Access Type

Online access to this book is only available to eligible users.



Download Full Text (14.1 MB)


Film moves audiences like no other medium; both documentaries and feature films are especially remarkable for their ability to influence viewers. Best-selling author James Brady remarked that he joined the Marines to fight in Korea after seeing a John Wayne film, demonstrating how a motion picture can change the course of a human life—in this case, launching the career of a major historian and novelist. In Why We Fought: America’s Wars in Film and History, editors Peter C. Rollins and John E. O’Connor explore the complexities of war films, describing the ways in which such productions interpret history and illuminate American values, politics, and culture. This comprehensive volume covers representations of war in film from the American Revolution in the 18th century to today’s global War on Terror. The contributors examine iconic battle films such as The Big Parade (1925), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), From Here to Eternity (1953), and Platoon (1986), considering them as historical artifacts. The authors explain how film shapes our cultural understanding of military conflicts, analyzing how war is depicted on television programs, through news media outlets, and in fictional and factual texts. With several essays examining the events of September 11, 2001, and their aftermath, the book has a timely relevance concerning the country’s current military conflicts. Jeff Chown examines controversial documentary films about the Iraq War, while Stacy Takacs considers Jessica Lynch and American gender issues in a post-9/11 world, and James Kendrick explores the political messages and aesthetic implications of United 93. From filmmakers who reshaped our understanding of the history of the Alamo, to Ken Burns’s popular series on the Civil War, to the uses of film and media in understanding the Vietnam conflict, Why We Fought offers a balanced outlook— one of the book’s editors was a combat officer in the United States Marines, the other an antiwar activist—on the conflicts that have become touchstones of American history. As Air Force veteran and film scholar Robert Fyne notes in the foreword, American war films mirror a nation’s past and offer tangible evidence of the ways millions of Americans have become devoted, as was General MacArthur, to “Duty, honor, and country.” Why We Fought chronicles how, for more than half a century, war films have shaped our nation’s consciousness.

Peter C. Rollins is Regents Professor Emeritus of English and American Film Studies at Oklahoma State University and is former editor of the journal Film & History. He is the coeditor of numerous books, including Hollywood’s Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film.

John E. O’Connor is professor emeritus of the Federated Department of History at New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University. He is also a founding editor of Film & History and the coeditor of several books.

“Why We Fought is not only a thoughtful reading of war films and history, but it is a significant contribution to scholarship. Understanding why we fight is more relevant today than ever before since Americans continue to explore their national identity, their country, and themselves.”—Michael K. Schoenecke, coeditor of All-Stars and Movie Stars: Sports in Film and History

"Although it is sometimes waged for selfish and extraneous ends, warfare is fundamental to developing human cultures. Regardless of its end, warfare continues to be depicted in documentaries and analyzed more in the imagination than on the battlefield. Battles that are re-created on the stage and silver screen depict the motivations, actual experiences, and consequences of combat. . . . This penetrating collection of essays by two of the best editors of history and film looks deeply into movies' interpretations of why we have fought and examines the ways in which war has been presented to us."--Ray B. Browne, Professor of Popular Culture, Emeritus, Bowling Green State University

"Peter C. Rollins and John E. O'Connor have compiled a historically sound, inclusive, and diverse, interdisciplinary portrait of American wars in film. Each essay has its own bibliography, and the ending filmography is nothing short of superb. Technically and conceptually, this book is, perhaps, the most powerful of its kind produced to date, and it will doubtlessly be lauded as a breakthrough in the studies of war films."--Robert C. Doyle, author of Voices from Captivity: Interpreting the American POW Narrative

“This wide-ranging and sophisticated anthology incorporates a broad spectrum of analytical perspectives that establish major film treatments of America’s wars in cinematic and historical contexts, while demonstrating the synergistic relationships between the two approaches.”—Dennis Showalter, Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century

“A useful addition to an academic, arts, or film library, this book covers films based on every war fought by the United States.” --Xpress Reviews

"Rollins and O’Connor’s finished product is a great resource. It is chronologically organized, and uses a variety of mediums and types of analysis. This collection provides an appropriately complete illustration of how war has been depicted and its role in understanding American history." --David R. Buck,

"Rollins and O’Connor have assembled a rich, varied collection of essays that explore all US wars in order, from the American Revolution to Iraq. Essential." --R. D. Sears, Choice

"Not only will you learn a lot about the movies, but you’ll also re-examine the context of the film’s creation. . . . A fascinating book." --Book Bit for WTBF- AM/FM

"These outstanding essays provide proof of the war film genre’s lasting legacy in American history and cinema." --History News Network,

“The book takes on depictions of every conflict from the American Revolution to September 11 and its aftermath, showing how films have shaped America’s understanding of its history.” --Colloquy

“An excellent compilation of essays on war films.” --VVA Veteran

"Rollins and O’Connor have provided a starting point with which to analyze the influence of wars and conflicts in movies, documentaries, and television shows." --On Point

"The methodology is to examine a particular film, a pair of films or series to explore the reasons given for having to fight it, the portrayal of combat, and the other political and social implications." --NYMAS

Named as a Choice Outstanding Academic Titles.

Winner of the 2008 Ray and Pat Browne Award.

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






War films, United States, Military history


Film and Media Studies

Why We Fought : America's Wars in Film and History
Read Sample Off-campus Download for UK only

Consortium members may access while on their campus.