How should Americans fight against a resurgent white-nationalist movement in the United States? This weekend, they returned to an artifact from an earlier era of anti-Nazism. Tens of thousands of people rediscovered—and promptly shared and retweeted—a clip from Don’t Be a Sucker, a short propaganda film made by the U.S. War Department in 1943.
When it first debuted, Don’t Be a Sucker would have played in movie theaters. Now it has made its 21st-century premiere thanks to a network of smaller screens and the Internet Archive, where it is available in full. Almost 75 years after it was first shown, Don’t Be a Sucker lives again as a public object in a new and strange context.
Its opening clip is a direct and plain-language parable in anti-fascism. It begins as a red-faced man brandishes a pamphlet and addresses a crowd: “I see negroes holding jobs that belong to me and you. Now I ask you, if we allow this thing to go on, what’s going to happen to us real Americans?” He proceeds to blame blacks, Catholics, Freemasons, and immigrants for the nation’s ills.
“I’ve heard this kind of talk before, but I never expected to hear it in America,” says an older man with an Eastern European accent.
He introduces himself to a younger man next to him: “I was born in Hungary but now I am an American citizen. And I have seen what this kind of talk can do—I saw it in Berlin. I was a professor at the university. I heard the same words we have heard today.”
“But I was a fool then,” he continues. “I thought Nazis were crazy people, stupid fanatics. Unfortunately it was not so. They knew they were not strong enough to conquer a unified country, so they split Germany into small groups. They used prejudice as a practical weapon to…