Movies on Peace and War Issues

Recommended by Quakers


These pages contain a collection of responses and suggestions by subscribers to the Quaker-L e-mail list. It is not intended to represent any official position by the Religious Society of Friends [Quakers] or any Friends meetings, churches, schools, or service organizations. Comments by different Friends on the same film are separated by a space.
These pages are provided and maintained by Tom & Sandy Farley of The Palo Alto Friends Meeting. Friends who wish to suggest additions or changes to these pages may send them to

THE LIST [alphabetically]

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque would be an excellent choice. It is also about WWI. It is a very powerful story. Hitler banned it in the 1930's because he feared that it would not allow him to build up his armies. It is based on German soldiers, who were at that time the "enemy" of us Americans.

May be the classic WWI anti-war movie. You might want to watch it first to determine if it is age appropriate, because it has war related violence in it, if I recall correctly, it's an old film, so not too graphic, but a very powerful film. It's a hard core lesson, but definitely anti-war.

The movie may be old but it has lost none of its power. Hopefully your sons won't be turned off by the black- and-white picture. The book is not too difficult, either, and perhaps your 12-year-old could understand it if you read it with him.

It's been many years since I have seen it, but it is based on a German novel, and is a classic antiwar movie.

Is the classic German novel and film about the futility of WWI. There is an extensive English literature on the subject: many came back from the war totally disillusioned.

Angel & the Badman features John Wayne learning from a Quaker sweetheart to give up his gun!

Not about war per se: but good re non-violent action and change.

Born on the 4th of July & wasn't there another about Vietnam? The boys might identify more with a Vietnam era story.

The Burmese Harp is a wonderful film about one person's turn from war to a life of reparation and service. Whether children would appreciate it, I can't say: it's old, black and white, and subtitled, and the context is Asian/Buddhist. I found it to be very powerful.

Cadillac Man in which Robin Williams is a used-car salesman who gradually calms down and eventually disarms a violent hostage-taking Tim Robbins. (may be some swearing in this)

Not about war per se: but good re non-violent action and change

The Diary of Anne Frank

Europa Europa Another good movie about war (in this case WWII) I forget who it is by, but the same director did Olivier Olivier (something about those double titles). It has been a while since I saw the film and I cannot remember whether it would be suitable for children or not. It is about a child however, a boy whose Polish, Jewish family sends him east into Russia as the Germans are approaching. For a while he joins a unit of Russian soldiers, but then, when the Germans arrive in Russia (and are obviously going to defeat the unit) he crosses over to the German side with a story about he has been held captive by these Russian soldiers (if memory serves, he claims to be German; he certainly speaks to them in German. I do not remember whether the film is all in foreign languages or not but some of it certainly is (with subtitles)). Of course he does *not* tell them that he is Jewish. He is taken back to Germany and adopted by a German military officer's family, I think, and sent to an elite private Nazi school where he lives in fear that someone will "find him out." This is further complicated when he falls in love with a German girl and wants to consummate the relationship -- but cannot, because he cannot risk having her learn that he is circumcised. Her mother guesses his situation but does not reveal him.

It is good movie about identity, anger and forgiveness (between the brothers, among others), and what people do in violent times in order to stay alive. I would recommend it. Oh, also, (and not unimportantly) it is a true story.

For the Boys with Bette Midler may be a little too adult for pre-teens (it's been a while since I saw the movie, and I really have no experience in evaluating suitability for children).

For Whom the Bell Tolls from Hemmingway's novel

Friendly Persuasion

That film teaches more about our Quaker PeaceTestimony in a 'real life setting' than any film or book I know. Though set in the Civil War era, it spoke to conditions today for the many who live in war zones as well as those of us whose war zones are our own lives.

