After the Allied victory was declared against Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945 (a date known to history as V-E Day), US military officials presented troops with Two Down, One to Go, a film that serves as both Q+A session and pep talk to prepare them to shift their attention to Japan.
Of primary concern was the matter of who would return to civilian life and how that would be determined. Animated sequences demonstrate how troops will be surplused, and voices representing a range of American accents call out criteria to be considered, such as overseas service and number of children. The film repeatedly emphasizes that, above all else, the calculations will be done fairly, based on feedback from the troops themselves. Not everyone would get to go home, not when war still raged in the Pacific.
In fact, the strongest message in Two Down, One to Go is that while a major battle was won, the war was not over. The desire to go home should rank below the need to defeat Japan, an enemy characterized by Chief of Staff General George Marshall as “committed to World domination or death.” As Gen. Marshall intones, “we will not have won this war, nor can we enjoy any peace until Japan is completely crushed.”
Two Down, One to Go was clearly preparing American troops for extended battle and an invasion of Japan, one that would require the building of roads, bases, and the movement of massive equipment such as tanks and landing barges. Black and white footage cut into the color film shows how trails must be blazed and equipment landed on sandy shores. As we know, this was not to be the case. The prospect of drawn-out warfare against Japan was cut short when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the island nation just three months later.
During the film, Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair, who commanded the Army Ground Forces, speaks about how the move to the Pacific will affect his men. That wouldn’t be too surprising, except that McNair died during the invasion of Normandy, when our own planes mistakenly dropped dozens of bombs too soon. That means that his segment had to have been filmed well before June 6, 1944 (D-Day). It is likely that the film was completed months in advance of V-E Day and was ready to present to troops in the European Theater of Operations before the ink was even dry on the surrender.
Two Down, One to Go ends with an extended sequence of American flags being raised and troops saluting, accompanied by an operatic rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The film was undoubtedly intended to pump up the men who would view it and prepare them for another round of war. Gen. Marshall’s final words are so quotable that they could have come from a big budget war film:
“Upon you, the men who remain in active service, the destiny of peoples and nations depends. Others who come after you may read history, others may write it, but you men will make history.”
As you watch the film, put yourself in the place of those battle-weary soldiers who wanted nothing more than to go home. Then consider that those men saw it and instead steeled themselves to make history.