It is natural for this country to be flooded with war pictures, and continue to be for the next few years, as it is for a soldier to want to display his Croix de guerre. War is new to America. It is an heroic event. America entered, not because it was forced to but because it volunteered -- a demonstration of bravery, loyalty and martyrdom, each of these attributes a thread in the cloth called romance. Not so for Europe. Those countries are too full of it, too thoroughly immersed in the devastation of war any longer to see the romance of it. Don't you find that the man who has gone through the most horrible experiences is usually the one to say the least about them, and when asked whether he had suffered such and such a shock or witnessed such and such a catastrophe, will answer laconically: "Yes" or "No" and dimiss the subject.
Such is the posiition of the European countries, and that is the reason war is too real for them to idealize and romanticize over it in picutres and plays. It was an event to America, not a horror. Men enlisted bravely, hysterically; many returned in the same spirit, only more exalted for the thrills and frills that they could talk about after it was over.
I have become the most extreme pacifist because I have lived through the most lurid realitities of its destructive force. It is my aim to do a war picture soon, but not the kind that would treat of the glorification of gore and wholesale slaughter, but rather disclosing its perniciousness and convincing people of the utter futility of physical combat.
What can the effect of the picture be that for two or two and one-half hours shows two nations at war, working up to its dramatic climaxes by bombing, blasting, shooting or wiping out armies of men, the helpless puppets of quarreling nations? And then waving the victorious country's flag and playing all the brasses of the orchestra fortissimo? At every showing of the picture, in every theatre where it is featured, at its two, three or four performances a day, there are from 2,000 to 3,000 susceptible people being stimulated into a bellicose attitude.
And the women, incredible as it may sound, play the most important part in battle. Just so long as they dub as a coward the man who refuses or hesitates to "fight," regardless of his ideals, just so long as they are proud to cling to the arm of a uniform, and they glory in the sacrifice of their sons, sweethears, brothers and husbands for "the cause," just so long shall we continue to have war and continue to show pictures apotheosizing war. (...)
From "The Ideal Picture Needs No Titles: By Its Very Nature the Art of the Screen Should Tell a Complete Story Pictorially" (1928)
by F. W. Murnau
The second half of Murnau's article deals with the plastics and drama of cinema and is oft quoted ("Real art is simple, but simplicity requires the greatest art."). The first half, above, is lesser known.
But their peace and their war
Are like wind and storm.
War grows from their peace
Like son from his mother
Her frightful features.
Their war kills
Whatever their peace
Has left over.
GENERAL, YOUR TANK IS A POWERFUL VEHICLE
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.
General, your bomber is powerful.
It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.
But it has one defect:
It needs a mechanic.
General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.
From From a German War Primer (1937)
by Bertolt Brecht