Victory Through Air Power (1943)

Victory Through Air Power was based on a book of the same name by Maj. Alexander P. de Seversky.  Walt had read the book and thought Seversky was swell.  Seversky was a Russian who, after losing a leg in WWI, became a U.S. citizen in 1918.

Artist's impression: Seversky arrives in America

Artist’s impression: Seversky arrives in America

Peg-leg Seversky was a pilot, inventor and a huge advocate for strategic air power.  Know who wasn’t a huge advocate for strategic air power?
FDR .

Know who was a huge advocate for strategic air power after watching Victory Through Air Power?
FDR.

That’s right; Roosevelt wasn’t sold on the idea of long-range, strategic air strikes until he watched VTAP.  We kid you not.  This movie changed the course of U.S. air strategy in WWII and thus, the course of the war itself.  Yeah, it’s that important.

Disney’s Contributions to the War Effort
Disney turned into a propaganda machine during WWII, creating hundreds of shorts, from technical instruction clips like Four Methods of Flush Riveting to the sobering Education for Death: the Making of the Nazi (these will be explored in more detail in an upcoming post). The crown jewel of this effort, though, was 1943’s Victory Through Air Power.Leonard Maltin called it “the most unusual film Disney ever made.”

Oh, Malty.

VTAP might never have reached the general public as RKO, which had backed all previous Disney feature films, refused to green light it; projecting it would be a flop at the box office.  United Artists produced the film, while RKO resumed production of various Disney animated features post-VTAP until 1977.  VTAP was first run in theaters in 1943 and again in 1944.  It wasn’t until sixty years later, in 2004, that VTAP was again available to the public.  Interestingly, some of the Disney shorts from this period have only been released within the last decade because they’d only been recently declassified.

History of Aviation
The film opens with a segment on the history of aviation, which largely focuses on technological developments precipitated by the necessities of war.  The narrator explains that, during WWI, aviation developed in ways that would have taken 20 years in peacetime.  While this is likely true, we’re wary of this sounding like a validation of the idea that war is useful.  Quite frankly, we’d rather the technologies had developed more slowly, without the trenches, the chemical warfare, 16 million dead, etc.

The history of aviation segment contains some pretty funny parts including their treatment of the first transcontinental flight.  We guffawed.

Seversky’s Pitch
After the animated history of aviation, the rest of the film cuts between Seversky in live-action and animated clips that punctuate his points.

He asserts that the U.S. will not be a place immune from overhead attack, that the distinction between soldiers and civilians will be erased and that warfare is everybody’s business. He also states that when airplanes had been used in warfare, it had been to bolster older styles of combat rather than developing new strategies.  His theory was to get behind enemy lines and destroy the war industries.

He explains that France was set up for land warfare with trenches and cannons, and then Hitler came all up in their grill and poured into France with speed and airpower.  Britain expected to be able to use naval blockades, but Germany’s long distance land-based air force overcame the British Navy.  The British got their aeroshit together and realized they needed to beef up their air power stuffs.  Hence, when they warded off the Germans in the Battle of Britain, they saw that “as long as a country controls its own skies it cannot be invaded.”

Seversky also advocated a single, separate branch of the armed forces through which all air power would be managed.  At that point, U.S. air power was employed through the Army and some through the Navy.  It wasn’t until the National Security Act of 1947 that the USAF was created as a separate entity.

Toward the end of the film, Peg-leg Seversky goes all bomb-happy and describes some bomb technology that he foresees developing.  Dam bombs that explode only once they’re on the bottom of the body of dammed water, rocket bombs, earthquake bombs that. . . well you get the idea. Because earthquakes only destroy war industries.

It isn’t all about the glory of war, though.  Early in the history of aviation segment, there’s a brief clip showing C. S. Rolls’ (of Rolls-Royce fame) non-stop double crossing of the English Channel.  The British voiceover accompanies the animation:

“Departing from England, the flight across the Channel was quite uneventful.  Reaching the other side, and being recognized, dropped greetings, and without stopping, returned home safely, without mishap.”

Later in the film, this same voiceover is used to add poignancy to an air strike scene from WWII.

“Departing from England, the flight across the Channel was quite uneventful.  Reaching the other side, and being recognized, dropped greetings, and without stopping, returned home safely, without mishap.”

What is peculiar about this clip is that it is preceded and followed by a narration extolling the many wondrous advancements in aerial firepower.

Our Take on It
As with most of its output, Disney did in VTAP what Disney does best; employing stunning animation—with impressive detail and scale (pre-CGI, mind you), music and humor to create an engaging and ultimately persuasive experience for the viewer.

VTAP is extremely persuasive, perhaps a little alarmingly so.  It’s definitely worth a watch if you’re interested in animation history, WWII history, aviation history, or one-legged Russian-Americans.

Potent Ponderables:

  • These were some of the same guys who worked on Bambi…good thing they were versatile.
  • Interesting use of religious language when talking about Billy Mitchell—early WWI-era general who advocated a strong air force.  Mitchell is called a ‘prophet’ and, in fact, the movie is dedicated to him, and Seversky is called his ‘disciple’.
  • For all the bombing and shooting, not once do we see a person or any living thing for that matter, save a tree here and there.  Also for all the talk of neutralizing the enemy’s war industries, at least one scene clearly shows a bomb being dropped over a civilian area.
  • While this strategy did lead to Allied victory, the devastation was not limited to “war industry” and military targets.  Some of the most indiscriminate bombing campaigns in history (e.g. Dresden, Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hiroshima) were a direct result of the Allies’ attempt at victory through strategic long-range bombing. In fact, the policy adopted by the British Royal Air Force was to target the homes of the working class to maximize the amount of damage done (due to the increased chances of a firestorm wiping out their poorly constructed homes), and to displace as many of the factory workers as possible.  This was referred to as “dehousing”.

Ratings:

MLE:
Rating:  13/17
Rating versus Joe versus the Volcano: Thumbs up.

Ricktopher:
Rating:  19/24
Rating versus Joe versus the Volcano: Thumbs up.

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