas in having such a reaction to this terrible and shameless film. But I couldn’t help it. But after one minute, his wife began to accompany my laughter too. And as the other people beside Goebbels also laughed. And thus, the situation was saved for me.

BILL MOYERS: Fritz Hippler was 17 years old when he joined the Nazi Party as a student organizer. He was an early convert, for in the late 1920s the Nazis were still a scattered gang of extremists on the fringes of society.

FRITZ HIPPLER: At this time, I was a quite simple member of the party, and I marched with the other ones through the streets of Berlin. I tried to win more and more members for my students’ movement. And I succeed in getting the majority in the University of Berlin and in other high schools.

BILL MOYERS: The Nazis needed bright, young, true believers to forge their propaganda weapons, and Hippler believed, as the swastika rose over Germany, he’d climb the ladder of Nazi power. By 1936, he was head of German news reels.

FRITZ HIPPLER: My task was to convince the masses of our German policy. In no dictatorship, in no totalitarian state, the news reels as well as the journals have the right to report objectively. In a totalitarian state, the medium film as well as the press has the same task as publicity department in a big concern, in a big firm.

GERMAN NEWSREEL:Tank destroyers, ready for battle. Day after day, long trains loaded with ammunition and weapons of all types leave German armament plants.

FRITZ HIPPLER: And in the same way as they don’t talk about bad possibilities, we didn’t talk about these things. We only showed the good sides and not the dangerous. Every week I was sitting in cinemas and witnessed myself the effect of these news reels upon the audience. But what is more important is that the so-called security service of the SS had agents in all towns and villages who looked at the audience and how the audience reacted. That this man or this woman had not applauded, we were informed about some of the reactions of every news reel.

GERMAN NEWSREEL:Mass rally in the Berliner Sports Palace, honoring workers and technicians in Nazi arms plants.

FRITZ HIPPLER: I think the main thing of propaganda is what Goebbels repeated at all times. “The secret of propaganda is to simplify complex or complicated things, to make them as simple as possible. As simple that even the less ingenious men can understand what I mean. Simplify.” And then, if you had found the form which tells a complicated thing in the simplest way, when you have found this form, then, secondly, repeat it! Repeat it every day. Simplify and repetition. That’s the secret of modern propaganda.

I was not only successful in the news reels. I also completed some documentary films. And in 1939, the chief of the film department of the Propaganda Ministry went. There were several reasons why he went. And I was called as his successor. And I had to supervise all film companies that existed in Germany. This was undoubtless an exciting thing that would be the same as when you would be elected to be the chief of the American film industry, would be also exciting for you or for everyone.

BILL MOYERS: It is 1939. The Nazis have begun their conquest of Europe, and Fritz Hippler is at the height of his career. From director of the newsreels, he’s become head of the entire German film industry. He’s just 30 years old.

Two of his feature-length documentaries, Campaign in Poland and Victory in the West, will be shown to audiences around the world, including viewers in a still-neutral America. Their purpose is to arouse German national pride through demonstration of German might. But there’s another message, too, for viewers abroad. Brute force, devouring flame. These are the faces Hitler expected would frighten the world into appeasing him. Yet even Adolph Hitler must disguise aggression with a fig leaf of excuse, and he knows how. He has said, “The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one.” The big lie about Poland, as you’ll see, is that the invasion is liberation for Germans living in Danzig and elsewhere under the Polish rule, and revenge for the atrocities those Germans have allegedly suffered. Intelligent citizens within Germany watched and believed.

FRITZ HIPPLER: Campaign in Poland was a composition of the most effective parts of all the news reels we got from the so-called propaganda companies. The purpose of the film was to show the German public the campaign from the beginning up to the end.

GERMAN NEWSREEL: Everywhere where Germans live, our troops are heartily and gratefully welcome. The days of terror and Polish persecutions are over once and for all. All signs recalling the years of foreign rule are quickly removed. Polish murderers are being confronted with their tortured victims in one of the large prisoners’ camps. Here, for instance, is a man who recognizes the murderer of his brother.

