There are some great anti-war movies. They offer far different
perspectives on war than the “glamorous”
and “heroic” portrayals often presented
in textbooks and in the mass media.
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation recommends the movies
listed below. Most are available in video stores and can
be purchased over the web. They are great movies to watch
and to share, and they offer a starting point for reflection
and discussion of the true face of war and the importance
A Time to Love and A Time to Die (1958) is the
story of a young Nazi soldier who falls in love while on
leave during the height of the Second World War. Before
his son is born, he is ordered to return to the Russian
front to participate in a deadly campaign.
All Quiet on the Western Front
(1930) is an anti-war classic, based on the Novel
by Erich Maria Remarque, that portrays the First World
War from a German perspective. Young German soldiers
eagerly join the German ranks with misguided and romantic
notions about war. On the battlefield, they realize what
war really means.
Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987) is
a thoughtful story of a young little league pitcher from
Montana who stages a protest against nuclear weapons by
refusing to play baseball until every nuclear weapon is
dismantled. His protest inspires professional athletes
and soon a movement evolves that eventually draws the attention
of the US President. Ultimately this is a film that demonstrates
the power of the individual to create change.
Breaker Morant (1980) is
based on a true courtroom drama of three Australian soldiers
in the Boer War who are served up as political scapegoats
of the British Empire.
Catch 22 (1970), directed
by Mike Nichols (The Graduate), is an all-star rendition
of Joseph Heller’s famous World War II novel. The
cast includes Orson Welles, Jon Voight, Bob Newhart, Anthony
Perkins, Richard Benjamin, and Martin Sheen.
Cold Mountain (2003) starring
Nicole Kidman and Jude Law, takes place in the 1860s
during the Civil War in the United States. At the outset
of the war the young men are eager to fight, not realizing
the murderous reality of what they will soon be facing.
The viewer learns again that war is far from glorious.
Dr. Strangelove (1964) is
the definitive satire of the nuclear age, directed by Stanley
Kubrick. It is the story of Colonel Jack Ripper who, without
consulting the President, sends a squadron of bombers to
the Soviet Union and provokes the Doomsday Device.
Gandhi (1982) is a three-hour,
multiple-Oscar winning look at the life of Mohandas K.
Gandhi (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor).
Grand Illusion (1937) is
the film the Nazis declared “Cinematographic Enemy
Number One.” It is a film set during World War I
where two French prisoners of war plot their escape from
their German POW camp.
Johnny Got His Gun (1971) is
the story of Joe who returns from World War I alive, but
without his eyes, his mouth, his ears, his arms and without
his legs. The film begs its audience to identify with Joe
who is unable to taste his food, unable to hear the nurse,
unable to speak with the doctor and unable to move from
his hospital bed.
King of Hearts (1967) is
set in 1918, in a small French town that has been evacuated
and deserted, except for the population from the local
insane asylum that has escaped. A lone Scottish soldier
is sent to the town on an intelligence tip that claims
a German bomb has been planted that would level the region.
The Scottish soldier meets many of the escapees and decides
to stay with them despite the risk of the German bomb.
Why? He wonders which place is most insane, the small French
town inundated with escapees or the rest of Europe where
millions are fighting and dying in a worthless war.
Paths of Glory (1957), directed
by Stanley Kubrick is a story where Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas)
is ordered to make an impossible assault on a German fortification.
When the assault fails the commanding general demands three
soldiers be arbitrarily chosen to face trial for cowardice.
Red Badge of Courage (1951) is
a film adaptation of the 1895 novel by Stephen Crane about
a young man’s first experience as a soldier in the
American Civil War. All illusions of heroism are lost during
his first skirmish and he must come to terms with the realities
Romero (1989) is the life
story of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Oscar
Romero fought for the voiceless, demanding justice and
dignity for the people stuck between the warring communists
and the counterinsurgents waging a dirty war in El Salvador.
Slaughterhouse Five or the Children’s
Crusade (1972) is the story of Billy Pilgrim,
a miserable US soldier during the Second World War, who
is taken prisoner by the Germans. Along with just a few
others, Billy survives the terrifying bombing of Dresden.
The haphazard perspective, where Billy becomes unstuck
in time, gives the audience a window into the mind of
a soldier whose psyche has been destroyed by war.
The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) is
a film adaptation of the play based on the writings of
Anne Frank. It is a revealing story of a Jewish girl hiding
with her family from the Nazi occupation in the attic of
an Amsterdam building.
