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


"Prelude to Conquest," September 2, 1938 Play movie

 Map before World War I
(1) The Austria-Hungary empire before World War I (2) and after, with Czechoslovakia highlighted
Map after World War I
We shall defend the liberty...
(3) Czechs are portrayed as liberty-loving, as this teacher writes on a chalkboard
Bakery window
Czechoslovakia is attractive because of its fertile land that produces many foods (4) and its munitions plants (5) offer Hitler a ready-made weapons production system
munitions plant
Sudeten Germans want autonomy
(6) A different kind of intertitle portrays the Sudeten point of view. (7) Nazi troops mobilize, cheered on by Fuhrer (8), bathed in shadows. Is this a real or dramatized shot?
Nazis mobilize
Hitler in shadows
Gas mask demo
(9) Czechs prepare for the worst, as shown in this gas mask demonstration. (10) the phony newspaper headline offers a convenient narrative transition
War Unless-
Statue of man holding knife
(11) the shot of this statue appears with the final words, "that might alone makes right."
Read Review

The March of Time portrays the Czechs as "liberty-loving" and brave as they prepare for a likely invasion by aggressor Germany. The narrative begins in Prague, early spring 1938: "In all anxious and troubled Europe today, no news is awaited with graver concern than the hour-by-hour report from Prague, Czechloslovakia."

Czechs are resigned to the belief that war is inevitable. Czechoslovakia "is within the jaws of restless new Germany, which only a few months ago seized the lands and people of neighboring Austria. And the Fuhrer of the German war machine, bent on still further conquest, daily shouts his new demands: that Czechoslovakia surrender its richest lands, by granting autonomy to the Sudeten Germans, a powerful Czech minority already cocked and primed to go the way of Austria." The Czech president is determined that Germany will not control his country. "He is Europe's smartest little statesmen: Edward Beneche," the Voice of Time says. His nation is the sole democracy left in eastern Europe, and he "stands firm" against Hitler's demands. Beneche says: "Czechoslovakians will fight and die to defend the freedom that became theirs only 20 years ago." A teacher writes on the board (in English): "We shall defend the liberty of Czechoslovakia."

An intertitle explains Germany's interest in the country: "In reaching for Czechoslovakia, Adolf Hitler is seeking a rich prize—lands that will open the way for further conquest and provide economic sufficiency for his half-starved Germany." Czechoslovakia "is a natural fortress, which in German hands would make Hitler master of half the continent, and give him resources that would yield vast returns. Some of the most productive lands in all Europe are the farms of Czechoslovakia, yielding an abundance of Germany's greatest need: food." [Images of delicacies flash across the screen.] Here the filmmakers appear to buy into German excuses for invasion; were Germans really that hungry, considering its latest conquest of Austria? Why not spend more on food and less on weapons if this is the case? "While Germany has been struggling against poverty, the people of Czechoslovakia have prospered." [Shows dancehalls] "But land-locked Czechoslovakia's trade is at the mercy of her jealous neighbors." The country has coal and iron ore to make arms, and large munitions plants that are now turning out weapons for Czechoslovakia's own defense.


Intertitle: "As thorough as the Czech preparations for national preservation has been Hitler's program for his second Nazi conquest." [A good example of Time-speak.] Sudeten Germans feel tied to their ancestors. They were a privileged group under the Austrians, but under the Czechs they had to "tak[e] orders from the Czechs they had always despised." As early as 1930 Hitler told them that in the old fatherland, there were jobs for all. Czech Conrad Heinlein founded the Sudeten Deutsche Partie to support seeking the Sudeten's independence. "What Heinlein wished most to destroy was what alone tolerated his rise to power—Czechloslovakia's liberal democracy and its freedom of speech," the Voice of Time says, in a familiar refrain (also said about Italians in Tunisia). "Knowing full well that the demand to being the rich Sudeten terroritory under Nazi domination is but the first step in Germany's ultimate plan to dismember the Czech state, at Prague President Beneche gives Czechoslovakia's answer: 'No.'"


