Sergeant York is excellent propaganda in that it could make the poor Southerner feel like he could be a hero. Like World War I, America needed a reason to convince American’s to get into World War II. After the first war, American’s had enough. The depression also did not help with American patriotism. Southerners have always made great soldiers due to being underprivileged, backwards, and working class. At least in this point in American history, Southern soldiers contributions to America were acknowledged. Most contemporary films dealing with Southerners generally take a derogatory or defaming route.
Directors (or should I say showman) like Steven Spielberg have utilized the formulas and conventions of American World War II propaganda films for contemporary propaganda films like Saving Private Ryan. Each film features various characters from around the United States. The newer films add a larger collection of characters such as blacks, hippies, and surfers (in anti-Vietnam films like Platoon and Apocalypse Now) to represent a more diverse and changing America. Sergeant York is where you would probably want to start if searching for the birth of the contemporary War film. Although masterworks such as Birth of a Nation set-up the model, Sergeant York filled in the little details that made the war film much more entertaining and sentimental. Directors like Steven Spielberg have just taken these conventions and formulas to extremes (especially with sentimentalism). It is a shame that American War films haven’t advanced much in comparison to European War films which take endless different approaches.
Films like Sergeant York confuse me in my feelings on war and the war film. No one completely wins the war. At the end of each millions are left dead and for what? Alvin York was a hero is his own right. He did what he believed was honorable and important. The real question is whether or not the global bankers, politicians, and countries did the right thing. It is doubtful as human nature has always been one focused on self-destruction. Sergeant York almost makes me feel as if Alvin York was exploited for the use of propaganda. Either way, the film and Alvin York have made history.