The Great Dictator (1940) is
a slapstick creation where Charlie Chaplin (Director and
Star) plays Adenoid Hynkel, the fascist ruler of Tomania
with global ambitions, and a meek Jewish barber toiling
under fascist rule. Both characters deliver moving performances.
Wag the Dog (1997) is the
story of the US president wrapped up in scandal and the
people working hard to camouflage the facts. The all-star
cast includes Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Willie Nelson,
Anne Heche and Woody Harrelson. The movie examines the
life of a Washington spinmaster who distracts the public
from the scandal by waging a phony war overseas.
War and Peace (1956) stars
Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda and adapts Leo Tolstoy’s
classic to the screen. This is the story of the Napoleonic
invasion of Russia in 1812.
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation recommends the books
listed below for their portrayal of the painful reality
of war that is often lost in the nationalistic fog that
surrounds the fighting and often mirror-image illusions
of glory and dreams of victory.
A Farewell to Arms (1929) by
Ernest Hemingway has been called the best American novel
to emerge from the First World War. It tells the story
of Lieutenant Henry, a US ambulance driver who is wounded
on duty and of Catherine Barkley, the British nurse who
oversees Henry’s care. Hemingway’s detailed
and emotional descriptions of the battlefield originate
from his own experience on the front as an ambulance driver
in the First World War.
A Time to Love and a Time to Die
(1954) by Erich Maria Remarque is the story of
Ernst Graeber, a German soldier on furlough from two
years at the Russian front. During his three weeks leave
he returns to his hometown, which has been bombed into
ruin. Nobody knows if his parents are dead or alive.
Before returning to the Russian front, Ernst falls in
love. The German edition was censored at the time of
its release for its subversive passages.
All Quiet on the Western Front
(1929) by Erich Maria Remarque is the story of
idealistic German boys who eagerly enlist in the German
army during the First World War. The terrible realities
of the battlefield are realistically detailed because
Remarque himself fought on the Western front during the
Hiroshima (1946) was written
right after author and journalist, John Hersey, interviewed
survivors of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. It is especially
moving because Hersey details the individual survivors;
we learn their names and their stories. For example, John
Hersey describes the life of Miss Toshiko Sasaki before
she was a victim of the atomic attack, and describes in
brutal detail the affects of the bomb on her life, body,
Johnny Got His Gun (1939) by
Dalton Trumbo is the story of Joe, a soldier who returns
from war, literally torn to pieces. All that remains of
Joe’s body are his torso and part of his head; he
has no arms, legs, eyes, nose, mouth or tongue. But he
can still think.
Night (1995) by Eli Weisel
was initially a 900-page memoir, And the World Kept Silent,
of his experiences as a young boy in Nazi concentration
camps during the Second World War. Significantly reduced,
Night is Weisel’s terrifying account of life and
death in Nazi camps.
On the Beach (1957) by Nevil
Shute is a story about the end of the world. A full-scale
nuclear war has taken place in the Northern hemisphere
and the Earth is slowly falling under the shadow of a radioactive
cloud. On the Beach focuses on Australia’s inhabitants
as they come to terms with the end of the world.
Red Badge of Courage (1895) by
Stephen Crane is the classic story of Henry Fleming’s
rite of passage in the United States Civil War. Fleming
is a young man who imagines war to be a glorious thing.
At his first engagement on the battlefield Fleming is terrorized
and flees the conflict, his notions of glory and prestige
Slaughterhouse Five or the Children’s
Crusade (1969) by Kurt Vonnegut is the story of
Billy Pilgrim, a veteran of the Second World War. The
horrors Billy witnessed during the war have altered his
consciousness. He slips in and out of reality, Vonnegut
calls it “becoming unstuck in time.” Pilgrim
dwells on his experiences in Dresden, where he and other
prisoners of war were the sole survivors of the allied
firebombing that killed tens of thousands of people.
The Diary of Anne Frank (1947) by
Anne Frank is the story of a young Jewish girl and her
family who hide in an Amsterdam attic to avoid Nazi persecution
and extermination. It is a detailed account of 25 months
in hiding where readers can immerse themselves in the life
of a girl and her family who faced arbitrary cruelty.
War and Peace (1869) by
Leo Tolstoy takes place during Russia’s struggle
against Napoleonic Europe, climaxing during the War of
1812. This story of life shrouded in war revolves around
the Bezuhov, the Rostov and the Bolkonsky families, three
very affluent Russian families.