The March Toward War: The <em>March of Time</em> as Document and Propaganda
Introduction The Time Empire MOT as Document Marching into War Voice of Conscience Timeline/Index
The Shadow of War
Germany's Rising Power
The World Prepares for War
America Prepares for War
American Neutrality
Failure of the League
Failure of Versailles
England's Failures
Ambiguous Russia
Plight of the Jews
Humanizing Dictators
Americans All
War Zones
Italy Seizes Ethiopia
Japanese Conquests
Chinese Resistance
Spain's Civil War
The Mediterranean
Pearl Harbor
 Load torpedo

America Prepares for War

 Loading a torpedo
(2) A wounded soldier takes a coffee break, while a giant hand plays war games (3).
Navy ships

"NAVY WAR GAMES," May 31, 1935 Play movie

This 1935 segment shows Pacific war games, with the narrator explaining that the "purpose of navy maneuvers is to test and perfect every unit of the gigantic machine which is the navy, as elaborate and delicate, as it is powerful and costly. Ships must exist on paper long before they go to sea."

The film spends time reassuring viewers that the Navy knows what it's doing. In the war game, each junior commander becomes an admiral on the fleet flagship and "the Pacific Ocean contracts into a few squares of linoleum....All hands are serious, alert, for battle is the ultimate end of all their training. Fighting is their business."

The entire scenario suggests that war is coming: an enemy attack is dramatized, and seamen are even "wounded." But viewers also are shown that the "war" is fake. A man who coughs and looks blood-stained is shown drinking coffee (2). The realistic phony battle cuts to a scene of men planning battles on a linoleum floor, matching what is real with what is not (3). Despite the filmmakers attempts to make the battle look both real and fake, real fears are assuaged: "Thus ends a modern naval battle such as no navy man wants to see, but for which the navy must be prepared. To U.S. peace lovers who protest that Japan will not understand the navy's 1935 Pacific maneuvers, Admiral Taussig points out that the U.S. theater of action is 2,000 miles from Toyko. Secretary of Navy Swanson is assured by his excellency Hirosi Saito, the Japanese ambassador, that official Tokyo does understand."

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The film cuts to a dramatized scene with the Ambassador (the real Saito, according to the review at right), who says, "Of course, Mr. Secretary, I understand why the American navy is having its naval maneuvers at this moment in the Pacific. Japan is going to have her own war game later in the summer. No doubt, I appreciate sincerely, the motives of many Americans who wish that nothing should be done to impair and prejudice good international relations, but Mr. Secretary I do know well, I know, that navies will be navies." The narrator bellows, "Time marches on!"

"ARMY," August 16, 1935 Play movie

invasion map
(2) Potential invasion routes. (3) The not-so-advanced technology of the military maneuvers.
military mobilization
gas mask fitting
(4) A soldier is fitted with a gas mask.
tanks on floating bridges
(5) Tanks cross a floating bridge. (6) Odds on the United States entering war.
Odds on invasion
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The opening title—which often sets the theme for the whole segment—shows a trumpet call, as if a call to arms (1). And indeed, Congress has "at last voted [the military] money long sought" to build up the army for national defense, and the filmmakers begin with Gen. Douglas MacArthur assembling a war council.

The narrator notes that the U.S. army is 17th among armies in the world. "Military strategists know that the United States is vulnerable to attack," the narrator explains. Enemies could attack from across the Pacific via Alaska, through the St. Laurence valley, or from the West Indies, as a map vividly illustrates (2). The segment explains the United States therefore employs a strategy of mobility-the ability to move quickly. Due to the increased funds, the military plans to add 47,000 more men in 1935. "Today, should it be necessary for Secretary of War [George] Dern to sign the mobilization order, he would set in motion a nationwide war plan worked out after years of study in minutest detail."

Once again the film attempts to reassure viewers, while in hindsight military preparation looks weak. At the time the military is still using horses and asses to pull supplies (3), and the method of calling troops to a dramatic practice run is in fact (or at least for dramatic effect) through a trumpet call. But the narrator is all praise: "Toward the threatened area the thousands of men and mechanisms that it takes to make a modern army, move with precision and dispatch." While the troops mobilize, the music is hopelessly cheery, and eventually includes the World War I battle hymn, "Over There"—although the troops are clearly practicing at home, purportedly for home defense. At odds with the shots of horses are high-tech acknowledgements such as gas masks (4) and floating bridges for use by tanks (5).

At the film's conclusion the narrator seeks to reassure Americans that war is highly unlikely in America, despite the preceding scenes of preparation. Lloyd's of London, an insurance exchange, also calculates the odds on the chances of war between nations of the world. No more bets are taken on Italy and Abyssinia, for example—war is too likely. The narrator notes that odds against a war between Japan and Russia are 20 to 1; the odds of the United States being drawn into conflict are 100 to one; an invasion of America is a low 500 to 1, emphasized by showing the handwritten notes of an odds-maker (6).

