Training the Troops through Cartoons
I have not read a lot about the use of cartoons during World War Two. So I won’t go into a long detail about the subject. Though, I’m probably selling myself short in this area.
Here are several worth mentioning:
Mel Blanc was the voice behind the lovable private who did everything he wasn’t supposed to do as a soldier. From talking loudly about upcoming orders in “Spies” to learning how to find “Booby Traps”, Private SNAFU educated soldiers about their duty. These cartoons were not for public consumption. It had a clear audience: the soldiers. This is evident by the raunchy nature of the cartoons. Using buxom beauties to drive home the point of finding “booby traps” is no mistake from the creators of the animated series. The series
The character was created by Frank Capra. Most of the episodes were written by the man who would become famous as Dr. Seuss, Theodore Geisel. The U.S. Army gave Walt Disney first crack at producing the cartoons but it eventually went to Warner Brothers who used their cast of creative artists and gifted voice-actors, Mel Blanc and others, to create the animated series. As mentioned earlier, these cartoons were meant for soldiers. But it the simplicity of the cartoons gears itself toward recruits and draftees who had little educational background beyond middle or high school levels. It sounds harsh. But in 1943, thousands of men were entering boot camps the goal was to train the men quickly and efficiently using a method that appealed to a broad spectrum and film was the answer. Complex issues could be reduced into a 10 or 15 animated short film that captured the attention of the people of watching. The soldiers had Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall to thank for using film as the means and methods to train the troops.
Private SNAFU “Spies”:
Donald and Mickey Join Up
Walt Disney also put his company into the service of the Office of War Information during World War Two. Disney produced a handful of animated short films featuring their iconic characters. It also their animation department that did the maps for Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series. The studio also produced dozen of training films for Army, Army Air Corps and the U.S. Navy. Some of the shorts featuring their iconic characters are Der Fuehrer’s Face and Commando Duck.
der Fuehrer’s Face:
But the most scariest and perhaps most profound of Disney’s propaganda cartoons is Education for Death. I have preciously discussed this title before. This short is pure propaganda. There’s no muddled intentions on the part of the creator. And its subject matter hits at the heart of youth.
Looney Toons, Merrie Melodies and Warner Brothers
Of all the studios that produced animated films, Warner Brothers was at the forefront. Since 1939, Jack and Harry Warner put their studio at great risk to inform American audiences about the danger of the rise of Nazism in Europe. It was Bugs, Daffy and Porky that audiences were practically beaten over the head with wartime propaganda.
Some of the cartoons (such as the one below) are racist by today’s standards. In fact, the have never been shown in their entirety on TV since first appearing in movie houses during their initial release. They have been included on DVD releases featuring wartime animated shorts. But in 1942-1945, this was standard and accepted practices in relating the war to the public.
Although the Office of War Information tried to sway filmmakers from making films that depicted the enemy in stereotyped caricatures it still happened. Tokio Jokio was released in 1943 and was a hit. This cartoon is also one of the reasons why I am so interested in this subject area because the film is racist and offensive on so many levels. It speaks to mindset of the people at the time, two years after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It also the lens to which we must view the films made during this time.
Other notable propaganda cartoon shorts
Popeye, the Sailor Man also had his share of run-ins with the enemy during the war years. And like with the Warner Brothers cartoons, most of Popeye’s wartime cartoons have been locked up and off television. The most controversial is “You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap.” Finding these cartoons online is difficult. A handful of Popeye’s World War Two shorts have shown up on DVD releases. After watching the video, you’ll understand why it’s been banned.
Not all cartoons were racist. There were a good many that related positive if not important messages about what the average citizen could do to help the war effort. Here’s a look at a few of the cartoons:
By today’s standards, these cartoons may seem simple and cheesy. But to a nation at war, it was a different way of relaying the goals and aims of the government to approximately 80 million people a week who went to the theater. These characters were well-known to all.