“Your Job in Germany” The Mission after VE Day
As the war in Europe came to a close, American troops were faced with a new mission, the occupation of Germany. Your Job in Germany was an orientation film produced for those United States Army personnel who would occupy Germany after the war was over. Written by none other than Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, it would become one of Geisel’s most significant assignments, and a shift from his more light-hearted work on the Private Snafu cartoon series. The project was assigned to Geisel in early 1944, over a year before the German surrender (also known as VE Day, May 8, 1945).
In Your Job in Germany, Theodor Geisel (himself a German-American) created a film that advised soldiers to remain suspicious of the German people. The film portrays warfare as part of the national culture of Germany and is a fascinating document of how the U.S. military planned to handle the occupation.
The message of Your Job in Germany is anything but subtle. According to the film, Army personnel should be on guard at all times because all Germans are a “potential source of trouble”. Youth in particular are singled out as the nation’s next big threat. The job in Germany is to prevent “Chapter 4”, or the next war. As the narrator intones, “The German people are not our friends.”
In fact, in one of the harshest passages of Geisel’s script, viewers are advised that even Germans who appear to regret their nation’s actions during World War II should not be taken seriously:
“They cannot come back into the civilized fold just by sticking out their hand and saying ‘sorry’. Sorry? Not sorry they caused the war; they’re only sorry they lost it. That is the hand that heiled Hitler; that is the hand that dropped the bombs on defenseless Rotterdam, Brussels, Belgrade. Don’t clasp that hand. It’s not the kind of a hand you can clasp in friendship.”
Your Job in Germany uses every tool in the filmmaking kit to pound this lesson home. In order to establish warfare as an overall pattern and culture of the German people, a jarring contrast is made between Germany at peace and Germany at war. The build-up to war features quick cuts, tense music, and an insistent narrator, while Germany at peace is represented with a wistful tone, images of the countryside, folk dancing, dirndls and lederhosen. Viewers are advised not to be lulled into a false sense of security.
The non-fraternization policy introduced by Your Job in Germany was not without detractors. Geisel said himself that that was the one part of the film he did not support. The sheer impracticality of the idea led officials to ease restrictions and then completely eliminate the regulations within months of the end of the war.
Keep reading via The Unwritten Record » Dr. Seuss Beyond Snafu: Your Job in Germany »