War on the Silver Screen: Shaping America's Perception of History

In This Review

War on the Silver Screen: Shaping America's Perception of History
By Glen Jeansonne, David Luhrssen
Potomac Books, 2014
200 pp. $19.95
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What people think they know about war is as likely to come from watching war movies as from listening to the news or reading history—and in Hollywood, dramatic license often trumps historical accuracy. Most readers will find their favorite war movies discussed in Jeansonne and Luhrssen’s book, from All Quiet on the Western Front to Casablanca to The Hurt Locker. The research is diligent, the judgments measured, and the writing clear, and yet this book feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. The authors allude to big questions but don’t fully develop their answers, and the conclusion is perfunctory. The role of Gallipoli in helping shape Australia’s national identity is described, but despite the book’s subtitle, much more remains to be said about the way war films—especially those of Steven Spielberg—have influenced Americans’ self-images. The book doesn’t mention British complaints about how Hollywood has exaggerated the American part in winning World War II, and such iconic British movies as The Dam Busters and The Cruel Sea are ignored. On the other hand, the authors do explore how the James Bond films have encouraged the myth that the United Kingdom served as a great source of undercover operatives during the Cold War.