To the People of the United States

To the People of the United States is a short propaganda film produced by the US Public Health Service in 1943 to warn the American GIs against syphilis. It was directed by Arthur Lubin and produced by Walter Wanger.[1][2] The film was subject to protests from the Catholic Legion of Decency.[3]

To the People of the United States
Directed byArthur Lubin
Produced byUnited States Public Health Service
Walter Wanger
Written byEdmund L. Hartmann
StarringJean Hersholt
Narrated byJean Hersholt
CinematographyMilton Krasner
Distributed byWar Activities Committee of the Motion Pictures Industry
Release date
16 April 1944
Running time
21 minutes
CountryUnited States


The film opens with the ground crew of a flying fortress talking to their colleagues about being grounded. It seems the other planes in their unit are off to fight the enemy, but they and their plane lay idle because their pilot is "sick". The pilot, whose face is never shown, talks with a doctor, feeling very embarrassed and guilty about what has happened. The doctor assures him that he will fly again when he gets better. When the pilot interjects that he has heard he wouldn't, the doctor asks "Heard from who? The kid next door or the drug patent salesman? Surely not anyone who knew what he was talking about." The doctor then informs him that if the disease is caught early, and he keeps up a strict treatment he will be able to go about his business normally again.

Once the pilot leaves the doctor addresses the audience "Do you want the facts? Well the first question is the extent of syphilis in America." A visit to the local draft board later reveals that nearly 47 of every thousand men called up have to be dismissed because they had syphilis. He then visits an Army hospital and is informed by the doctor that syphilis is like a "forest fire", no organization or saboteur could do half the damage that venereal disease does to the army.

The doctor then goes into the social stigma associated with syphilis, and the fact that so many people will not get a blood test to check for syphilis. He notes in his native Scandinavia, people were much more open about it, and it was a normal sight for people to get a blood test for syphilis. He shows a diagram of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, which he says has a comparable population as the State of New York, and how fewer Scandinavians have VD than New Yorkers, The film ends with a plea for everyone to get a blood test.



The film was made at the request of the Public Health Service and the California State Department of Public Health, using public funds.[4] The director and all the actors volunteered their time for the film and it was shot in November 1943. The intent was for the film to be distributed free by the Public Health Service to the armed services, schools, civic organisations and industrial groups.[1] The film was made with the co operation of the office of the Surgeon General and the script was approved by the army and the Office of War Information.[5]


Diabolique magazine says the film "is the sort of doco that is easy to laugh at (“syphilis – say it!”) but actually has a fine message: don’t be ashamed if you’re infected, look to science rather than urban legend, get tested and treated, follow the example of Denmark when it comes to sex education. This is all sensible stuff, and accordingly offended the Catholic Legion of Decency."[6]


The Catholic Legion of Decency protested the finished film, saying it failed "to stress that promiscuity is the principal cause of venereal disease." The Legion said the film would "pave the way for a flood of pictures by producers who do not hesitate to avail themselves of every opportunity for lurid and pornographic material for financial gain."[7]

Producer Wanger argued that the film did not violate the Production Code section on sex and hygenie as the Code did not apply to government films. He said the Code did apply to commercial pictures and would ensure any commercial film did not promote promiscuity. However the protests worked and on March 30, 1944 the Public Health Service withdrew its sponsorship of the film. [7]

On April 16, the California Department of Health made the film available for public showing.[4]

Catholics continued to protest the movie.[8]


The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.[9][10]


  1. "Wagner, Lubin Make Social Disease Shortie". Variety. November 3, 1943. p. 4.
  2. Bernstein, Matthew (2000). Walter Wanger, Hollywood independent. University of Minnesota Press. p. 175.
  3. Stobbe, Mike (2014). Surgeon General's warning : how politics crippled the nation's doctor. University of California Press. p. 78-80.
  4. Of Local Origin New York Times 27 Apr 1944: 18.
  5. PUBLIC TO SEE FILM ON VENEREAL DISEASE: Wanger Says California Health Unit Has Released It New York Times 17 Apr 1944: 38.
  6. Vagg, Stephen (14 September 2019). "The Cinema of Arthur Lubin". Diabolique Magazine.
  7. VENEREAL FILM HALTED: Sponsorship Is Withdrawn at Request of Legion of Decency New York Times 31 Mar 1944: 23.
  8. BISHOP ASSAILS MOVIE ON SOCIAL DISEASE FIGHT Chicago Daily Tribune 8 Dec 1944: 20.
  9. "NY Times: To the People of the United States". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-11-23.
  10. "The 16th Academy Awards (1944) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved May 29, 2019.

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