A relevant message from an old movie

A column by Matt Harvey, assistant managing editor of the Exponent-Telegram:

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — I’ve watched “The Mortal Storm” — a 1940 film starring Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart and Robert Young — twice in the past year.

It’s an excellent film. More than that, it’s twice as frightening as any of today’s horror movies.

“The Mortal Storm” was released in 1940, based on a 1938 book that focused on the rise of the Nazi party in Germany during the early 1930s.

The Germans were up to no good in Europe in the mid- to late 1930s. But they didn’t move on France until May of 1940, while the Battle of Britain wasn’t fought until later that year.

The United States didn’t enter World War II for a while after that, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Anyone who took “The Mortal Storm” seriously when it first was released wouldn’t have been surprised by those later events.

Through a handful of characters, the film examines the choices that Germans and Europeans would face on a daily basis after Adolf Hitler rose to power. Put aside any principles and go along with the Nazi thugs, or face ostracism or even extermination (alert — don’t look for a happy ending of “The Mortal Storm.”)

From what we know now about the Holocaust, Hitler’s bid for a “Thousand-Year Reich” and Germany’s fanaticism for der Fuhrer, “The Mortal Storm” was omniscient in underscoring the danger. And this came at a time when many — make that most — Americans were just hoping they wouldn’t have to be bothered by another war overseas.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor 72 years ago changed all that in an instant, hurtling Americans out of isolationism and into a war footing literally overnight.

Will our world ever again face the same kind of peril it did with the Nazis? Will it happen in our lifetime, or that of our children, or grandchildren?

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