Great Movies for Teaching US History: World War II

This series on Great Movies for Teaching U.S. History, from the Revolutionary War to the Cold War, will publish on consecutive weekdays through May 2. It features films and documentaries inspired by historical events in the United States, including information about their educational value, ratings and appropriateness for children, and how well they represent the time periods covered.

World War II 1941-1945

America was still in the Great Depression when WWII began, and did not join the war until 1941. There are many films that focus on the European or Asian conflicts, and largely focus on the battles that ensued. The following films focus more on what was happening at home within the states. Of course, the movies feature battles, but those battles do not serve as the centerpiece in this series.

The War: 1941-1945

In this eight-part series, Ken Burns uses the experiences of four towns across the United States that were affected by the war. Using interviews and testimonials from a variety of individuals, who had firsthand experience, the film gives the viewer an in-depth perspective.  Burns also uses an extraordinary amount of media, including, film, photographs, and news from the time, which makes the series feel very authentic. Famous faces and voices read letters, and news clips from the time as well.

PBS does an amazing job of providing resources and activities for a comprehensive overview. The film includes photos taken before, during, and after battles, some of which can be disturbing for viewers. There is some historical profanity, such as the explanation of FUBAR. However, two copies of the film are available, one of which excludes the profanity.

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The Pacific:1942-1945

This is a 10-part HBO miniseries  produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. The film is a companion sequel to the ‘Band of Brothers’ series, which focuses on the 101st Airborne in Europe. The Pacific examines further East on the conflict located on the islands of Japan. While both series explore what many of the soldiers go through during war, this series includes more scenarios about soldiers’ decisions to go to war, life at home during the war, and what they experienced when they arrived home.

The film focuses on three real Marines, Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie, and John Basilone. and their experiences throughout the war. The film is based on books by Sledge and Leckie, as well as another soldier’s memoirs that feature Basilone. The series is historically accurate, intended for a mature audience, and includes very graphic scenes and themes.

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Flags of Our Fathers: 1945

The film, which is based on the book of the same name, focuses on the battle of Iwo Jima and the events surrounding the historic raising of the flag at Iwo Jima (pictured above).  The book is written by the son of one of the flag raisers and describes the lives of the men involved.

The film delves into what many soldiers faced during the war and the struggles that some soldiers faced coming home. It also explains the importance of war bonds and a soldier’s role in convincing the American people to buy them. The film is intended for a mature audience. The battle scenes are very graphic, and harsh language is used throughout. One character struggles with his time in the war after coming home and succumbs to alcohol abuse.

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The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter: 1941-1945

This film looks at an extremely important part of World War II, women in industry. World War II was fought when the draft was still active. While many men were summoned to battle, many enlisted as well. This meant that many jobs needed to be filled. This film looks at how women rallied behind that call to action and trained themselves for unfamiliar positions.

The director interviewed hundreds of women who worked in factories and manufacturing, making everything from uniforms and ammunition to tanks and planes.  The film celebrates women’s accomplishments during the war and how those efforts brought about the equal rights movement in a male dominated workforce.

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The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter from Ford Foundation on Vimeo.

The film does discuss the hardships and sexism that women faced in the working world, but should be okay for kids.


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