When Hitler threatens to march to force his demands, "Prague immediately backs up its 'no' by mobilizing its own troops, the strongest little army in all Europe. Though well officered and well equipped, its high command knows that should Hitler march it would be hopelessly outnumbered, able at best to delay his advance until help could arrive from Czechoslovakia's allies, Romania, Yugoslavia, France, and Russia." The Voice of Time describes the army and the president in the same terms, "little," or not capable of standing up to Germany. Czechoslovakia is "a small nation defying the mightiest of all warlords." Hitler decides not to march "this time." Intertitle: "Though its first crisis in 1938 is bravely faced singlehanded, Czechoslovakia's fate lies not in Czech bravery, but on what the rest of Europe will do should Hitler decide to march." Fears abound that the world could be pulled into a world war. France reaffirms its alliance to aid Czechoslovakia should Germany attack. If France fights, England is treaty-bound to help France, so they are also looking for a peaceful solution. England sends an unofficial mediator into Prague to find a peaceful compromise between the Sudetens and Czechs. "Suddenly as if a warning to the rest of Europe, Hitler orders all Germany to mobilize at its full war strength," the narrator says. "From one European capital to another goes the word that this time Nazi Germany is ready for the war of wars. In sharp contrast to the rest of Europe, liberty-loving Czechoslovakia remains stoically calm. Its people are hopeful of compromise but certain that compromise shall not mean surrender to the dictator who has sworn to destroy Czech freedom.... Thus in the 20th year of its life, the democracy of Czechoslovakia, born of the war to end wars, bows before the tragic reaffirmation of an old law—that might alone makes right. Time marches on!"

September 16, 1938: The Sudenten Germans Rebel Read Script

March 17, 1939: Hitler Invades Play audio

This episode, chronicling the invasion of Czechoslovakia, starts without the usual advertisement. The Voice of Time announces it is the 23rd week since the peace of Munich, when the world thought it entered a new era of confidence and optimism. In Paris and London plans were being laid down for a disarmament conference. Now Paris has asked for dictatorial power to prepare for war. In London, Prime Minister Chamberlain has declared an end to the peace of Munich. The U.S. president has registered an unprecedented peacetime protest.

The show turns back the clock to look at the events seven days ago, when Czechs gathered at a church cemetery outside Prague. [Bells toll] Peasants gather around a monument of Thomas Gehrig Masserig, founder of the republic of Czechsloslovakia, to honor his memory. The President invited to lead the Republic in the peace of Munich is asked to say a few words. "...Give us strength in this difficult hour to preserve the freedom [for which Czechs' natives] fought for for five centuries...give us courage, oh lord, and let thy will be done." The crowd breaks into song—the national anthem of Czechoslovakia. [Music interrupts; a variation of the "Great Gate of Kiev" from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition"] From an already-ancient village on the river Moldau extended a vast Slovak empire. This was the "proud genesis" of Prague. It was yet to become the spearhead of the Holy Roman Empire against the "savage Germans" of that time. "...And yet to become the proud capital where Czechs and Slovaks join hands, to form Europe's most idealistic democracy, the modern republic of Czechloslovakia."

The scene changes to Monday morning; spring will come late to Czechoslovakia this year. An early-evening crowd is eating dinner and listening to the radio. A radio bulletin interrupts. The Minister of Justice speaks: "People of Slovakia, the day for which we have waited will soon be here. Our protector and friend, Adolf Hitler, is at our..." The crowd breaks out in fear at the sound of Hitler's name. German troops start marching to Prague [a loud marching sound of soldiers' feet on city streets]. On Tuesday morning the citizens of Bratislava rise early; during the night the Czech flag has disappeared and in its place is a swastika flag. The teacher makes an announcement to school children. They are being given a holiday; she notes that for 20 years Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia have all been joined in one country. "But today after a long, long time, our part is going to be free from all the others. Today our Slovakia is voting to be independent from the Czechs." A child exclaims, "Don't we like the Czechs anymore?" Yes, she responds, but we wish to rule ourselves. "The German leader Adolf Hitler, who helped us to get our independence, is going to be our protector." She marches the kids to the town square, as the kids sing the national anthem. [Ominous music.] Up and down Slovakia, offices, schools and homes are emptied, as the cheering population greets Nazi troops.

The President of Czechoslovakia sends a letter; he wants to discuss the future of the Czech government with Hitler. The Fuhrer will see him at 6 pm that evening. President Emil Hocha hears the rolling of drums of honor as he walks down a long hallway, normally reserved for the rulers of a foreign power. Forty minutes later he reappears from Hitler's chamber, "worn and drawn," and holds a press conference. A Nazi speaks for him—Hocha is now a "representative" of Czechoslovakia. [More ominous music and marching]. The German 8th Army Corps has already crossed into the country.

