to The History of American Film: Primary Sources
Senate Subcommittee Hearings on Motion Picture and Radio Propaganda,
before a U.S. Senate Subcommittee investigating whether, in the
period before the American entry into World War II, Hollywood
was inserting pro-war, pro-intervention messages in its films.
the outset, I should like to point out that no contention can
validly be raised that any investigation of propaganda in the
movies, amounts to censorship of freedom of speech or freedom
of the press. The fact is, and the law is, that the movies are
not part of the press of this country, and are not protected
by the first amendment to our Constitution....
I entertain no desire for moving-picture censorship....I do
hope, however, that the industry will largely recognize the
obligation it owes our country and its people....
Mr. Chairman, I am sure that you and members of your committee
are quite aware of the determined effort that has been put forth
to convey to the public that the investigation asked is the
result of a desire to serve the un-American, narrow cause of
I bitterly rest, Mr. Chairman, this effort to misrepresent our
purpose and to prejudice the public mind and your mind by dragging
this racial issue to the front. I will not consent to its being
used to cover the tracks of those who have been pushing our
country on the way to war with their propaganda intended to
inflame the American mind with hatred for one foreign cause
and magnified respect and glorification for another foreign
cause, until we shall come to feel that wars elsewhere in the
world are really after all our wars....
Those primarily responsible for the propaganda pictures are
born abroad. They came to our land and took citizenship here
entertaining violent animosities toward certain causes abroad.
Quite natural is their feeling and desire to aid those who are
at war against the causes which so naturally antagonize them.
If they lose sight of what some Americans might call the first
interests of America in times like these, I can excuse them.
But their prejudices by no means necessitate our closing our
eyes to these interests and refraining from any undertaking
to correct their error....
If the anti-Semitic issue is now raised for the moment, it is
raised by those of the Jewish faith...not by me, not by this
[Senator D. Worth Clark]
motion picture studios] declare that this [investigation] is
an attempt to restrain the right of the motion-picture screen
to present the problems of contemporary life without restraint
from the Government....
I am wiling and eager to meet these gentlemen on that ground.
There are a great many naive souls who think that speech is
free so long as political authority, particularly the Government,
does not shackle it. They overlook the fact that there can be
such a thing, particularly in our day, as the denial of speech
when one individual or small collection of individuals can band
together and get control of the instruments of speech and deny
them to everybody but themselves....
Today a hitherto unknown politician or newspaper columnist can
go on the radio and in one night talk to four, five, or ten
It comes down to this: That the man who owns that machine now
exercises over the freedom of discussion a power which no government
could ever exercise. To interfere with a man's speech the Government
has to pass oppressive laws, organize a ruthless constabulary,
must hound men and prosecute them and put them in jail and incur
the difficulties of opposition and the freedom of revolution.
But the man who owns the radio machine can cut off from discussion
those who disagree with him by the simple expedient of saying
"No." And who is this man? He is not a public official;
he is not elected to office; he is not an authorized public
censor; he is not chosen by the people. He is just a businessman
who by virtue of his acquisitive talents has gotten possession
of this little microphone.
Now, the same thing is true of the moving-picture machine, save
that the moving-picture machine is even more powerful than the
microphone. Any man or any group of men who can get control
of the screen can reach every week in this country an audience
of 80,000,000 people. If there is a great debate before the
Nation involving its economic life or even its liberties, no
man can get a syllable in the sound pictures save by the grace
of the men who control the sound pictures. And I here formally
and deliberately charge that a handful of men have gotten possession
of both the radio microphone and the moving-picture screen,
beside which all other forms of discussion are antique and feeble,
and that men and women in America discussing the great problems
of America can use these machines or not only by the grace of
this small oligarchy....
There are 17,000 moving-picture theaters in the United States.
They do not belong to a handful of men, of course, but the pictures
that appear on the screens of those theaters are produced by
a handful of men and that handful of men can open or close those
17,000 theaters to ideas at their sweet will. They hold the
power of life and death over those motion pictures houses because
by their block-booking system, blind-selling system, and other
devices they can close almost any house that they please on
any day and at any time.
At the present time they have opened those 17,000 theaters to
the idea of war, to the glorification of war, to the glorification
of England's imperialism, to the hatred of the people of Germany
and now of France, to the hatred of those in America who disagree
with them. Does anyone see a pictorial representation of life
in Russia under "Bloody Joe" Stalin? They do not.