FRITZ HIPPLER: It’s clear that also the film campaign in Poland had one task in showing the German people the German strength. And to show the same way as we got the victory now, we will get the victory afterwards. “Mundus volte decipi, ergo decipiator”, in Latin. And this means that people always want to hear things and events that are agreeable.

GERMAN NEWSREEL: On the morning of June 5th, German armored divisions proceeded to attack the river Somme.

FRITZ HIPPLER: This film was a documentation of the reasons why the war against the Western countries began, and in which way it marched up to the victory. This time, we had also a special unit of camera men, and we had the task to be the first at the head to get the immediate impression of the combat.

That was not only a film directed towards the German public. That was also a film directed towards all the world, to show them, keep out of a world war. Do your own work and let us do our work. It’s quite clear that the impression of this film was very depressive to all people in the other countries. The effect on German audience was a big wave of sympathy and of applauding. That’s quite clear. This was a film we had a very, very great and deep success with all Germans.

BILL MOYERS: This poster announced a different kind of film. The Nazis, you see, were up to something else beyond demonstrating their power, or arousing the pride of Germany. They intended to incite hatred of the Jews. Anti-Semitism was an old story in the world in the 1930s, but mass propaganda helped to make national policy of genocide. When the young Fritz Hippler turned his talents to the Nazi cause, he became an accomplice to the mass murder of millions.

JOSEPH GOEBBLES: [SPEAKING GERMAN] Men and women of Germany, the era of over-refined Jewish intellectualism has ended forever. The breakthrough provided by the revolution, has made our streets German once again…(cheers)

FRITZ HIPPLER: The German people was not more anti-Jewish then all other peoples. The French people was much more anti-Jewish than the German people. And this fact didn’t please to Hitler and to Goebbels. They both wanted to have the German people much more anti-Semitic than it was. All the journals, the press, and also by means of the film, the people were shown pictures to make them anti-Semitic. And the most horrible film, the most famous of them, The Eternal Jew bears my name in the beginning of the film. And with this faked, I have to live since this time. Because I came to judges and to de-Nazification chambers and so on and so on because of this fact.

THE ETERNAL JEW NARRATOR: [SPEAKING GERMAN] These faces are a striking refutation of the liberal theories that all who bear the humans countenance are equal. It is an admitted fact that Jews will change their external appearance as they leave their breeding sites in Poland to work in other parts of the world. Payes and beard, skull cap and kaftan are Jewish characteristics that everyone will recognize. Without these, it takes a sharp eye indeed to detect their racial origins.

FRITZ HIPPLER: We thought that the Jewish people would have a bad fate. But a fate consisting only in being transferred to another region of Poland, to an eastern region of Poland, and out of Germany to Poland and to this eastern region.

THE ETERNAL JEW NARRATOR: [SPEAKING GERMAN] Wherever rats turn up, they spread annihilation throughout the land, destroying property and food supplies. This is how they disseminate disease” pestilence, leprosy, typhus, cholera, dysentery. Just like the Jews among mankind, rats represent the very essence of malicious and subterranean destruction.

FRITZ HIPPLER: Film of hate, yes. We had the same feeling, but we didn’t talk about. We couldn’t prevent it. This was not our idea. We did our job, but we didn’t know what consequences could follow, and we had no idea that this could be a basis on which mass murder would follow.

ADOLF HITLER, IN “THE ETERNAL JEW”: [SPEAKING GERMAN] If the international Jewish bankers succeed once again in precipitating the nations into a World War, the result will not be a victory of the Jews, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.

FRITZ HIPPLER: The propaganda has to make complicated things simple. The propaganda has to show the enemy or the other side as a devil and the own sake as heaven’s sake.

THE ETERNAL JEW NARRATOR: [SPEAKING GERMAN] The eternal law of nature, maintaining the purity of race, is the legacy of the National Socialist Movement to the German people for all of time.

FRITZ HIPPLER: We spoke to the souls or to the unconsciousness of the public. The propagandist, he has to speak the language of the masses. But by speaking so, he also can govern the souls of the masses.

