WORLD WAR II AND U.S. CINEMA: RACE, NATION, AND REMEMBRANCE IN POSTWAR FILM, 1945-1978
Chester, Robert Keith
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation interrogates the meanings retrospectively imposed upon World War II in U.S. motion pictures released between 1945 and the mid-1970s. Focusing on combat films and images of veterans in postwar settings, I trace representations of World War II between war's end and the War in Vietnam, charting two distinct yet overlapping trajectories pivotal to the construction of U.S. identity in postwar cinema. The first is the connotations attached to U.S. ethnoracial relations - the presence and absence of a multiethnic, sometimes multiracial soldiery set against the hegemony of U.S. whiteness - in depictions of the war and its aftermath. The second is Hollywood's representation (and erasure) of the contributions of the wartime Allies and the ways in which such images engaged with and negotiated postwar international relations. Contrary to notions of a "good war" untainted by ambiguity or dissent, I argue that World War II gave rise to a conflicted cluster of postwar meanings. At times, notably in the early postwar period, the war served as a progressive summons to racial reform. At other times, the war was inscribed as a historical moment in which U.S. racism was either nonexistent or was laid permanently to rest. In regard to the Allies, I locate a Hollywood dialectic between internationalist and unilateralist remembrances. On one hand, narratives of the U.S. as the dominant wartime power affirmed the nation's benevolence and might, attesting to the United States' right to dictate the terms of postwar international politics. On the other, progressive filmmakers used images of the Allies to challenge postwar U.S.-centrism and bemoan the Cold War nation's military and economic mismanagement of international relations. Emphasizing the contested character of the war's cinematic image, the dissertation recuperates a tradition of dissent, complicating our understanding of World War II remembrance and postwar Hollywood history. The project also considers the relationship between the Department of Defense (DoD) Pictorial Division - the military's liaison with Hollywood - and the film industry. Drawing on DoD records, I show how the postwar state influenced representations of racial diversity, and how the military shaped images of the U.S. in interaction with its wartime Allies.