After Charlottesville violence, anti-fascist WWII propaganda film finds new relevance
By DEREK HAWKINS | The Washington Post | Published: August 14, 2017
In the aftermath of the weekend's deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, scores of Americans wondered how they should respond to the hate-fueled violence that left three people dead and dozens of others injured.
Some found an answer in a nearly 75-year-old anti-fascist propaganda film.
"Don't Be A Sucker" is a 17-minute cautionary tale about complacency in the face of hatred and xenophobia. Produced by the U.S. War Department in 1943 and re-released in an updated form in 1947, it found new relevance with a 21st century audience after reports of neo-Nazis and white nationalists sowing chaos in Virginia.
Among those to share the film was Michael Oman-Reagan, a Canadian researcher and anthropologist, who tweeted a clip of "Don't Be A Sucker" that has since been shared nearly 120,000 times.
Another clip of the film reached the top of Reddit's home page Sunday night. Celebrities tweeted it out, as did Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who told his followers "PLEASE WATCH THIS!"
The film opens with a soapbox demagogue delivering a fiery speech in a public square, warning a crowd gathered around him that the country is being hijacked.
"I see Negros holding jobs that belong to me and you," he bellows. "Now I ask you, if we allow this thing to go on, what's going to happen to us real Americans?"
"I tell you, friends, we"ll never be able to call this country our own until it's a country without," he says. "Without what? Without Negros, without alien foreigners, without Catholics, without Freemasons."
The video cuts to an older man with a European accent. "I've heard this kind of talk before, but I never expected to hear it in America," he tells a younger man next to him. He reveals himself to be a Hungarian-born professor who immigrated to the United States and became a naturalized citizen.
"I have seen what this kind of talk can do. I saw it in Berlin," he says. "I heard the same words we have heard today."
"But I was a fool then," he says. "I thought Nazis were crazy people, stupid fanatics. Unfortunately it was not so. They knew they were not strong enough to conquer a unified country, so they split Germany into small groups. They used prejudice as a practical weapon to cripple the nation."
The film then flashes back to Germany in the 1930s. The professor traces the rise of the Nazi party to demagogues who used a divide-and-conquer strategy to turn minority groups against each other. "They were being swindled," he says. Over the next 10 minutes, a montage shows the evolution of Nazi Germany, the onset of the Second World War, and the eventual allied victory.
The professor closes with a monologue.
"We must never let that happen to us or to our country. We must never let ourselves be divided by race or color or religion," he says.