Randy W. Roberts

150th Anniversary Professor and Distinguished Professor of History

Purdue University

Defining America and Winning the War: Popular Culture’s Role in World War II

This lecture was given on Monday, October 25, 2021, 5:00 p.m.

Randy W. RobertsRemember the film Animal House?  The scene when Bluto (John Belushi) attempts to rally the American warrior spirit of his fraternity brothers by asking, “Was it over when the German bombed Pearl Harbor?”  Actually, the outbreak of war in December 1941 fell hard on a country where many citizens had been deeply divided on the course of American foreign policy and others remarkably ill-informed about geopolitical realities.  Surveys conducted that month reported that only fourteen percent of Americans could name one of President Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms,” and a mere five percent could articulate a clear ideological reason for the war.  Drawing on the research and material from six of his books, Randy Roberts focuses on the role popular culture played in informing Americans of the reasons for the war, the ideological issues involved in the conflict, and the world the Roosevelt administration hoped would emerge from the ashes of battle.  The address takes the listeners from the studios of Hollywood and the recording rooms of Tin Pan Alley to the center of the comic book industry and the gridirons of the country’s universities.  Focusing on such personalities and icons as Billy Wilder and John Wayne, Irving Berlin and Judy Garland, Superman and Captain America, the address shows that never was entertainment so serious and important.  It proved a valuable weapon in the American war effort.

Randy W. Roberts, Ph.D.

Randy W. Roberts earned his B.A., magna cum laude, from Mansfield University in 1972, his M.A. from University of Nebraska (Omaha) in 1973 and his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in 1978. He has been at Purdue University since 1988 and currently serves as both 150th Anniversary Professor and Distinguished Professor of History. In 2015-2016 he held the Charles Boal Ewing Chair in Military History at USMA, West Point. He is the winner of several national book awards and is a four-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in biography for his books on Jack Dempsey, Jack Johnson, John Wayne and Joe Louis.

About the Cherry Award

The Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching honors outstanding professors in the English-speaking world who are distinguished for their ability to communicate as classroom teachers. Individuals nominated for the award should have a proven record as an extraordinary teacher with a positive, inspiring, and long-lasting effect on students, along with a record of distinguished scholarship.