Since this movie has been mentioned twice I would like to note that I, for one, agree with the criticism that was made of this movie as demonstrating Quaker ideals of peace. (It still might be a good movie from some people's points of view, or a good movie for children, depending on one's ideas about these things.) I disliked the way Quaker ideals were portrayed in the movie from the first time I saw it; I thought it was a travesty. Later I was very pleased to see an excellent (IMO) discussion of this in, I think, Friends Journal. Later Chuck Fager, whose ideas and writings I respect a lot, wrote (probably in his newsletter) that he sort of agreed but found the arguments less than compelling. But to me they ARE compelling. It is a long time since I thought about this, but as I remember, EVERY character is shown reneging on his ideals of pacifism; now I am willing to accept the idea that it is certainly realistic that in any particular chosen time period or in a particular family or small section of society that this might indeed happen and probably has; but this is NOT shown in a way to say how difficult the keeping of pacifist view is; it is shown, in the case of the mother, as somewhat comic--(a sexist view also; the mother is taken less seriously than the men); every time a POTENTIALLY serious conflict arises, it is deflected in one way or another. The really crucial scene, in which the father has the chance to shoot the young man who is on the other side of the war and has been caught nearby, and doesn't--which is treated as the crucial scene, with slow pauses, long shots of agonized faces and decision-making, etc.--is completely vitiated by the fact that the young man IS UNARMED and the QUAKER HAS THE GUN. True, it is nice he chooses not to use it, but there have been many examples (at least I believe there has) in which an person NOT religiously devoted to pacifism has refused to shoot his enemy, some even in situations in which that person is in real danger, as the Quaker in the movie is not. If this is all that pacifism means, well, that is still better than non-pacifism, but it trivializes the more serious philosophical questions, and makes Quakers look especially marginal, though charming.

Gallipoli that shows the disastrous British attempt to take the Turkish port of Gallipoli during WW I, from the viewpoint of two Australian soldiers.


Glory An excellent recent movie with Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick about the first black unit in the Civil War. My son, then 11, was moved to tears and then he asked me to rewind it and play it again.

The Gods Must Be Crazy about a delightful, tiny African bushman who among other things faces down a lion and later sedates and disarms a group of terrorists. Not about war per se: but good re non-violent action and change:

A family favorite, but I think my school-age boys like it more for the slapstick comedy than the message. We talk about the message so I hope they may get it some day.

The Great War. PBS is having an excellent series on WWI. Here in the east it starts at pm and runs till 11. It is a 7 or 8 part series, and it has been running since Sunday, so a lot of it is over, especially the horror of Verdun and the Somme battles. I do believe it is out in video also.

Henry V by Kenneth Branaugh is also an anti-war interpretation of Shakespeare's play.

The Hiding Place A WWII movie about Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian woman who with her sister and aged father hid many Jewish people in their home. Both women were single and in their fifties when a neighbor betrayed them to the occupying Nazis and they were taken to the death camps. Corrie's sister Betsy died in Ravensbrook, one of the Dachau camps. Addresses the ethical dilemmas of lying to protect vulnerable people, and hatred vs. survival vs. forgiveness as ways to deal with great evil. Stars Anne Bancroft as Corrie.

In Country is a powerful movie about the Vietnam war, seen through the eyes of an eighteen year-old girl, adapted from the book of the same name by Bobby Ann Mason. To find her own identity, she discovers she must come to know, and to come to grips with the loss of the father she never saw, killed in Vietnam shortly after she was born. Recreated in her own mind by reading his war letters and war diary is the essence of the combat experience--all the terror, discomfort, exhaustion, and slow deadening of the soul which takes place in the killing zone--presently almost surrealistically. (One especially powerful scene comes when she spends the night in a swamp to try to recreate what her father felt the night he fell.) As she works through her loss, so does her veteran uncle battle his own war demons. Catharsis will finally come in their pilgrimage to the Vietnam memorial.

This movie lacks the violence in Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill, and Platoon, but the horror that is war comes through to her in such a way that neither romanticizes nor condemns the men and women who fought. In Country was intended to be a kind of reconciliation between those who fought and those who protested. I am always left with a feeling of "never let this happen again" each time I see it. In Country and Friendly Persuasion are two of the only war movies my 12 and 8 year old daughters have seen and liked.

Johnny Got His Gun which was I believe the first movie Dalton Trumbo did the screenplay for without a "front" after his blacklisting. The movie was from his excellent book by the same name.

