Films (and books and art) made in the distant past are the sort of everlasting time capsules that often remind a society of just how far it has come. There is something deeply disturbing and sad, however, when viewing a dated film gives one a sense that an undesirable part of history is actually just repeating itself, especially when it's an anti-fascist video that reveals this to be true. The latest film to cause this distressing feeling of déjà vu is the Don't Be A Sucker video, a government propaganda video from 1947.
The anti-fascist video has been circulating the Internet of late and it's not hard to see why. The film, originally put out in 1943 during the war, was re-released two years after the end of World War II. The video shows a conversation between two American men, one young and white, the other older and of former European nationality, now a proud Hungarian-American. The two meet when they come across a man spouting off nationalist and racist rhetoric about America.
It seems insane that a country hot off a world war – one which revealed the horrific treatment and attempted extermination of an entire group of people – would need to be reminded how bad nationalist hatred is, let alone needing to be reminded of how those same ideals translate to the home front. But, then again, it seems insane that America 70 years later also needs that reminder.
The Video Was Originally Released In 1943 To Advocate For Desegregating The Armed Forces
Don’t Be a Sucker was originally released by the US War Department in 1943 and then updated and released again in 1947. The film is 17 minutes long and mostly depicts two men having a conversation after listening to a white man on a soap box in the street denounce African Americans and "foreigners" for taking jobs from people like himself, AKA white Protestant Americans. Even only a few years after WWII, a deep-rooted fear had been spread about fascist and "commie" sentiments. This was, after all, only slightly before the Cold War.
Fears about potentially evil-minded Americans gave people with innate prejudices the spotlight to spread fear of minorities.
"When That First Minority Lost Out, Everybody Lost Out"
This early line in the video sticks out. The Hungarian-American man points out just how subtle it was when the Nazis started stirring up the innate prejudices of the German people. By placing blame on specific minority groups for an entire country's problems, Nazi ideology rallied together anyone who was looking for someone to blame for their own unhappiness.
The man points out that when any minority in Germany lost acceptance among their fellow countrymen, everyone's freedom took a hit. And this process works the same way in any democratic nation to this day. Everyone celebrates the same freedoms, or the democracy is no longer a reality.
Often, A Person Won’t Call Out Racism (Or Fascism) Until They Are Put In A Position Where They Are The Minority
One of the more striking moments in the video is when the man on the soap box claims, “We’ll never be able to call this country our own, until it’s a country without.” Another man asks what he means: “Without what?” He explains: “Without negros, without alien foreigners, without Catholics, without Freemasons.” At this point, when the soap box man starts listing the various peoples of America that he thinks are leeching off the “real Americans,” a man listening to the speech suddenly realizes he’s being grouped in – as a Freemason – with a group of people he’d previously agreed were “other.”
Funny how suddenly being included as one of the "others" who don't belong makes a person interested in responding to this kind of prejudice and bigotry.
"I've Heard This Kind Of Talk Before, But I Never Expected To Hear It In America"
The moment of the video where things get really uncomfortable is when the older European gentleman in the video tells the young Freemason – who is coming to terms with being lumped into a minority group by the WASP in the pulpit – that he's heard this kind of talk before. He then jumps into an account of early Nazi Germany and how this exact kind of soap boxing is precisely how the Nazis started to spread the thoughts that would eventually lead to mass genocide and a world war.
A post-WWII America was shocked to consider they could be anything like Nazi Germany. Americans in the 21st century feign even more shock, but the very fact that this video has gone viral, in 2017 no less, proves its relevancy.