BILL MOYERS: Looking at Fritz Hippler’s film, The Eternal Jew, we must keep reminding ourselves that the purpose of propaganda is action. The viewers were expected to do something about what they saw. When other human beings are compared to rats and vermin that spread disease, it takes no great leap of imagination to know what you’re expected to do with the creatures. Hippler’s films were shown in neighborhood movie houses all over the country. Their target was everyone sitting before the hypnotic attraction of the screen — and ultimately, the mind of all Germany.

How would America answer Hippler and Hitler? There is such a thing as pro-democratic propaganda, of course. Even a brief glance at Tom Payne’s sizzling 1776 pamphlet Common Sense shouting down British rule of America can tell us that. But at root, democracy and propaganda are uneasy companions. The official propagandist in a totalitarian state is at home, he environment he works in totally controlled. Only his view of reality is broadcast. All others fall before the censor.

Democracy, on the other hand, is a babble of competing propagandas. So at war’s outbreak, we lack by design the very machinery for making ideas march to a single drum. And yet, America did answer. It answered effectively with a series of films made for the United States Army entitled Why We Fight. Talk about arousing people to act! When Franklin Roosevelt watched the first one, he turned to the White House audience and said, “Every man, woman, and child in the world must see this film.”

Sure enough, not only were American soldiers and civilians to see it, but it was shown in theaters all over the world, including the Soviet Union. For millions of people, Why We Fight brought the issues home in words and images everyone could understand.

NEWSREEL NARRATOR: In Germany, they call the new order National Socialism, or Nazism. Initially, they had a shorter word — fascism. In Japan, they had lots of names for it. A new era of enlightenment. A new order in Asia. The co-prosperity sphere. But no matter how you slice it, it was just plain old-fashioned militaristic imperialism. They say trouble always comes in threes. Take a good, close look at this trio. [pictures shown of Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito] Remember these faces. Remember them well. If you ever meet them, don’t hesitate.

BILL MOYERS: If these images look familiar, it isn’t too surprising. Why We Fight took the genius of Axis filmmaking and turned it back upon itself. The footage for these American propaganda films was unwittingly supplied by the enemy, by Fritz Hippler and his colleagues in Italy and Japan. Who was the genius behind all this? Who made the films that moved presidents, prime ministers, and millions of citizens and soldiers around the world? Well, to answer the Nazis, the American government turned to Hollywood, California. And to a cocky little immigrant from Sicily named Frank Capra.

ACADEMY AWARDS ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the recipient of the 10th annual life achievement award, Mr. Frank Capra! [APPLAUSE]

BILL MOYERS: He represents all that is honored, respected, and adored in Hollywood. Four times he won the Academy Award. His very name has become part of the language — Capra-esque. A sentimental blend of patriotism, humor, and above all, a belief that life is rounded with a happy ending. Even now, we enjoy It Happened One Night, Meet John Doe and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. They were the stuff American dreams were then made of — an ordinary American taking on the system and, against the odds, beating it. In 1941, Capra was at the peak of his career, enjoying the prospect of a multimillion dollar contract with United Artists. But all that was to be suddenly and swiftly changed. The world by now was anything but Capra-esque.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT CLIP: December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy.

BILL MOYERS: American soldiers mobilized for war, and with them Major Frank Capra — 45 years old, salary $250 a month. The most talented people were being assembled from across the country to work for a new service of the United States Army — the Morale Branch. Capra reports directly to Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall. When you first called on General Marshall at the Pentagon, what did he tell you he wanted you to do?

FRANK CAPRA: He called me in and he said, you know, we have an enormous problem. He said, we know that if you shoot at an American, he’ll shoot back. But can he take this being away from home? Can he take this discipline?

BILL MOYERS: And his answer?

FRANK CAPRA: In my opinion, he can if we tell him what he’s fighting about.

BILL MOYERS: So General Marshall was asking you, in effect, to give the boys a reason to fight.

FRANK CAPRA: Give the boys a reason to fight and don’t lie. They must believe it. If they don’t believe it, we’re dead.

BILL MOYERS: Why did he think that films were the means to accomplish this?

