"A World at War" is propaganda of a new type. It is the American government's first sortie into the realm of war documentary films, and the result is thirty minutes of piercing, arousing insight into the international degeneracy that was the thirties, and into the trends behind the events that led to Pearl Harbor.
As such, the film must be new and different. For in its analysis of world happenings of the decade of preparation, no one is spared. Grinning Japanese soldiers overrunning Manchuria are no more repelling than a grinning Prime Minister, returning to England after signing away the life of a nation. The German flag over Vienna looks no worse than the signatures of a British and French leader on a Munich pact.
Thus "A World at War" is a lesson in historical perspective. Unlike propaganda films of the past, belligerent peoples can now see their own leaders made the inadequate statesmen that history will inevitably make them. They can also see the mistakes of the last ten years in a manner so clear and startling that even the most isolationist of the movie public will be forced to stop, watch and reconsider.
The leading roles in the film are played by Hitler, Mussolini, the Japanese Army, and a series of statesmen ranging from an apologizing Tokyo of 1931 to an aroused Roosevelt of December 8, 1941. The scenes, all newsreel shot, tell a vivid story. In logical, almost childish simplicity, they recount the tale of Axis aggression, beginning with the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, ending with the American entrance into the war. At the same time, Allied weakness is traced through the stages of appeasement diplomacy down to the critical period of woeful unpreparedness.
At the end, the moviegoer is left with the unavoidable conclusion that the war is, in reality, over ten years old--that the conditions that existed after 1931 and prior to the actual outbreak of war are impossible in the peaceful modus vivendi. And a recognition of that, the Office of War Information feels, is insurance against a repetition of the selfsame conditions, and the Munichs and defeats that must follow.
The OWI has created a new organ of public enlightenment. Taking a leaf from, Goebbel's book, the men in Washington have climinated the bombast and the lies and have added accuracy, perception and historical depth. And, the resulting dose, of history is simple enough for the average attendant, Lone Ranger and Mickey Mouse not-withstanding, to savor, devour and digest.