The Politically Incorrect Truths Old Movies Teach About America and Racism
I’ve seen this kind of approach in loads of films from the 1930s and 1940s. One of the most remarkable is The Human Comedy, based on a story by the marvelous Armenian-American writer, William Saroyan. Rooney is a telegraph company messenger boy in a small town (based on Fresno, California) who feels he is missing out on all the excitement of World War II, where his brother has gone off to fight.
There’s an amazing scene when the telegraph office’s manager is driving his girlfriend past a succession of ethnic holiday picnics and makes a speech extolling ethnic diversity in America. In the film’s most moving scene, the Rooney character delivers a telegram to a poor Mexican-American woman about her son’s being killed in the war.
In Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, (1944) about the first U.S. air attack on Tokyo after Pearl Harbor, one of the airman gives a speech about how the Japanese he knew in California were nice people. I’ve seen such statements made in other wartime films.
And the Chinese people, who helped save the lives of the crashed fliers, are shown as heroic. There were many other films with a pro-Chinese theme. Sometimes it is mentioned nowadays that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor partly in response to a U.S. oil embargo on Japan, a fact presented as if it indicates that Tokyo was thus acting defensively against U.S. bullying and imperialism. What is never mentioned is that the embargo was a humanitarian gesture to protest and weaken Japanese aggression in China, operations involving mass murder of Chinese on a scale surpassed only by the Nazi genocide in Europe.
Now it might be pointed out that Thirty Seconds over Tokyo was largely written by the pro-Communist Dalton Trumbo, who later turned against the far left. But the film’s director Mervyn LeRoy was well-known as very conservative just like the director of Stagecoach, John Ford. And both of these directors were personal friends of John Wayne to boot.