FRANK CAPRA: Because he had tried it with lectures. He had tried it with books. It wouldn’t work. They weren’t interested. The boys weren’t learning anything. They wanted something the boys knew about. Now, boys liked films. And believed films.

BILL MOYERS: Had General Marshall seen some of your films?

FRANK CAPRA: Yes, he had. He had seen quite a few of my films. As a matter of fact, he selected me out of the whole bunch of Hollywood guys when he got this idea that he must do it with film.

BILL MOYERS: But your films were comedies in Hollywood.

FRANK CAPRA: He wanted somebody to reach the people, was able to reach the people. And I had been able to reach the people with my films and make them cry, make them like things. Here, I’ve got the greatest heroes, the greatest villains on the world stage. Real, not actors. Real.

“WHY WE FIGHT” NARRATOR: …Causes and events leading up to our entry into the war. Well, what are the causes? Why are we Americans on the march? Is it because of — [EXPLOSION] — Pearl Harbor? [EXPLOSION] Is that’s why we are fighting? Or is it because of — [EXPLOSION] Britain?

BILL MOYERS: What was your specific aim with Prelude to War? This was the first film.

FRANK CAPRA: My specific aim was to show the difference between our method of living, our thinking about our families and so forth, and the enemy’s. The enemy was out to destroy, destroy anybody they didn’t agree with. We were trying to mind our business over here, send our kids to school. And we weren’t thinking of any war. We don’t want any part of any war. That’s where we were.

MAN ON STREET 1: Another war? Not for me. This time, America should keep out, and I know I will.

MAN ON STREET 2: I haven’t he slightest idea of European affairs.

MAN ON STREET 3: In the event of war in Europe, I think we should stay out of if entirely.

MAN ON STREET 4: We should mind our own business.

MAN ON STREET 5: By all means, no.

MAN ON STREET 6: Yes! Fight!



MAN ON STREET 9: If my country calls, yes.


FRANK CAPRA: Pearl Harbor turned the tables…

BILL MOYERS: What did you think you had to do to make them aware of what was at stake, and to make them want to go.

FRANK CAPRA: To tell them what they had in mind. You see, Hitler looked like Charlie Chaplin. He came on, he went…you know, he did Heute-de-Deutchland-morgen-dezelt and, and actually he was one of the Marx brothers. To the people that saw him, a lot of people laughed. And when Mussolini did his big, big stuff, well, he too was a clown.

BILL MOYERS: Characters out of a Hollywood movie.

FRANK CAPRA: Yeah, out of a Hollywood movie. Yeah. If it weren’t so evil, if it weren’t so many people getting killed, it was a comedy. High comedy.

BILL MOYERS: High comedy. So your job —

FRANK CAPRA: My job was to make believe that these people were real. And when they said, Heil Hilter, they meant it.


BILL MOYERS: You know that incredible film Leni Riefenstahl made, Triumph of the Will, did you go see that?

FRANK CAPRA: I saw that and it scared the hell out of me. I went back to my little chair in my office and my one telephone, and I sat there, and I sat there, and I was a very unhappy man. How can I possibly top this?

BILL MOYERS: It impressed you?

FRANK CAPRA:Tremendously.

BILL MOYERS: So when you saw this incredible documentary that the Germans had done, what went through your mind?

FRANK CAPRA: The enormous impact of it. I could see that it promised Superman stuff to them. I could see that the kids in Germany would go anyplace and die for this guy. The power of the film itself was to show that they knew what they were doing and they understood propaganda, and they understood how to reach the mind. So how do I reach the kid down the street?

BILL MOYERS: The American kid?

FRANK CAPRA: The American kid. How do I tell him? He’s riding his bike, and hey, hey! [WHISTLES] Do you know what you’ve in front of you? You’ve got this. It’s this. How do I reach you? The thought hit me, well, how did it reach me? They told me.

BILL MOYERS: In their film.

FRANK CAPRA: So I said, ah-hah. Let’s let them see only their stuff. We make nothing. We shoot nothing. but we use their own stuff as propaganda for ourselves. Let them see. Let them see the guys. Let them see these guys.