This is the story of a soldier who was wounded so badly that he has no way to communicate with others. Yet modern medicine is able to save his life and to keep him alive in a hospital. The power of the movie is in its ability to show how far from what we conceive of as human life is the results of war--through the details of a soldier who, to the world, is almost dead and yet who maintains his mind's powers undiminished.

I was amazed when a very conservative person with a disability recommended this movie to me as one to promote disability rights--because its message about war is so unconditional, and my friend's husband works for the war machine at a Raytheon missile factory. When I pointed this out to her, its truth had a strong effect on her attitude toward things military.

The most powerful anti-war book and movie I've read/seen.

Johnny Shiloh A Disney made movie about a drummer boy in the civil war. Dated, but still good. After he is captured and escapes, one of the soldiers asks him what the enemy is like. "Well, they're pretty much like us," says Johnny. "That's what I figgered," says the soldier.

The Killing Fields The story of a Cambodian during Pol Pot's 'Year One'. However, it is very intense and very violent, but it shows the utter devastation of the people caught in the Cambodian war and it's aftermath. For older teens and adults.

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed -- About the way the entire town of Le Chambon in France cooperated to hide Jews during WWII.

Little Big Man A movie about the American Indians, with Dustin Hoffman. Custer never looked so bad...and much of the movie is historically accurate.

Mash movie, play, and TV series. One of the best anti-war productions ever made. Get them to watch ANY reruns.

A Midnight Clear. If you can find it, it's some film, set during WWI, about a platoon of American soldiers who encounter a platoon of German soldiers while stationed in a remote castle somewhere in the Ardennes forest in France, if I recall correctly. All of the ones that I can think of have war-related violence in them because, well, that's the theme.

I'm not as familiar with this one, and not sure about availability, but it includes material about German and American soldiers in a remote outpost behaving peacefully with one another.

The Milagro Beanfield War about how one man resists corporate takeover, and his neighbors come to support him.

Not about war per se: but good re non-violent action and change

Paths of Glory starring Kirk Douglas, where he is a French general during WW I who realizes how stupid a war can be. Or as I found in the Internet: "A great anti-war movie! Kirk Douglas plays the compassionate French officer in World War I who must lead his men against insurmountable enemy positions, and then must defend three of his men against charges of cowardice when the battle is lost."

I believe both movies show war as it really is: decisions that affect thousands of people's lives taken inside generals' offices, who don't really care about finding the best solutions or solving differences.

Red Badge of Courage - old (B&W) and possibly too old, but still good

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming -- a very funny, older movie about the furor in an island off New England when a Russian sub accidentally goes aground there. An absolutely fabulous finale that brings everybody together in a creative way. Makes the cold war look utterly ridiculous.

Sargent York that deals with the reactions of a pacifist drafted into WW1. The reason I would recommend it isn't because he consistently sticks to his pacifism, but how he deals with it when he doesn't. I believe it starred Gary Cooper.

The Search with Montgomery Clift, or Little Boy Lost with Bing Crosby. Movies about World War II - not only about fighting, but about people living at the time and how the war affected them. Both suitable for kids... although, again, they are dated. But they are about children.

The Summer of My German Soldier - if you can't find the movie, try reading the book together. This book is used at the Friends School in Baltimore and the movie was suggested for your consideration by my daughter.

To Kill A Mockingbird - in which the young daughter of attorney Gregory Peck diffuses the aggressiveness of a lynch mob at the steps of a jail in the rural South.

Not about war per se: but good re non-violent action and change

The War Prayer A TV short movie made from Mark Twain's story If anyone has NOT read that, I highly recommend it. Very intense stuff.

The War. Although it had a big name in it (Kevin Costner) it went by almost unnoticed. It was recommended to me for showing to a group of pre-teen Quaker boys. I would check it out first to see that it suits your own needs as well as your boys' interests and level of maturity; but it is worth a look. It is about a man from the southern US who was horribly damaged psychologically by the Viet Nam war and who is trying to teach his children the way of peace. There are some interesting contradictions in this film which make it good fuel for discussion. On a different level, parts of it are really a lot of fun. Overall, it is a sad but hopeful movie.

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Page last updated on 4/15/06 by Tom Farley of Spontaneous Combustion