Two famous brothers were once accused of "warmongering " by a senate subcommittee. Who were they?
No, they were not George and Jeb Bush. They were Harry and Jack Warner, the founders of Warner Brothers studios. The similarities between the two incidences are worth noting. Both in the America of the 1930’s and early 1940’s and the America of the 1990’s and early 21st fifth columnists worked to change American foreign policy. Yet, it was little noticed by the media and government.
In 1939, just months before Hitler invaded Poland and World War II began, Warner Brothers released a film called "Confessions of a Nazi Spy,” starring Edward G. Robinson as an FBI director investigating a Nazi spy ring. This movie was a fictitious account of a real spy investigation and trial that occurred in 1937. The movie became a clarion call to many Americans of the Nazi threat to the United States.
“Confessions of a Nazi Spy” was controversial during production. People involved in making the movie received anonymous threats. After the movie was shown in theaters, it ignited such a firestorm that in 1941, after complaints by special interest groups (i.e. isolationists, Nazi sympathizers and those with German business interests), the Warners were subpoenaed to testify before a Senate hearing. Ironically, the Senate convened the hearing in October 1941, to investigate " war mongering propaganda" by the motion picture industry.
The parallels between the Warner brothers being accused of warmongering are eerily similar to those who today accuse President Bush of warmongering or who want him impeached. The allegations made against the Warners dovetails well with the accusations by liberal politicians, the mainstream media, Hollywood liberals such as Tim Robbins, and activist groups like Peace Action. Their specious claims of warmongering, propagandizing, and censorship by the Baseball Hall of Fame, Fox News Channel, and Clear Channel Communications is nearly interchangeable with those who sought to persecute the Warners 60 years ago.
There are other parallels as well between the efforts of President Bush to make the world aware of the dangers of Saddam Hussein, and the efforts of Harry and Jack Warner to make America aware of the dangers of Hitler. Both efforts reveal the quality of leadership of the principals involved. Like President Bush, the Warner brothers did not let their critics determine what they did.
Just as President Bush could empathize with the situation in Iraq because of the travails of his father in that region, so too could the Warners empathize with what was happening to the Jews in Germany. The Warner brothers were Polish Jewish immigrants. They became involved in the motion picture industry in 1910-not long after immigrating to the United States. By the 1930’s, the successful Warner Brothers studio specialized in gangster films, musicals, and historical biographies.
It was during the period of the 1930’s that Americans were so involved with domestic economic issues (another parallel with the 1990’s and 00’s), that they did not consider foreign affairs a relevant issue. However, the Warners, risked their status and fortunes to begin a campaign to make Americans aware of the dangers of Nazism (as President Bush did with Iraq).
Many of the Warners’ films were parables of anti-Semitism and totalitarianism. Two films, “The Life of Emile Zola,” and “Juarez,” both made in the 30’s, made reference to these. One of Warners’ most famous films of that era, “ The Adventures of Robin Hood,” portrayed the evils of a corrupt government.
The studio churned out movies during the 1930’s and early 1940’s designed to inform American audiences of the importance of foreign affairs and the dangers of tyrannical governments. Indeed, according to the book, “Celluloid Soldiers,” Warner Bros. was the only major Hollywood studio to address the issue of Nazism prior to World War II.
The issue of Nazism was not an academic one to Harry and Jack Warner. As Jewish immigrants, they were well aware of the tales of the Jewish escapees from Nazi concentration camps. These accounts alarmed the brothers. Informing America of the truth of Nazism was vitally important to them.
However, there was a price to be paid by the Warners for being in the vanguard. An employee of the Warner Brothers Berlin office was murdered and the Warner offices in Berlin were vandalized and looted by Germans. This made Harry and Jack even more determined to ensure that “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” was made available to the American public.
Harry Warner testified during the hearing that the movie "correctly portrayed the operation of a Nazi spy ring in this country, as this operation was disclosed at a Federal trial which convicted the conspirators." “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” did indeed include newsreel footage from the actual 1937 trial from which the movie was developed. (In present day parlance, the movie would be considered a docu-drama.)
The fact that the Harry and Jack Warner were persecuted and subject to government investigation for favoring intervention against the Nazi regime and telling the truth about their policies is indicative of how effective the Nazis were. The Nazis were experts at forming successful fifth columns as they efficient organizations in Norway and France attest.
The fact that the Warners were accused of warmongering, even with a danger so self-apparent as Nazism serves as an example of how effectively fifth columnists can influence public opinion. Exposing the truth about the potential danger from a foreign nation was vital to American freedom two generations ago; it is just as vital today-even if it means being called a warmonger.