"JUNK AND WAR," October 1, 1937 Play movie

 Rendino the junk man
Rendino the junk man tranforms himself through war profits: (1) Rendino as we first see him looks like a recent immigrant; (2) Rendino and his family drink and dine at a restaurant; (3) Rendino the American businessman.
Rendino drinks
Successful Rendino

This segment offers a lowbrow companion piece to "Munitions," which discusses war profiteering at the executive level. While the federal government may have been slow to rebuild the military, the private sector is all too aware of war abroad. This 1937 segment studies how junk dealers during the Depression have patiently collected the valuable things people throw away—most importantly, metal. "Not in 20 years has there been so great a world demand for U.S. metal in every form," the narrator explains. U.S. steel mills are junk dealers' best customers. The segment follows one man in particular who has profited, Alphonse Rendino. "These days, junk man Rendino's social standing has risen considerably. Housewives who once hardly bothered to notice him, wait for him now with new interest and anticipation of pocket money." He "knows that the greatest stimulus to his trade today is war and the fear of war." Suddenly Rendino "is a valuable business connection." Here the filmmakers tie in the story of a common man to a larger theme, perhaps to draw in others like Rendino—hard on their luck and as The March of Time sets it up, perhaps dealing in unsavory business to rise from poverty.

In the past nine months, 2.5 tons of scrap iron left U.S. ports for aggressor and more friendly nations. "Italy, without resources of her own, is buying it for fascism. Great Britain, despite her own rich mines, is buying U.S. steel for rearmament. But by far the largest purchaser of American scrap iron has been Japan, totally lacking herself the iron and steel which makes war possible." Only now can we see the irony in this, but then the statement is made with some sense that it might not be a good idea to arm Japan. After this exposition we learn the American business may be threatened by war fears: "As the demands of a war-nervous world send metal prices soaring, to Alphonse Rendino and 250,000 other U.S. junkdealers comes disturbing news—talk of an embargo on scrap."

Filmmakers appear to draw a connection between the gross business of war and the grossness of war profiteers, if Rendino, at the low end of the totem pole, could be called such. "To junk man Rendino [Rendino often has "junk man" spoken in front of his name, to drive home his lowly status], it seems unfair that the junk business should be singled out for an embargo." He sees ships from China and Japan loading finished steel, but the United States is not allowed to send finished planes. "All Mr. Rendino knows, in his new prosperity, is that in a world today more concerned with destruction than it is with construction, the prices of scrap metal are high, his business good. For the first time Alphonse Rendino, junk dealer, finds himself a person of importance, in a world where steel is master." Rendino is thus cast as a slave who believes in his elevated status because of his newfound prosperty, but the filmmakers cast judgment on him—steel is his master, and he is still only a "junk dealer," unaware of the higher morals at stake. The March of Time is comfortable casting stones at rich foreign war profiteers, but when it looks to the homefront, it focuses on the tadpole in the business, perhaps to explain that small businessmen will be affected by an embargo, but also ignoring the richer business executives profiting from their decision to sell metal.

FEBRUARY 10, 1938: A Navy Second to None Play audio

Admiral William D. Leahy warns of the intentions of Germany, Japan, and Italy, and declares that "the United States must be prepared with a navy second to none." The narrator notes that this is the first time in 22 years that the Navy has gone on record in naming a potential enemy on the high seas. A re-enactment of his testimony and questioning by congressmen reveals that the 1936 London Naval Treaty allowed the United States and Great Britain five ships each to every three Japan built. Japan reportedly has exceeded their limit. In an exchange revealing the racial prejudices in play, a congressman asks, "Does it take five Americans to lick three Japs?" Leahy responds that although he is not familiar with that expression, but that he would risk fighting with an equal navy. When asked if Americans are in conversations with British admiralty, Leahy responds that he cannot answer the question at a public hearing. One day after his refusal, an announcement is issued from Secretary of State Cordell Hull's office: the United States and Great Britain approached Japan with a request for information on the Japanese naval-building program. If there is no reply by February 20, "the United States, Great Britain and France will consider themselves free to adopt naval armament plans without limitation."

Later, on the floor of the Senate, congressmen speak out against the State Department for acting in alliance with Great Britain. The President assures the Senate that this is "not the case." An Idaho senator remarks, "Mr. President, the important thing is that it looks as if we are allying ourselves against an enemy. And when other nations see that we are building a navy, the like of which has never been seen in time of peace, they can draw but one conclusion. These things cannot be whistled down the wind. These things lead to war." Another congressmen responds that the United States must be prepared without alliance to "destroy any power that dares to attack us." This week no reply has come from Japan, but "unofficially"—as the Voice of Time announces—the United States has "officially" entered the world armament race for the first time since the World War. Furthermore, an American Institute of Public Opinion nationwide poll (announced by a voice other than the narrator's) shows the "American people are by overwhelming majority against war and against foreign alliances, yet a majority of 74 percent "favor a navy second to none." Still hoping for peace, the public is now ready to prepare for the worst, or at best, scare off the worst with a powerful navy.