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
 war planes

Chinese Resistance

DECEMBER 31, 1936: Church bombed in Spain Play audio

War's horrors are powerfully re-enacted in this segment that has an underlying message about foreign involvement in the Spanish Civil War. This dramatization begins with the midnight Christmas Mass at a church in Madrid, where worshippers are offered a message of "peace on earth" in the "church's indefilable refuge from violence on Christmas Eve." The Voice of Time is suddenly interrupted by the loud, chilling buzzing of a plane. The plane's pilots discuss releasing their bomb, which is marked with the symbol of Germany. The narrator emphasizes that the war is fought with foreign armies, foreign planes, and foreign bombs like this one—missiles which have killed more than 500,000 Spaniards. The bomb is hurtling toward the church—an explosion sounds. Sad music signals the transition to the Pope's speech from his bed about the Spanish Civil War; "there still rages, with all its horror and hatred, of carnage and destruction, a civil war in Spain."

"Rehearsal for War," August 6, 1937 Play movie

 Rehearsal for War
(1) The gas mask sets the stage for the fears about war that plague the film while (2) a fleet of fascist tanks also inspire fear and the need to prepare.
fleet of tanks
German hordes
(3) Hordes of Germans salute Hitler, suggesting that although the countries may not have cash, they have very loyal citizens and (4) American officials meet to examine Spain's strategy, giving the sense that something is being done in America. (5) General Franco, center
American officials meet about war
General Franco
planes fly over Spain
(6) Planes above Spain conduct a bombing raid (7), in which the footage is real. The long shot of citizens scattering to avoid the bombs also includes a close-up shot (8) of Spaniards fleeing the scene
Spaniards flee bombs
Spaniards flee bombs
war college analysis
(9) American military leaders analyze Spain's situation at the Army War College in Washington

As the title suggests, the Spanish Civil War offers a "rehearsal" for another major war that may yet come. During the segment, American military leaders examine the strategies being used in a war secretly (or not so secretly) supported by fascist nations Italy and Germany. Filmmakers set the tone for the film by using an image of a gas mask under the title (1).

"To average citizens, the year-old war in Spain is significant as a phase in the struggle between fascism, communism and democracy. To military leaders, it has added significance." The American military looks at the weapons used. "They must evaluate untried strategy and above all foresee with reasonable accuracy the outbreak of war anywhere on earth." They believe the next war will be provoked by Italy or Germany. "For these are the have-not powers, most desperate for land and resources, the only great European nations that stand to gain by war." They want room to expand and a larger share of the world's wealth. They are also notably sinking lots of money into arming. Their methods include attacks that strike like lightning and swiftly shatter the enemy. "Only by such a war of quick annihilation can these fascist nations, whose cash and resources are small, hope to conquer," the narrator reassures.

American experts are watching Spain (4), where the theory of war by quick annihilation is having its first trial. (This "theory of war" is also discussed by the radio show on March 31, 1938)

Intertitle: "Pieced together, military reports from Spain form a significant record—a preview of wars to come." Franco's fascist rebellion is "of major concern" to every nation in Europe, and many nations have gotten involved. Italy saw that by allying with Franco (5), she could tighten her grip on the Mediterranean and the British empire's lifeline to India; Germany could get raw materials from Spanish mines, and hem France in along her southern border; Russia would have in a leftist (Loyalist) Spain a bulwark against fascism. Supported by Italy and Germany, Franco adopts "fascist strategies and tactics." Fascist enthusiasm swelled among the Spanish. But as he bombs Madrid (6-8)—which should in theory have demoralized citizens—the outraged populace rushed to volunteer for the government. "Loyalists' morale ran high when from friendly Russia came vital weapons for defense. Soviet armaments as effective as any from Italy or Germany.

"And as Madrid built up a solid seasoned army, Franco found his theory breaking down, his advance stopped, and a long costly war on his hands."

