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
Voice of Conscience
America's Hometown
Toward War
Baptism of Fire
Defining America
 Statue in Ramparts

Defining America

 There will be no new Wilson arising to stir up America against us
(1-3) A German propagandist lobs insults at Americans as the camera shoots closer and closer.
The American is no soldier
The inferiority and decadence of the allegedly new world is evident in its military inefficiency
Statue of Founding Father
WWI graves
(4-5) Previous generations fought to preserve democracy. (6-11) A montage of images at the conclusion of the film represent American ideals and engenders patriotic feelings.
Soldier from WWI
waving flag
trees and hills
Plymouth Rock

"Ramparts" attempts to convince viewers at its conclusion that the time is right for war by hearkening back to iconic imagery that defines American ideals, invoking that the last time American values were at risk, citizens were ready to step forward.

As the movie shifts from the faux-German narrator of the "Baptism of Fire" segment to an American-perspective narrator, viewers learn that nine once-free nations have already fallen to Germany's war machine, whose new slogan is "today we are masters of Europe—tomorrow we rule the world." The film shows a highly inflammatory enactment of a German news propagandist proclaiming insults upon American soldiers and its leadership, his words translated through subtitles (1-3). Among the insults he offers is that Americans will not fight without Wilson "stir[ring] up" the country against Germany. He threatens that "we have the means of awakening our friends in America," suggesting Nazi infiltration. The camera zooms in on him as he remarks, "The inferiority and decadence of the allegedly new world is evident in its military inefficiency."

The narrator pronounces over an image of the Capitol building that (in contrast to what Nazis say), "The American people are willing to meet the challenge of might makes right." The film then cuts to FDR, larger than life when the camera is again at a low angle. Roosevelt proclaims in a speech before Congress that the future of the nation and the American people are at stake, and calls for sacrifice; "the love of freedom is still fierce, still steady in the nation today."

The film then cuts to scenes of preparations for war—ships and armaments being built. The narrator says, "Americans themselves once more stand united against the powers of aggression. And as Americans measure their nation's strength, they remember that there have been other times of crisis when the people of America have taken up arms. The Founders of America fought for freedom and established their republic by force of arms. Other generations of Americans have fought to preserve it."As these last words are said, a statue of a Revolutionary soldier, World War I graves, and a modern soldier's statue flash across the screen (4-6). "And Americans today remember that their nation's courage has been tested under fire within the memory of men now living. For in their brave little world, Americans of a generation ago met crisis, and emerged from it citizens of the greatest nation on earth." The film cuts back to New Year's, 1919, as the congressman makes a toast to generations yet to come. He wishes that they in crisis "know the joy and strength in uniting, in war, if it should ever come again, may they hold the ramparts of our democracy and freedom until kingdom come."

The film cuts to romantic images of America as a choir sings "The Star-Spangled Banner." The images flash by: a statue of a World War I soldier (6 again), navy battleships, a waving flag on a ship (7), a picturesque lighthouse, a statue of a frontiersman, a church (8), trees and hills (9), the desert, mountains (10), and the ocean, where the camera points to a shot of Plymouth Rock, "1620" clearly cut into it (11). The film rallies American ideals into one montage: individual freedom, the Frontier, patriotism, freedom of religion, and the ideal of American exceptionalism; Americans were blessed with a great country, and blessed with the ability to practice religion without persecution (unlike Germany, where protesting churchmen might be sent to concentration camps). The montage touches upon all elements that make America the land of the free, and Germany then the land of a despot.


Ever-present is the analogy between World War I and the present situation; in describing World War I as the movie shows it, columnist Nelson B. Bell might as well be talking about 1940:

"The interest of this country in a war so far away at first is detached and remote. With the constantly more ominous encroachments upon American rights by the European belligerents, the instinct for righting savage national debauchery and preserving the traditions and ideals of this country grow until the Government is impugned for remaining out of the conflict instead of manifesting a willingness to enter it on the side of international honor and justice" [...]

'The Ramparts We Watch' is timely to a split-second and vastly inspiring in its inescapable reminder of the capacity, the courage and the greatness of a unified America, dedicated to effort, service and personal sacrifice. It was spontaneously cheered by last night's audience—by an odd coincidence, on the evening of the day the United States Senate Military Affairs Committee approved the draft."1

"Ramparts" summed up the arguments in previous March of Time episodes on Germany, Italy and Japan—freedom was worth protecting, and finally producers had decided to stipulate that the costs of failing to preserve freedom outweighed the costs of war.

1 Bell, Nelson B. "'Ramparts' Is Lustily Cheered at Premiere." The Washington Post. July 24, 1940: 14.