The Problem Now is Future Peace: That is Your Job in Germany
World War II was waged also on screen. Abundant propaganda was filmed on all sides and covered an astonishing range of issues: direct political indoctrination, rules for combat, effective armaments production, cooking with rations and so on. Nor did American production of these short ‘educationals’ by any means cease after the war; rather, it was used to modernize society. Films that praised the benefits of democracy and condemned communism appeared alongside films on road safety, on how to modernize ones kitchen (1), and how to behave in a group or on a first date: in brief, they covered the Dos and Don’ts of the American way of life (2). In Germany, Americans in particular worried about how to turn Germans brainwashed for 12 years by NS propaganda into decent democrats – the effects of propaganda tended at the time to be overestimated. German directors were therefore commissioned to produce – under Allied control – hundreds of re-education films, most of which aimed to impart the democratic values of American role models. The Marshall Plan was later to complement these with a wave of films made all over western Europe. This laid an essential and very successful foundation for Americanisation of the Old World (3).
During their Atlantic passage to Europe, American soldiers were shown Your Job in Germany. This combination of harmless pictures of home life and an extremely aggressive commentary came close to resembling NS propaganda: “Every German is a potential source of trouble. Therefore there must be no fraternisation with any of the German people. Fraternisation means making friends. The German people are not our friends. You will not associate with German men, women or children”. Yet the film apparently made little impression on GIs: Americans were generally held to be the friendliest of the four occupying powers.
By contrast, S. O.S Cleaning Pads, an early parody of TV ads, pokes harmless fun at Teutonic culture: after taking the stage with an obligatory “Achtung!” Hilda and her husband argue about their as yet unwashed dishes, which culminates in an a capella, gender-bend rendition of Wagnerian opera.
Marschieren, marschieren develops a somewhat strange thesis about nomadic Germanic tribes who supposedly later, as Prussians, invented marching, then touches on the misery of this military mode of motion – “To march has only ever brought us bad luck!” – before returning to the opening notion, “[But we] Germans do like to go hiking”. Once the film has established that hiking “has a completely different rhythm”, the public is sent home with this friendly advice: “When you leave the cinema today, please do not march. Walk or amble or, if you are in a hurry, walk quickly or run”. The warning proved useless: seven years later East and West Germanys’ new armies were again on the march.
Not only GIs got around the ban on fraternisation; the official line also quickly switched from “administering the enemy” to “friendship between nations”. Der unsichtbare Stacheldraht bemoans Germans’ prejudiced view of Americans. Based on the Jones and Schulz families’ respective problems with (German) celeriac root and (American) celery sticks, this re-education film portrays a typically jolly attempt at conflict resolution, before counting up American good deeds such as the Berlin Airlift and the Marshall Plan.
Half a century on, a quite different form of education: two kids spare no effort in order to get home with their new computer, on which they begin a non-stop session of the American Forces’ official recruitment game, America’s Army: “Good morning soldier. Today is the M16 training day”. Bored at some point after all, they switch to the motor-racing game, The Need for Speed. Yet this quiet, precise documentary avoids the cliché of ‘media-controlled youth’. At the end of the film we see one of the brothers meditatively playing guitar.
Colosseoloop is a found-footage production centred on the famous amphitheatre, a symbol of the barbarity of imperial power. An American unit in the 1950s, successors to Ancient Hegemon are hunting “Something” – a phantom – in the ruins of Old Europe: something one never actually gets to see. This is hence, a topical parable about the war on terror and its phantom figure, Bin Laden. The title reflects the infinity of the senseless hunt.
(1) See Jede Frau kann zaubern in the American Beauties programme
(2) Thanks to the Public Domain laws, films commissioned by the American government are available to everyone, without charge. Richard Prelinger has put about 2000 of them online: www. archive.org
(3) An extremely good-value English/German DVD edition featuring 23 films: Selling Democracy. The Films of the Marshall Plan: www. sellingdemocracy.org