“WHY WE FIGHT” NARRATOR:“Stop thinking and follow me,” cried Hitler. “I will make you masters of the world.” And the people answered, Hail! Stop thinking and believe in me, bellowed Mussolini. Now, we’ll restore the glory that was Rome. And the people answered, Duce! Duce! Stop thinking and follow your god emperor, cried the Japanese warlords, and Japan will rule the world! And the people answered, Banzai! Banzai!

BILL MOYERS: But the Signal Corps try to block you every step of the way.

FRANK CAPRA: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: They wanted to make films about how many battleships we had, how many submarines, and our industrial might, and all of this. How did you overcome the typical bureaucratic hostility to an outsider like yourself?

FRANK CAPRA: When I got this idea of using their films —

BILL MOYERS: Turning it back on the Germans.

FRANK CAPRA: Turning them back on themselves, I said, where are the films? Who’s got the all the films? Well, nobody knew. And nobody seemed to know at the Signal Corps, or they wouldn’t talk. And so I started out. We first went to the FBI. Where are the enemy films there are supposed to be there? He says, we don’t know. Try the Treasury. We went to the Treasury. Finally, I get down to a man who is Alien Property Custodian, and he’s a little Jewish man.

BILL MOYERS: Alien Property Custodian.

FRANK CAPRA: And he’s a little Jewish man, and he says, what can I do for you? And I said, sir, enemy films. He says, what about them? I’ve got to have them. They tell me you’ve for them. He says, I’ve got warehouses full of them. I’ve got all their newsreels for the last 25 years. Why do you want them? Oh, Jesus. I said, Mr. Clauss. His name was Clauss.


FRANK CAPRA: Oh, boy. General Marshall has given me this job to do this, and so and so, and so and so, to show to our people. Well, he says, it’s about time somebody does something with this. But you’re too late. Five days ago, I got an order from the Chief Sitting Officer to deliver all this film to him. I said, Mr. Klaus…you’re a citizen. Now let’s take off our uniforms. I’m a citizen. If they get ahold of that film, it will never be used. It’ll be just put away in the bins. Nobody would know what the hell to do with it. I’ve got to have that film, Mr. Klaus, and I can’t get it from the Signal Corps. They will never give it to me. He says, is this Frank Capra? He knew who I was. He says, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, eh? I said, yeah. He says, did you come in here 10 days ago and demand that I turn all these films over to you as an army officer? I vow that I came here and asked you, of course. Yes, sir. OK. Makes me sign things. And I signed up for the whole films.

NAZIS FROM FILM CLIP: Sieg! Heil! Sieg! Heil!

FILM CLIP NARRATOR: Applauding on cue the words of the leaders. Each system did away with free speech and free assembly. Each system did away with a free press and substituted a press controlled by the party. Through their ministries of propaganda, each took complete control of the theater, the movies, the radio. Every cultural activity and every channel of information was controlled by the most important members of the party. Each did away with free courts and trial by jury. Each enforced its decrees by an army of secret police who held the power of life and death over every individual. And for the few who still believed in freedom and said so, there I was a ruddy answer. The greatest intellect in the world can be silenced with this. That is an exact translation of the words these Blackshirts cheer so lustily. “Whenever I hear anyone mention the word culture, the first thing I do is reach for my gun.” Yes, they had the answer, the blackjack from the gun.

BILL MOYERS: You shall know the truth.

FRANK CAPRA: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

BILL MOYERS: What was the truth to Frank Capra about World War II?

FRANK CAPRA: Truth was that if we lost, we’d lose our freedom, certainly. Above all. And I thought freedom was our most precious commodity. And if we lost our freedom, we’d lose everything.

“PRELUDE TO WAR” NARRATOR: The average American was quite unconscious of the fact that some people had this in mind for the little John Q’s.

BILL MOYERS: But it literally thrives, Prelude to War, on conflicting and contrasting images. Comparing the good things of the American life with the evils of the enemy.

FRANK CAPRA: And the danger to us that we were not aware of.

