Why We Fight is a series of seven documentary films commissioned by the United States government during World War II whose purpose was to show American soldiers the reason for U.S. involvement in the war. Later on they were also shown to the general U.S. public to persuade them to support American involvement in the war.
Most of the films were directed by Frank Capra, who was daunted yet also impressed and challenged by Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda film Triumph of the Will and who worked in direct response to it. The series faced a tough challenge: convincing an only recently non-interventionist nation of the need to become involved in the war and ally with the Soviets, among other things. In many of the films, Capra and other directors spliced in Axis powers propaganda footage going back twenty years, and recontextualized it so it promoted the cause of the Allies.
Why We Fight was edited primarily by William Hornbeck, although some parts were re-enacted "under War Department supervision" if there was no relevant footage available. The animated portions of the films were produced by the Disney studios â€“ with the animated maps following a convention of depicting Axis-occupied territory in black.
Prelude to War (1942) (51:35) (Academy award as Documentary Feature)
this examines the difference between democratic and fascist states, and covers the Japanese conquest of Manchuria and the Italian conquest of Ethiopia. Capra describes it as "presenting a general picture of two worlds; the slave and the free, and the rise of totalitarian militarism from Japan's conquest of Manchuria to Mussolini's conquest of Ethiopia."
The Nazis Strike (1943) (40:20)
Covers Nazi geopolitics and the conquest of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Capra's description: "Hitler rises. Imposes Nazi dictatorship on Germany. Goose-steps into Rhineland and Austria. Threatens war unless given Czechoslovakia. Appeasers oblige. Hitler invades Poland. Curtain rises on the tragedy of the century - World War II."
Divide and Conquer (1943) (56:00)
About the campaign in Benelux and the Fall of France. Capra's description: "Hitler occupies Denmark and Norway, outflanks Maginot Line, drives British Army into North Sea, forces surrender of France."
The Battle of Britain (1943) (51:30)
Depicts Britain's victory against the Luftwaffe. Capra's synopsis: "Showing the gallant and victorious defense of Britain by Royal Air Force, at a time when shattered but unbeaten British were only people fighting Nazis."
The Battle of Russia (1943) (76:07) Part I and Part II
Shows a history of Russian defense and Russia's battle against Germany. Capra's synopsis: "History of Russia; people, size, resources, wars. Death struggle against Nazi armies at gates of Moscow and Leningrad. At Stalingrad, Nazis put through meat grinder."
The Battle of China (1944) (62:16)
Shows Japanese aggression such as the Nanking Massacre and Chinese efforts such as the construction of the Burma Road and the Battle of Changsha. Capra's synopsis: "Japan's warlords commit total effort to conquest of China. Once conquered, Japan would use China's manpower for the conquest of all Asia."
War Comes to America (1945) (64:20)
Shows how the pattern of Axis aggression turned the American people against isolationism. Capra's synopsis: "Dealt with who, what, where, why, and how we came to be the U.S.A.â€”the oldest major democratic republic still living under its original constitution. But the heart of the film dealt with the depth and variety of emotions with which Americans reacted to the traumatic events in Europe and Asia. How our convictions slowly changed from total non-involvement to total commitment as we realized that loss of freedom anywhere increased the danger to our own freedom. This last film of the series was, and still is, one of the most graphic visual histories of the United States ever made."