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
Austria
Czechoslovakia
Poland
Pearl Harbor
 Britain ready to fight

England's Failures

March 31, 1938: LOST CHANCES Play audio

This last section of the segment about the death of Colonel House (see Failure of Versailles) shows the conflict in Britain over the country's failure to halt the tide of war. In the scene, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain makes his first statement on foreign policy since the seizure of Austria. He notes "with satisfaction" the steps taken by Czechoslovakia to meet the "reasonable demands" of Germany. A parliamentarian interrupts that is ridiculous to speak of Germany's "reasonable demands." He asks whether Britain will back up Czechoslovakia against Germany. Chamberlain responds that he cannot plunge England into war to defend any and everyone—only for Belgium and France (contradicting earlier policies). Another parliamentarian needles, "If you had dared to stand up against the dictators of Spain and Austria, you wouldn't now have to defend Belgium and France...you've left us and the world in the same situation as in 1914." Chamberlain refutes that the situation is as desperate as in 1914, but it's true that "confidence in peace [has] been severely shaken."

"We can work earnestly in the hope of preserving peace. And at same time we shall do everything in our power to make this country strong enough to meet whatever call may be made upon us."

The Voice of Time returns to point out that one-time German Corporal Hitler has raised his standing army size to 1 million strong—100,000 more men than the Kaiser's army in the summer of 1914. The Voice is condemning in pointing out that it's likely too late to stop war with Germany.

Britain Tries Making Friends with the Dictators
March 7, 1938 Life article on British leaders' attempts at befriending Germany and Italy. The piece profiles Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden.

"THE BRITISH DILEMMA," September 30, 1938 Play movie

 Newscaster
Above, the radio "newscaster" alerts the audience that the show has been censored in England.
Nazi flags
Above, Nazi flags symbolize Germany's rise to power, but March of Time emphasizes that Hitler's plan has been laid out for years in Mein Kampf, below.
Mein Kampf
museum housing Mein Kampf
The German museum, housing the manuscript is dramatized, above, as is the Nazi examination of British photographs and media, below.
  Examining British photos
Hitler in shadows
dead Chinese woman
The "dead" woman above, meant to show Japan's invasion of China, is an actor.
Germany re-arms secretly
Above and below, this issue used newspaper headlines to guide the narration.
Nazis Tear Up Versailles Treaty
 

This issue begins with a "news bulletin" explaining that British officials censored the reel in London. The gimmick shows how badly filmmakers wanted to drum up March of Time's reputation as a controversial and honest medium. According to the "newscasters" (1), observers say the reel was censored because they thought it unwise after the Munich Pact to show a movie that tells of further conquest. "These observers called attention to the fact that England is now embarked on a vigorous program of rearmament, and that March of Time's 'The British Dilemma' is an embarrassing reminder of the price England has paid for permitting the arms of aggressor nations to outmatch her own."

The film quickly cuts to soldiers marching over the title shot, then a montage shot of Nazi flags (2), planes, and people "heiling" the flyover. "Of all the warlords of history, none has ever advertised his plans for conquest so openly, so far in advance, as Adolf Hitler," the Voice of Time says. The film cuts to a shot of Mein Kampf (3), written 14 years ago. The book "forewarned every nation marked for destruction—Austria, Czechloslovakia, someday Russia and her border states, and then a final reckoning with his eternal enemy—France." In the original manuscript, enshrined in Munich (4), "the shrewd Austrian corporal named one great power that Germany must forever fear—a power she must at all costs keep either friendly or neutral. For this was the one nation whose armed might would destroy his ambitions....All strategy has been based on the premise that England would not fight."

The film shows re-enacted shots of the German Bureau of War Psychology, men poring over pictures to determine British reactions and figure out "just how far England could be pushed." An intertitle expands, "Late in 1938, the sudden reappearance of what Hitler hoped to avoid—Britain's temper of 1914—was puzzling to Nazi psychologists" (5, 6). The narrator says, "It has become, in recent times, the one nation in the world that has the least to gain—the most to lose—by war."

In the years after World War I, people and politicians united to support the League of Nations to promote peace, explains the narrator. In England's post-war nation, the movement for peace "became a determined stance against war." As an example the filmmakers offer an Oxford student resolution that students will not fight to save the king. "Startling resolutions were only extreme manifestations of England's increasing desire for peace." England also needs peace for its commercial and financial structure to hold together, and trade is crucial. The film offers a semi-ironic description of Britain as colonial power: "Sometimes weak or backward people who stood in the way of empire trade were annexed. And if empire rule brought uprisings, they were quickly subdued."

England's desire for peace required overlooking its neighbors' trespasses. Intertitle: "During the years England pursued peace by the avoidance of war at any cost, Adolf Hitler gained strength and opportunity." The end of World War I left England disillusioned and under the burden of heavy taxation, depression, and unemployment. As a result they became more dependent on trade. Despite having strong trade ties to China when the country was invaded in 1931, what followed was "a military adventure which brought the first and fatal breakdown of the League machinery the world had hoped would prevent war" (7). Japan resigned from the League and Italy headed toward Ethiopia. As the invasion began, 11 million Brits called on the nation to invoke League sanctions, to little effect. In 1936, Ethiopia became part of a new empire, and Germany's rearmament made newspaper headlines (8). Furthermore, two European dictatorships are giving aid to Franco's fascist rebellion in Spain.

 A quiet weekend
The English are "lounging" before Hitler Marches (below) and after on the beach as well (bottom).
Hitler Marches
British beach
Censored!

Intertitle: "Because England merely pleaded peace while China, Ethiopia and Spain were ravished, Hitler expected only British censure when he chose to try out his new war machine." The filmmakers' moxie kicks into overdrive as scenes shows the English lounging, seemingly in response to such transgressions. "When the first spring days come to England, its people begin the quiet weekends that are a summer-long tradition (10). [scene cuts to newspaper: HITLER MARCHES (11)] And it was on the first quiet weekend of 1938 that Adolf Hitler marched into Austria, completing the first of the conquests he had planned 14 years before. [Hitler on the move; shots shot of beach in England (12)] And it was on another weekend in late summer that word came to the people of England that Hitler was ready for the second of his promised conquests. Of all Hitler's adventures, none before this has brought war so close to England." The succession of cuts portrays England as asleep at the wheel, or on the beach as the scene shows.

The approaching invasion of Czechoslovakia appears to be the final straw for the people as the British Cabinet meets. "As in the days before the last great war, crowds gather in Downing Street, stunned and silent." The soundtrack plays "Pomp and Circumstance," as Brits prepare. "Overnight, the one nation Hitler does not want to fight is making ready for war." The scenes shift to English pilots gearing up for battle, gas masks (13), and ads to join the military. "And this time England's young men are faced not with debate, but with reality."

 Gas mask fitting
Britain's Dilemma: Will War Threat Stop Hitler?
The final newspaper uncoincidentally matches the film's title.
 

The film shows a dramatic turnaround for young English men who at one time would not die for their king. In a staged piece, a young man remarks, "All this diplomatic talk is getting us nowhere. The only conversations that Hitler will ever understand are conversations with guns." There are more signs that England is readying for war: all leave is canceled for the navy, British flags wave, indicating revived patriotism. The narrator says, "Once again an American ambassador must be cautious, for his nation is again determined to remain neutral." England's people pray for guidance "to carry them and their country through the uncertain days that lie ahead."

The film castigates England for its inaction and cheers the nation as it awakens to its new reality. It does not comment, however, on American inaction—neautrality is still quite alright.