Intertitle: "Today, as Spain enters its second year of war, military men are drawing significant conclusions." At the Army war college in Washington (9), Spanish war records "form the basis on which to build national defense against future wars."

"But what future wars will mean for the war-frightened public, is first set down by Major Ernest Dupuis and one-time intelligence officer George Eliott (10)." They forecast conditions of the next great war in their book: If War Comes (11). The pair dispute the idea that planes will wipe out whole cities, and say that antiaircraft defenses have kept pace with the speed and accuracy of bombers (12). New and deadly anti-tank guns can defend against tanks, and they dispel the myth of new secret gases and death rays (13). [Shows image of gas-masked fighters.] "And to support their claims that the offensive war of quick annihilation is impossible again adequate defense—they point to Spain, where after more than a year behind belated and improvised defenses, whole Loyalist armies are still unconquered." This final portion of the film seeks to reassure Americans that they can survive if drawn into war, given an adequate defense; it seems possible that the film convinced some that the United States needed to beef up its military.

Authors Dupuis and Elliott If War Comes

(10) Two analysts write their own book of predictions about the next war. Despite the marketing image for the book presented in 11, If War Comes claims that no new gases or death rays have been invented (as dramatized by "mad scientists" in (13)); they also suggest that anti-aircraft fire (12) will stymy aerial bombing raids.


anti-aircraft fire Gas masked men

October 21, 1937: German Bodies Play audio

This segment offered a gothic tale that also managed to indict Germany for secret interference in Spain's Civil War, in which The March of Time repeatedly accused Germany and Italy of fueling fascism to detrimental effect. The story tells a tale of cargo mysterious even to the Germans sailors on the ship—boxes 8 feet square. During the sea voyage home, men try to peek inside the boxes, but what they are holding becomes apparent when vultures appear on the scene. A doctor complains to an official that "we need ice." At last they make the port of Bremen, but no one wants the job of unloading the cargo. One seaman explains, "I was in a war, lots of us were. And we all know what that smell means." Their commander tells them they should be proud—"they died for the Fatherland."

December 30, 1937: Pope Blesses Rebellion Play audio

The Pope declares his "complete sympathy" for Franco's revolt against the Madrid government—"to his cause we extend our most fervent blessing." This is the "reluctant" choice of the Pope, the Voice of Time explains, in a Civil War splitting Catholic Spain. The war is made memorable by the march of 150,000 refugees over 100 miles from Malaga to Almeria. They are bombed from the air. "There is no food; the water along the way is fouled by men and animals," the Voice of Time mournfully notes. The sick, wounded, and starved stumble on the road for five days. A child exclaims over a bombing behind the line, but his mother says "don't look back" at the bombed line. They reach the seaport only to be bombed again.

The March of Time recognized the Spanish Civil War as a humanitarian crisis; and made Spain's victims completely sympathetic while more or less ignoring the aims of the rebellion. The Pope seems to be out of touch with what's really going on in contrast, and perhaps in cahoots with his homeland.

DECEMBER 30, 1937: Archbishop pleads for Peace Play audio

This segment closes the 1937 year-in-review show by referring to the war in Spain. In London's Lambert Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury completes a special year-end service: "Help us, oh lord, for we are sick with the appalling slaughter, suffering, and misery of war, which in this year has cast a shadow across the face of all the earth." He asks God to "retore us to peace, to justice, and to thy grace."

February 3, 1938: British ship sunk off Spain Play audio

Britain is burned by the Spanish Civil War in this segment, which shows the increasing difficulty of avoiding being drawn into an international conflict. The vessel Endymion is bound for the loyalist naval base, Cartagena. The show includes a dramatic re-enactment of what happens when a torpedo strikes the freighter: "Man the life boats! Abandon ship!" the captain shouts. The next day in London in the British foreign office the story is relayed to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, who promptly contacts the French Embassy. [Furtive music plays.] Of the 15 civilians and crew on board, only four crew members survived. Through a re-enactment of a House of Parliament session, it is revealed that the submarine that sank the freighter was Italian, and that Endymion's captain was not on the recommended course. The official explains that three British destroyers are in the vicinity of the attack and more are en route from Gibraltar, with orders to sink submarines of any nationality. The narrator explains that it's the first British vessel torpedoed since a September anti-piracy agreement. Franco explains that on all ships carrying supplies to loyalists, he will begin "unrestricted warfare."

