The Chatter Podcast: WWII in the Movies with Elizabeth Samet

By David Priess
Thursday, March 3, 2022, 9:07 AM

This week, Shane Harris talks with professor and author Elizabeth Samet about Hollywood’s portrayal of World War II and how that influences what Americans think about “the good war.”

Samet’s book Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness explores how generations of filmmakers have depicted the conflict. Many of their stories, she argues, have inspired a nostalgia for a war that seemed clearer cut and more virtuous than subsequent American conflicts. 

Contemporary movies in particular have emphasized the righteousness of the war and the United States’ role in it. Saving Private Ryan, for instance, reintroduced a new generation of Americans to “the greatest generation” and portrayed the war as seemingly less complicated and fraught than the Vietnam War. 

But Samet, a professor of English at West Point, writes that many of these Hollywood renderings are misleading and don't accurately capture how those fighting the war, and those on the homefront, truly felt about it. She also shows how veterans of the war have not always been flatteringly portrayed.

Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo with engineering assistance from Ian Enright.

Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad. See for privacy and opt-out information.

Useful links:

Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness 

New York Times review 

About Elizabeth Samet and her other books