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


by Peter C. Rolins and John E. O'Connor, editors

Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2008. Pp. xiv, 604. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $40.00 paper. ISBN:0813191912

An anthology examining the American war film. After an introduction, 22 essays deal with films about America' s wars in four periods, from earliest times to the twentieth century, the era of the world wars, the Cold War, and the post-Cold War period. 

The methodology is to examine a particular film, pair of films, or series. Each essay looks at how the film or films explain the reasons for fighting the, how combat is portrayed, and what broader political and social issues are examined.  Most essays avoid becoming bogged down in trivia.

The essays are sometimes uneven. Some betray a lack of knowledge of military matters and history, for example, depicting Santa Anna as callous and high-living is not Hollywood hype, he really was that way, albeit also brilliant and energetic.  Several essays are essentially political tracts.  And a few omit notable films; to that on Alamo-themed films fails to mention The Last Command, perhaps the best of the lot.  On the other hand, several essays stand out, most notably that on D-Day, dealing with The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan.

A very useful book for anyone interested in film, film and history, and wartime propaganda.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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