In other words, they are turning these 17,000 theaters into
17,000 theaters into 17,000 dialy and nightly mass meetings
Dozens of pictures, great features costing--some of them hundreds
of thousands of dollars, some of them millions of dollars--are
used to infect the minds of their audiences with hatred, to
inflame them, to arouse their emotions, and make them clamor
for war. And not one word on the side of the argument against
war is heard....Unless they are restrained, unless the people
of this country are warned about them, they will plunge the
country into war....
[Harry M. Warner, President of Warner Bros. Pictures,
charges against my company are myself are untrue....
I am opposed to nazi-ism. I abhor and detest every principle
and practice of the Nazi movement. To me, nazi-ism typifies
the very opposite of the kind of life every decent man, woman,
and child wants to live. I believe nazi-ism is a world revolution
whose ultimate objective is to destroy our democracy, wipe out
all religion, and enslave our people--just as Germany has destroyed
and enslaved Poland, Belgium, Holland, France, and all the other
countries. I am ready to give myself and all my personal resources
to aid in the defeat of the Nazi menace to the American people....
Shortly after Hitler came to power in Germany I became convinced
that Hitlerism was an evil force designed to destroy free people,
whether they were Catholics, Protestants, or Jews. I claim no
credit as a prophet. Many appraised the Nazis in their true
role, from the very day of Hitler's rise to power.
I have always been in accord with President Roosevelt's foreign
policy. In September 1939, when the Second World War began,
I believed, and I believe today, that the world struggle for
freedom was in its final stage. I said publicly then, and I
say today, that the freedom which this country fought England
to obtain, we may have to fight with England to retain.
I am unequivocally in favor of giving England and her allies
all supplies which our country can spare. I also support the
President's doctrine of freedom of the seas, as recently explained
to the public by him.
Frankly, I am not certain whether or not this country should
enter the war in its own defense at the present time. The President
knows the world situation and our country's problems better
than any other man. I would follow his recommendation concerning
a declaration of war.
If Hitler should be the victor abroad, the United States would
be faced with a Nazi-dominated world. I believe--and I am sure
that the subcommittee shares my feeling--that this would be
a catastrophe for our country. I want to avoid such a catastrophe,
as I know you do.
I have given my views to you frankly and honestly. They reduce
themselves to my previous statement: I am opposed to nazi-ism.
I abhor and detest every principle and practice of the Nazi
movement. I am not alone in feeling this. I am sure that the
overwhelming majority of our people and our Congress share the
While I am opposed to nazi-ism, I deny that the pictures produced
by my company are "propaganda," as has been alleged.
Senator Nye has said that our picture Sergeant York is designed
to create war hysteria. Senator Clark has added Confessions
of a Nazi Spy to the isolationist blacklist. John T. Flynn,
in turn, has added Underground. These witnesses have not seen
these pictures, so I cannot imagine how they can judge them.
On the other hand, millions of average citizens have paid to
see these pictures. They have enjoyed wide popularity and have
been profitable to our company. In short, these pictures have
been judged by the public and the judgment has been favorable.
Sergeant York is a factual portrait of the life of one of the
great heroes of the last war. If that is propaganda, we plead
guilty. Confessions of a Nazi Spy is a factual portrayal of
a Nazi spy ring that actually operated in New York City. If
that is propaganda, we plead guilty.
So it is with each of our pictures dealing with the world situation
or with the national defense. These pictures are prepared on
the basis of factual happenings and they were not twisted to
serve any ulterior purpose.
In truth, the only sin of which Warner Bros. is guilty is that
of accurately recording on the screen the world as it is or
as it has been. Unfortunately, we cannot change the facts in
the world today....
I have no apology to make to the committee for the fact that
for many years Warner Bros. has been attempting to record history
in the making. We discovered early in our career that our patrons
wanted to see accurate stories ofthe world in which they lived.
I know that I have shown to the satisfaction of the impartial
observer that War Bros., long before there was a Nazi Germany,
had been making pictures on topical subjects. It was only natural,
therefore, with the new political movement, however horrible
it may be, that we should make some pictures concerning the
Nazis. it was equally logical that we should produce motion
pictures concerning national defense....
If Warner Bros. had produced no pictures concerning the Nazi
movement, out public would have had good reason to criticize.
We would have been living in a dream world. Today 70 percent
of the nonfiction books published deal with the Nazi menace.
Today 10 percent of the fiction novels are anti Nazi in theme.
Today 10 percent of all material submitted to us for consideration
is anti Nazi in character. Today the newspapers and radio devote
a good portion of their facilities to describing nazi ism. Today
there is a war involving all hemispheres except our own and
touching the lives of all of us....