The scene shifts to London's House of Commons, a few minutes after noon on Wednesday. Anthony Eden and Churchill are present. "Mr. Speaker, this is a day of humiliation and shame for this country and this house," a Member proclaims. German troops have crossed the border. "We have allowed violence to take the place of reason and justice, and violence has triumphed." The peace of Munich was a "ghastly tragedy," but it at least promised them one thing: that the boundaries of Czechoslovakia would be guaranteed by the countries involved. "Hitler has not kept that promise. May I ask the Prime Minister if this government is going to keep their promise?" The Prime Minister explains that the government is "gravely shocked and bitterly disappointed...[but] Great Britain no longer considers herself bound by the Munich guarantee of Czechoslovakia's frontiers." The world is still concentrated on the hope for peace, he continues, and it is too great of significance for Britain to give it up. "Tall, slender Anthony Eden," the champion of the League of Nations who resigned when Britain recognized Italy's conquest of Ethiopia, rises to speak; "to anyone who has any doubt as to the meaning of the events of the past hours, [let me quote from Mein Kampf]: 'the wise victor will, if possible, always impose his claims stage by stage. He may then rely on the fact that in not one of his further acts will there seem sufficient reason to take up arms. Mr. Speaker, we all know that we shall have no more than a brief respite, perhaps briefer than the last, before Hitler will make further demands in the belief that we are already a defeated people, impotent and powerless to defend ourselves. Mr. Speaker, there is only one course that will save us. To form a new government, in which all parties will cooperate to bring dignity and honor and courage to our country once again!" [Triumphant music blares.]

A Nazi train carries Hitler toward Bohemia through a snowstorm. The planned order encourages soldiers not to consider himself an enemy of territory to be occupied, "but as a bearer of the will of the German Reich." [Ominous music.] Prague at dawn—snow is falling. In Prague, no morning newspapers are published—there's no word of the army marching toward their borders. A Czech army truck appears on the street, and a loudspeaker blares, at 6 am, "German soldiers will enter our native lands. These soldiers will enter Prague, they will occupy our nation. Our army will not resist." Civilians should not resist, either. The bells of ancient St. Vidas church toll. The streets swarm with bewildering humanity in Prague's ghetto. An old man ties a ribbon of Czech colors on his lapel. A woman says first they move to Vienna, now Prague:"Even if we could escape, where could we go now?" A priest says,"it would have been better if we had fought when we had the chance. It is like some nightmare—today we are Czechs, tomorrow we may not even have a Czech language." The people hear the distant tramp of a marching army. The crowd begins booing, then breaks into the Czech anthem (sung in English, naturally). The narrator exclaims above the crowd: "The crowd [lets] the anthem of Czechoslovakia echo through the snow-filled air, but the troops of Adolf Hitler are already in the square." [A whistle blows]. The narrator continues, "the troops of the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler are in Prague, and the republic of Czechoslovakia is no more....This week, 21 years, four months and 25 days after its founding, the republic of Czechoslovakia has disappeared from the map of Europe." [Hear a song very similar to "Great Gate of Kiev" introduction.] On the fourth anniversary of his repudiation of the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler has annexed: 25,000 square miles of fertile land, a billion's worth of armaments, 1,400 first-line fighting planes, a munitions plant, $350 million marks in gold, "and a population of 10 millions henceforth to live under the shadow of Nazi secret police, Nazi decree rule, to the greater glory of an alien nation." Democracies are united in protests, but with Hitler's conquests unchallenged, "men of goodwill may well wonder to what end or what fulfillment will come that strange prophecy of empire, set down 15 years ago by a political prisoner incarcerated in Germany's Landsberg fortress, in a testament called Mein Kampf." A German-accented actor reads from the tract: "When we talk of new lands for Germany, we think first of Russia and her border states. The might of our deadly enemy France must be destroyed. Democracy is a monstrosity born of filth and fire. Germany will be the world power or nothing. And to this one great mission, we must direct everything, beginning with the primer of the children, every last newspaper, theater, and motion picture, until the brain of even the smallest boy is graven with the glowing prayer, 'oh lord, bless our arms when the day comes, be as just as thou had been always. Judge now as to whether we deserve the freedom or not. Our mighty God, bless our battles.' Time Marches On!"

This refrain from Mein Kampf is oft-repeated by The March of Time and acts as the show's own warning to American listeners: Hitler may not stop until democracies unite—not in protest, but in war.