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The Fort Devens Collection

Propaganda, “the methodical propagation of a particular doctrine,” was an essential tool in America’s arsenal during the cold war (1946-1991), a period of history bracketed by two watershed events, the end of World War II and the destruction of the Berlin Wall. During these four decades propaganda played as much of a role in the United States’ struggle with the Soviet Union as did the billions of dollars spent on weaponry. The Fort Devens Collection came to the HFA from the Fort Devens Historical Museum in Groton, MA, located on the site of the former U.S. Army base. Originally called Camp Stevens, the base was built in 1917 for the demands of World War I and named for General Charles L. Devens (Harvard Law 1840). It was designated at the onset of World War II as a reception center and training camp for all men drafted in New England who would serve in the U.S. Army. The nearly seven square mile camp comprised more than 1200 wooden buildings and an airfield, and was home to the 1st, the 45th, and the 32nd divisions during World War II and the 7th Infantry during the Vietnam conflict. It also housed a prisoner of war camp for German and Italian prisoners from 1944 to 1946. After WWII, Harvard had so many veterans attending Harvard under the G.I. bill that barracks at Fort Devens were used as temporary housing for Harvard students in the years immediately following the war.

Fort Devens was the last American home many soldiers saw before they were shipped to Europe or the Pacific during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. After Fort Devens U.S. Army camp was officially closed down in 1996 after 79 years of service, the films stored there spent several years in the basement of Richard Sperry, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who rescued the 92 films when they were discarded during the dismantling of Fort Devens.

Researchers looking at the history of World War II and the Vietnam War will find this collection of particular interest. The collection contains films viewed by Generals Colin Powell and Tommy Franks when they were young officers training at Fort Devens during the 1960s. Titles like Armies of the World, Soviet Army Reconnaissance, and Why Vietnam? were used as part of the training of U.S. Army officers during the Vietnam era. From films such as Face to Face with Communism, a dramatization of the potential impact of a communist invasion of the United States, to films like Communist Target Youth, in which Robert Kennedy explains the hazards of communist indoctrination to American youth, we learn as much about the fears and aims of the United States as we do about its enemies abroad.

A finding aid for the Fort Devens Film Collection can be found here.

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700