Hollywood vs. History: World War II and The Best Years of Our Lives
When America went to war at the end of 1941, so did Hollywood. Feature-length films joined newsreels, combat footage, and informative shorts in relating our country’s experiences in World War II, on both the battlefield and the home front. Many were rallying, patriotic productions aimed at boosting national morale.
In a special installment of the Library’s Hollywood vs. History series, military historian Brian Steed of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College examines the film industry’s role in shaping the nation’s response to, and support of, the war. President Franklin Roosevelt called movie theaters a “necessary and beneficial part of the war effort.”
Steed looks in depth at The Best Years of Our Lives, a seminal film that departed from the flag-waving norm (and earned best-picture and seven other Academy Awards). Released late in 1946, a year after the end of World War II, it follows three servicemen who return from war and struggle to adjust to life in their Midwestern hometown.
Steed is an associate professor of military history at the Command and General Staff College, where he has taught since 2013 and was honored as military educator of the year in 2018. He served as an armor officer and Middle East foreign area officer in the U.S. Army before retiring from active duty as a lieutenant colonel.
The Hollywood vs. History series examines the historical accuracy of military movies. Presented in partnership with the Army Command and General Staff College, it is made possible by a generous gift from the Jerry Rosenblum Trust.