BILL MOYERS: Was that kind of sharp editing, intercutting, familiar to you? Was it something that —

FRANK CAPRA: Yes, yes it was. I must say, we did it than we had ever done before, because well, I say, we had an enormous story to tell. A great story to tell. Great story, great stakes.

BILL MOYERS: So you don’t have any doubts about film as moral warfare.

FRANK CAPRA: No. No, you don’t have any doubts.

FILM CLIP NARRATOR: For this is what we are fighting — Freedoms oldest enemy, the passion of the few the rule the many. This isn’t just a war. This is a common man’s life and death struggle against those who would put him back into slavery. We lose it, and we lose everything. Our homes. The jobs we want to go back to. The books we read. The very food we eat. The hopes we have for our kids. the kids themselves. They won’t be ours anymore. That’s what’s at stake. It’s us or them. The chips are down. Two worlds we stand against each other. One must die, one must life. 170 years of freedom decrees our answer.

BILL MOYERS: There was criticism of Prelude to War from some politicians.


BILL MOYERS: Some senators thought it was propaganda.


BILL MOYERS: Some thought it was going to help Roosevelt get re-elected to a fourth term.

FRANK CAPRA: Yes, yes, fourth, fourth term.

BILL MOYERS:And curiously, some people thought it was going to cause the American people to hate.

FRANK CAPRA: Yes. Yes. That was Mr. Mellon


FRANK CAPRA: Yes. He wanted — it’s too gruesome. The American people should not see this picture. They’ll hate the Germans from there on. Then we never can be friends again.

BILL MOYERS: Did that criticism bother you?


BILL MOYERS: Did you want people to hate.

FRANK CAPRA: No. I don’t want people to hate. I’ve wanted to knock off people that hated. I wanted to stop that hatred. And you couldn’t stop that hatred unless you stopped it. And you weren’t going to stop with candy bars. Not until they showed them some of the stuff that we got at Dachau that George Stevens autographed this is true did it actually impinge itself on the minds of — Horror. The horror of this whole thing was really — Then we believed.

BILL MOYERS: Did you believe this before you saw it.


BILL MOYERS: What was the impact on you?

FRANK CAPRA: I just simply — it left me just speechless, colorless, bloodless. I couldn’t possibly believe that there was that kind of savagery in the world between men. Men, the highest of all the animals. Man, the man who created God, a man who created all kinds of things. To end up here in a pile of bones, burned. It was a terrible, terrible shock.

FILM CLIP NARRATOR: You know, 30 million people died because Hitler says, Mein Kampf.

HITLER’S SUPERED COPY: I want to see again in the eyes of youth, the gleam of the beast of prey.

FRANK CAPRA: 30 million people died. That little jerk. And he said these words, and they followed him. And it doesn’t speak well for the human race.

BILL MOYERS: Do you ever wonder if Hitler and his propaganda chiefs — Goebbels and Hippler — realized they were giving Frank Capra the rope to hang them with.

FRANK CAPRA: I don’t think so. I’ve never heard that they caught on at all. But that’s exactly what they did. They hung themselves. We didn’t hang them. We just showed them for what they were. And they weren’t pretty. And they were mad dogs.

BILL MOYERS: I was surprised when Frank Capra brought those still photos of the concentration camps with him to our interview. I hadn’t expected it. He talked about them in a sad and incredulous voice, as if still stunned by the revelation all these years later.

He had made a series of propaganda films because, as he said, our freedom is at stake. But not until the war’s end, and those photographs divulged the unfathomable horror of mass murder was it known how much more was also at stake. Fritz Hippler’s talents had helped to foster great evil, those of Frank Capra to defeat it. And yet, Capra was uncomfortable — enough so to bring the photos as an additional justification for having himself been a propagandist, even a propagandist on democracy’s behalf. Propaganda is not a disinterested search for truth. And because it isn’t, it defies everything that Capra believed in, just it embodies everything that Hippler’s mentality so readily accepted.

BILL MOYERS: It’s not the least of this century’s paradoxes that something so potentially dangerous for truth and freedom became an indispensable weapon in the arsenal of their defense. I’m Bill Moyers.

This transcript was entered on April 7, 2015.

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