World War II from the perspective of American Musical Theatre
In September 1939, Nazi Germany attacked Poland, which quickly progressed into World War II. Originally, the United States decided to remain neutral, until the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. At this point, the United States declared war on Japan, and in turn, Germany declared war on the United States, causing War World II to quickly grasp the nation in its claws.
Assuming the citation (George Q. Flynn, The Draft, 1940–1973) is correct, 50 million men from 18 to 45 were registered for the World War II draft. The Selective Service statistics page gives the total inductions during WWII as 10,110,104, which would make the percentage around 20% were drafted based on registration. World War II was fought over differences left unresolved after World War I. Over 400,000 Americans perished in the four years of involvement in the war, an American death rate second only to the Civil War. Twelve million victims perished from Nazi atrocities in the Holocaust. Overall it was a dreadful period of history.
Through this generation came a change in the American Musical Theatre. Listed below are just a few examples:
“This Is The Army”
by Irving Berlin
This Is the Army is a 1942 American wartime stage musical written by Irving Berlin, designed to boost morale in the U.S. during World War II. There is also a 1943 screenplay by Casey Robinson and Claude Binyon was based on the musical by Irving Berlin, who also composed the film’s 19 songs and broke screen protocol by singing one of them. The movie features a large ensemble cast, including George Murphy, Joan Leslie, Alan Hale, Sr., Rosemary DeCamp, and Ronald Reagan, while both the stage play and film included soldiers of the U.S. Army who were actors and performers in civilian life.
In World War I song-and-dance man named Jerry Jones is drafted into the US Army, where he stages a revue called Yip Yip Yaphank. It is a great success, but one night during the show orders are received to leave immediately for France: instead of the finale, the troops march up the aisles through the audience, out the theater’s main entrance and into a convoy of waiting trucks. Among the teary, last minute goodbyes, Jones kisses his newlywed bride Ethel farewell.
In the trenches of France, several of the soldiers in the production are killed or wounded by shrapnel from a German artillery barrage. Jones is wounded in the leg and must walk with a cane, ending his career as a dancer. Nevertheless, he is resolved to find something useful to do, especially now that he is the father of a son. Sgt. McGee and Pvt. Eddie Dibble, the troop bugler, also survive.
Twenty-five years later World War II is raging in Europe. Jerry’s son Johnny enlists in the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor. He tells his sweetheart Eileen Dibble that they cannot marry until he returns, since he doesn’t want to make her a widow.
Johnny reluctantly accepts an order to stage another musical, following in his father’s footsteps. The show goes on tour throughout the United States and eventually plays Washington, D.C., in front of President Roosevelt. During the show it is announced that this is the last performance: the soldiers in the production have been ordered back to their combat units.
Eileen, who has joined the Red Cross auxiliary, appears backstage. During a break in the show she brings a minister and convinces Johnny that they should marry now – which they do, in the alley behind the theater, with their fathers acting as witnesses.
This musical and movie came out at a time of great struggle in regards to the US army. As the Great Depression finally comes to an end, and the effects of World War II start to fill the United States. This idea is also reflected in American Musical Theatre through “This Is The Army,” as America’s way of swaying and promoting their views about the war. Personally, I feel as though the plot glorifies both World Wars, and tries to appeal to the American patriotic spirit in its society, rather than undercover the blatant truth that was actually occurring in the world today. Through song and dance, this production could have played a strong role in affecting (or brainwashing) the views of America’s in regards to the wars.