March 24, 1938: Bombs hit Civilian Barcelona Play audio

This segment offers graphic, emotional re-enactments of the effects of civilian bombing in Barcelona. In one scene, a mother recounts returning with her child, Juan, from a shopping trip. He stopped at a store window; she called him to her, but "my Juanito just disappeared before my eyes." The narrator explains that it is a story told a thousand times this year in Spain and China. The bombing is "more than an instrument of destruction"—the woman and her son are "human guinea pigs" to test a theory of war that the victor of the next world war will be those that strike first at enemy civilians. The best way to unnerve people is through aerial bombing raids, theorists predict. [Sounds of bombs whistling to the ground play.]

A reporter recounts a bomb striking 50 yards from a bus; the driver is blown from his seat by the concussion, "his dismembered hands still gripped the wheel. Passengers just sat there, staring, for 10 minutes." [Bombs whistle]. "They pick up the injured first, load them into ambulances. Then they tag the whole corpses, and dump the dismembered parts into trucks. In one place they were working for an hour. Finally called up the fire department and just hosed up the street." A New York Times reporter (played by an actor, presumably) explains, "it's not pleasant to see thousands of people weakened. It's not pleasant to see 200 men, women, and children wiped out in a quarter of a second and think, 'Next time it'll be me.' If the purpose of the bombing is to crush the morale of Barcelona, it is entirely successful."

The show segues to Austria, where Jews are persecuted as Nazis take over.

March 31, 1938: SPANISH LOYALISTS Play audio

The Spanish Civil War threatens to explode and draw in all of Europe as Franco's forces drive across Spain to attack Barcelona. The Pope appeals to Franco to desist from bombing civilians, and moderate as much as possible the horrors of war. Franco explains that he is touched by the pleadings of the Holy Father, but it is necessary to bomb when other options aren't possible. [Ominous music, sounds of planes flying. The "Over There" trumpet lick plays once above the music.] The Voice of Time calls the Spanish revolt the mightiest offensive since World War I. German tanks, Italian-armored trucks, and German heavy artillery combine to form "a crushing juggernaut that blasts its way through every Loyalist defense" on to the seaport of Barcelona.

The Loyalists are desperate, but brave. The scene changes as a man pounds on the door of a family at night. He drafts a 16-year-old boy; the age limit has been lowered. His mom protests,"but he is only a child." The soldier responds, "We need the men, Senora." Loyalist headquarters learn they must evacuate within an hour. Word comes that 50 French planes are on their way to Barcelona. Orders are given to hold the evacuation—but the planes can only protect Barcelona from air raids —that's their orders. Clearly disappointed, the Loyalist leader says to continue with the evacuation. The Defense Minister tells workers at a Barcelona power plant that they must be prepared to leave the plant and get into the trenches on 24-hour notice. One man says, "I speak for all the men. I don't think we need 24-hours notice." But the plant must be going for as long as possible to maintain power to the city. At week's end, Franco pauses 40 miles from Barcelona. The March of Time airs a montage of the latest news from Spain as reports audibly overlap each other: supplies are on the way to Loyalists; French planes in Spain shot down four German and Italian bombers; munitions crossed the border into Spain to help Loyalists halt the Franco offensive. In Italy, Il Duce speaks: "Our volunteers in Spain must be victorious!" Italy is ready for war by land, sea, and air. "We can mobilize 9 million men overnight... People of Italy, we may sleep with peaceful dreams, for Italy is ready!" The threat of the Spanish War turning into a continental war is apparent. The rapid-fire delivery of events creates the feeling of an inevitable careening out of control.