A 10-Film Introduction to America’s Turn-of-the-Century ‘Small Wars’
Check out the previous installments in James Jay Carafano's ongoing series exploring war films: The 10 Best Movies to Watch to Understand the Cold War, 10 War Movies Guaranteed to Make You Cry, America’s First Wars in 10 Movies, 10 Movies For Understanding the Civil War.
“Is America a weakling, to shrink from the work of the great world powers?”
Having asked the question, Teddy Roosevelt proceeded to answer it: “No! The young giant of the West stands on a continent and clasps the crest of an ocean in either hand. Our nation, glorious in youth and strength, looks into the future with eager eyes and rejoices as a strong man to run a race.”
Teddy was chomping at the bit for America to go out into the world. But not everyone was “bully” about it. Between the Civil War and World War II, the U.S. had been involved in more than a few scraps. Often called “small wars,” few Americans were itching for bigger ones.
Hollywood hasn’t paid much attention to the Small Wars Era, a largely forgotten part of American military history. Finding 10 films was tough. Still, there is a cinematic and martial legacy worth noting.
10. The Wild West
Not all of America’s small wars occurred overseas. The U.S. military spent a good deal of its days after the Civil War conducting constabulary duties in the western territories. As military historian Andrew Birtle notes, “The Army has spent the majority of its time not on the conventional battlefield.”
Perhaps the most iconic movie of the “Indian Wars” period is Fort Apache (1947). This John Ford film stars John Wayne and Henry Fonda in a fictional story that borrows from historical events, including the Fetterman Massacre (1866) and Custer’s Last Stand (1876). An American classic, this film should not be missed.