September 1, 2011
FOREIGN AFFAIRS September/October 2011
Bing West is the author, most recently, of The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan . He is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs and a former combat infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps.
In the decade after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, U.S. movie studios released more than 200 war movies. During World War II, 65 percent of Americans saw at least one movie a week. Theaters showed newsreels with patriotic music prior to the feature film, delivering both information and entertainment to the American public to boost the collective commitment to winning the war.
In the 1960s, weekly movie attendance fell to less than ten percent of the population; television became Americans’ principal entertainment medium, as well as their window onto the war in Vietnam. And as the war escalated, so did the negative tone of the nightly broadcasts: this was the era of network television news that stressed, “If it bleeds, it leads,” an attitude that, in contrast to the movies of the 1940s, helped erode public morale.