Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Peggy Terry: The Good War

Peggy Terry reflects on her life as a young wife, of eighteen years old, working in a shell-loading plant in Kentucky during wartime. She admits that she was ignorant to the deadly cost of war, as well as to the hazards and injustice of working in the factory. She appears remorseful when she speaks of this time because she recalls that she never for one moment connected that fact that she was helping to build bombs, bombs that were meant to kill people! She defended her ignorance by saying, "we were just happy to have work" in order to pay the bills and put food on the table.

Terry explains that during this time, she "vaguely" knew that there was a war. In her little part of the world, she just felt lucky enough to find work after suffering through the Depression. As she reflects on these days, she laughs at the fact that between her, her mother, and her sister, they only brought home thirty-two dollars a week.

As the war lingered on, Terry speaks of the propaganda that was used to get America on board to support the war. People were led to believe that if they did not support the war they were traitors or not true Americans.

The hours in the factories were long and the conditions were poor. There were no unions or job security to protect the employees. The workers would come out of the factory covered with and orange film that dyed their hair and skin. Unaware of any hazards from this orange substance, they were more concerned that someone might think that they intentionally dyed their hair . The toxic substance was actually tetryl, the ingredient to make the explosive.

Although Peggy Terry was oblivious what was happening outside the boarders of the United States, she was not the only one. Because of the war there were many war-jobs that enabled families to buy the items that they could only have dreamed about during the Depression.

" I remember a woman saying on the bus that she hoped the war didn't end until she got her refrigerator paid for"

Comments like these were spoken by some people, probably the people that were suffering for so long without the basic necessities, that they were unaware of what they were actually saying. I doubt that if they had more information about the death and destruction from the war, they would not have uttered statements like this one.

Peggy Terry finally realized the cruel affects that the war had when her husband came back from the war zone. He became a drunk that was abusive to her and their children. He had awful nightmares and became very jumpy at any loud or sudden noise. The war, she originally thought, was a chance for prosperity after a long period of poverty because of the Depression. However, she came to understand that it had inflicted everlasting anxiety on her husband that took away his gentle disposition and replaced it with a sadness and anger that changed their lives forever.

Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935)

Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" is often described as the  most famous propaganda film of all time.  Most historians agree that 'Hitler's favorite film director' did create one of the greatest works of cinematographic propaganda of the 20th century.   Riefenstahl did not agree; in a 1964 interview she argued that the film was a documentary:
"If you see this film again today you ascertain that it doesn't contain a single  reconstructed scene. Everything in it is true. And it contains no tendentious commentary at all. It is history. A pure historical film... it is film-vérité. It reflects the truth that was then in 1934, history. It is therefore a documentary. Not a propaganda film. Oh! I know very well what propaganda is. That consists of recreating events in order to illustrate a thesis, or, in the face of certain events, to let one thing go in order to accentuate another. I found myself, me, at the heart of an event which was the reality of a certain time and a certain place. My film is composed of what stemmed from that."

Despite her protestations,  this film is an important historical document of Nazi propaganda and it deserves to be viewed critically by students seeking to understand the nature of Nazi ideology in the years leading to the Second World War.   For a great discussion of Leni Riefenstahl read Susan Sontag's "Fascinating Fascism" (from Under the Sign of Saturn, 1980.)