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WWII In American Music: Pre-War Nationalism
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Part 1: Pre-War Nationalism
American participation in World War II now seems so inevitable, we sometimes forget that most Americans, still horrified by the specter of the First World War, were staunch isolationists, desirous of peace and of putting "America First". Patriotic themes increased along With Axis aggression, but so too did anxiety about military unprepardness and the future of democracy in Europe.

One of the earliest recognitions of increased international tensions in the 1930s came from songwriters Fritzie and Charles Haubiel in their 1935 release, "We Must Have Peace". Though the Nazis had come to power in Germany, they had yet to make any territorial demands. Italy & Japan, however, had already committed acts of aggression. Haubiel wrote:

Now ev'ry body listen, Oh listen to me
To a stirring plea for PEACE and LIBERTY!
The Battle Cry calls men to Arms!
Our cry is PEACE! PEACE! PEACE!
Millions in the World War killed!
War Must Cease!
Sheet Music: We Want Peace (1935)
Sheet Music: We Want Peace (1935)

More common in the United States were sheet music releases of classic patriotic and official military songs. Releases following into this category included versions of "The Marines' Hymn", "The Army Air Corps Song", and "The Caissons Go Rolling Along". New military songs were also published, including "For God and For Country and To The Auxiliary".

In 1938, following the German Anschluss and the Munich crisis, Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin decided it was time to revive an old song of his he had written while in the army in 1918 called "God Bless America." Berlin's original version was a victory that had included


Sheet Music: "The Marines' Hymn" (1940)
Sheet Music: "The Marines' Hymn" (1940)
Sheet Music: "The Army Air Corps Song" (1939)Sheet Music: "The Army Air Corps Song" (1939)
Sheet Music: "The Caissons Go Rolling Along (1936)
Sheet Music: "The Caissons Go Rolling Along (1936)
Sheet Music: For God and For Country, and To The Auxiliary (1938)
Sheet Music: For God and For Country, and To The Auxiliary (1938)
"God Bless America" by Kate Smith (1939)
sound "God Bless America" by Kate Smith (1939)
"God Bless America" by Bing Crosby (1939)
sound "God Bless America" by Bing Crosby (1939)
"The Star Spangled Banner" by Kate Smith (1939)
sound "The Star Spangled Banner" by Kate Smith (1939)
"The Star Spangled Banner" by Bing Crosby (1939)
sound "The Star Spangled Banner" by Bing Crosby (1939)
the lyrics, "Make her victorious on land and foam, God bless America..." The revision resulted in a song that acknowledged the growing Nazi threat and prayed for peace and God's blessing for the country: While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,

Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer…

The new song, performed by Kate Smith, debuted on an Armistice Day radio broadcast in 1938 and was a hit. In March 1939 both Kate Smith and Bing Crosby recored versions (though Smith's is lacking the introductory lyrics above). Following the releases, flag sales in the United States soared. Smith's version became the most famous, probably buoyed by its inclusion in the 1943 film This Is The Army. The flip side of both records contain versions of America's official national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner," but the extreme popularity of "God Bless America," revived once again following the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, has made the song an unofficial 2nd National Anthem.

Wars tend to generate their own music history, but they often provide an opportunity to create new versions of classic songs from earlier conflicts. During both the Spanish American War and World War I, patriotic songs from the Civil War were revived and re-recorded. During WWII, recording artists had an entire generation of their parent's war music to explore, as no American war had spawned as much music as did World War One. One such tune, written by Thomas Hoier and released in 1915, was a strong chastisement of European immigrants over their criticism of President Wilson's neutral stance war. Some of these songs were written not just to encourage patriotic, but to also enourage conformity and to stifle speech. One such song was, "Don't Bite The Hand That's Feeding You," first published in 1915. It takes the point of view that the immigrants who came to the U.S. were at best welfare children of Uncle Sam, and at worst, "curs" who "abused" and "reviled" their country by daring to exercise their first amendment rights as American citizens. The chorus bluntly states, "If you don't like your Uncle Sammy, then go back to your home over the sea."
"Don't Bite The Hand That's Feeding You" by Gene Autry (1941)
sound "Don't Bite The Hand That's Feeding You" by Gene Autry (1941)
These love-it-or-leave-it platitudes ignore the immense contributions to American society by immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, but they worked well both in 1915 and in 1941, when "Don't Bite The Hand That's Feeding You" was released by country music star Gene Autry. It was recorded again by country musicians Loren and and Greg Junes in support of the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq in 2003. Though not as mainstream (the song is available on a website), it is reflective of a general effort by some to stifle free speech and insightful journalism during the early days of that conflict.

Sheet Music: "We Must Be Ready" (1939)
Sheet Music: "We Must Be Ready" (1939)
"We Must Be Ready" insert
"We Must Be Ready" insert

As with any other historical era, songwriters eventually began to churn out their own reaction to the times. In 1939, George M. Cohan published, "We Must Be Ready". He wrote:

Oh, there is no doubt of it
The way to keep out of it
Is just stand steady
But let'em know we're ready
To go marching to the tune of Over There, Over There
That's a tune they've not forgotten over there.

After the outbreak of WWII in Europe in September 1939, a substantial number of patriotic songs were released in the American market. 1941's "We're All Americans," for example, reminded us of the common heritage of freedom that bound us together. Though probably intended to assuage the wounds of the hawks and doves from the 1940 election, it might also be interpreted to be reaching out across the racial divide. Other Nationalistic American songs from the era are included below:
Sheet Music: "We're All Americans" (1940)
Sheet Music: "We're All Americans" (1940)
"We're All Americans" by Kate Smith (1940)
sound "We're All Americans" by Kate Smith (1940)
"I Am An American" by Horace Heidt (1940)
sound "I Am An American" by Horace Heidt (1940)
"Yankee Doodle Boy" by Horace Heidt (1940)
sound Yankee Doodle Boy" by Horace Heidt (1940)
"America, I Love You" by Dick Powell (1940)
sound "America, I Love You" by Dick Powell (1940)
"He's My Uncle" by Dick Powell (1940)
sound "He's My Uncle" by Dick Powell (1940)
"God Must Have Loved America" by Gene Autry (1941)
sound "God Must Have Loved America" by Gene Autry (1941)
 
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