The Animated Propaganda of World War 2 | Animation/Propaganda


From 1939 to 1945, the world was engaged in
a conflict the likes of which may never be seen again. Fascist dictators had taken control of countries with the promise of returning them to their
former glory. Though an alliance had been formed between them, each, in turn, set out
to conquer the world. The rest of the world pushed back, and for those six years, there
was seemingly no future without war, no hope without sacrifice. There was the question
of tomorrow, would there be one, and if so, what would it be? Hello and welcome to Animation/Propaganda.
So far, we’ve looked at the history of propaganda as well as early animation, and how they came
together to oppose drugs and celebrate the virtues of communism and capitalism. In this
final video, we will visit the Golden Age of Propaganda and the theatres of the Second
World War. We are going to be looking at how the film industry was mobilized during this
time, bringing cartoons to the frontline, as well the importance of propaganda to the
development of anime. Now we have a whole video on this, but I’d like to start by
going a little further back to the origins of the medium. Animation was discovered independently by
several nations in the early 20th century through experiments in trick photography. The earliest surviving example of Japanese
animation, or anime, is Katsudō Shashin, possibly dating back to 1907. I say possibly because
it’s origin and creator are unknown. The film, which lasts only 3 seconds, consists
of a boy writing the words “moving pictures” in kanji before bowing to the audience. It was discovered in 2005 and historians believe
believe it to be made between 1905 and 1912, likely as an experiment. Japan is not a friendly climate for celluloid
and many early anime perished due to natural disasters, like the Great Kantō Earthquake
of 1923, or simply deteriorated in the humid climate. The earliest surviving anime produced for
public screening is Jun’ichi Kōuchi’s Namakura Gatana. This follows an inept samurai whose
dull blade repeatedly causes him to embarrass himself. Another prominent anime pioneer was Seitarō
Kitayama, whose work included an adaptation of the time travel folktale, Urashima Tarō. Unlike in America, where cell Animation had
become the standard, many early anime were produced using cut out techniques or drawing
directly onto celluloid. Still the medium grew, with new artists, like Noburō Ōfuji
and Yasuji Murata, emerging throughout the 1920s and 30s. 1939 saw the passing the Film Law, bringing
all film production under control of the Japanese government. This was part of nation’s move
towards a militaristic totalitarian state, resembling the fascist regimes that at the
same time were spreading across Europe. In 1940, Japan, along with Germany and Italy,
signed the Tripartite Pact, officially forming the Axis Powers. On December 7, 1941, the imperial Japanese
army attacked a United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This would be immortalized
in Mitsuyo Seo’s Momotarō’s Sea Eagles. Momotaro, or Peach Boy, is a Japanese folk-hero
said to have traveled to a far off island to rid it of the oni, or demons, along with
his animal friends. Momotarō’s Sea Eagles casts the legend into the attack on Pearl Habor,
with an appearance, of course, unauthorized by Popeye’s Bluto. The cute depictions of animals made the film
and war approachable, especially to children. Indoctrination through the exploitation of
kids’ relationship with animation is a cornerstone of propaganda and Seo followed the success
of this up with 1945’s Momotaro: Sacred Sailors, the first feature-length anime. Similar to Sea Eagles, Sacred Sailors featured
Momotaro and friends engaged in combat against the British, winning rule of the island of
Celebes. While slightly more disturbing than its predecessor, it features considerably
more cuteness as well as the addition of musical numbers.
Despite creating propaganda for a far-right, military dictatorship, Seo was a leftist and
had previously been jailed and tortured for his beliefs. After the war he produced a pro-democracy
anime for Toho, but they refused to release it on political grounds. Given the lack of
resources and difficulty associated with animation, Seo would abandon the industry in favour of
illustrating children’s books. Imagine you’re 18, American, male, fresh
out of school, maybe working your first job; perhaps you’ve even kissed a girl. Suddenly,
you are drafted and sent overseas to a country you’ve never heard of into a war you don’t
understand. For many US soldiers, this was the reality. The military, aware of this, set out to inform
the troops the reasons behind the war and to justify them risking, or in some cases,
giving their lives for it. They enlisted the help of director Frank Capra to produce a
series of films that would show viewers the evil they were dealing with. Why We Fight would span three years and seven
films, covering topics from the causes of the war to individual conflicts within it.
Capra had seen the enemy’s propaganda, notably Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will,
and decided to make use of it mockingly, subverting its original message. It portrays fascists and their followers as
weak-willed and mindless conformists. In addition to stock footage and enemy propaganda,
Why We Fight contained several animated scenes produced by Walt Disney. Capra saw great potential in using animation
for propaganda and set out to create an original character to star in educational shorts. The
result was Private Snafu. Named after the acronym for situation normal:
all fucked up, meaning things are bad, as usual, Private Snafu follows the misadventures
of your average serviceman. It walked viewers through basic concepts, like the use camouflage
and gas masks, as well as the importance of protecting military secrets. This was a more
accessible way for illiterate soldiers to learn rather than reading service manuals.
It was also, extremely entertaining. They were never meant for civilian eyes and
as such, were not subject to same regulation and censorship as commercially released shorts.
Because of this, these cartoons could get away with more risqué and adult-oriented
gags. In short, they are very crass and very horny. Capra and the army had initially wanted Disney
to produce Snafu, but Disney wanted ownership and merchandising rights to the character,
and Warner considerably underbid them. This meant that many responsible for the Golden
Age of Animation worked on these shorts, including Frank Tashlin, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones,
with Bugs Bunny himself, Mel Blanc, providing Snafu’s voice. Some were even written in
rhyme by Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss. The entertainment available to troops stationed
overseas was limited to radio broadcasts and older film releases, many of which troops
probably saw before they were even deployed. Private Snafu would be screened ahead of these
alongside newsreels and poked fun at the absurdity and mundanities of military life. It spoke
to troops on their level and in their language, and no doubt provided comfort in letting them
know they were not in this alone. Back home, every industry had been co-opted
to support the war effort, including entertainment. Movie stars enlisted and studios produced
patriotic films, portraying the War as winnable, but maybe more importantly, finite. Cartoons jumped in on the action. It should shock no one that Popeye was quick
to the fight with 1941’s The Mighty Navy. He would star in several shorts, in which
he would single handedly destroy enemy forces, both in Europe and the Pacific. While the troops got Snafu, Warner Brothers
treated civilians to The Ducktators. This short lampoons the leaders of the Axis, portraying
them as barnyard animals who are eventually killed and mounted by a nameless white dove. Warner would also send their stars to war.
Daffy was drafted, cast as a commando and eventually became a messenger bird in 1944’s
Plane Daffy. This found him at odds with a Nazi spy bird, who attempts to solicit military
secrets from him. She succeeds, sending Hitler the message that he is a stinker, which Goebbels
and Göring admit is hardly a secret, before killing themselves. While many propaganda cartoons are obviously
of their time, few have aged worse than Bugs Bunny’s Any Bonds Today? This is your standard
plea for war bonds and features Bugs performing a rendition of Irving Berlin’s Any Bonds
Today? At one point, he breaks into a blackface number before being joined by Porky and Elmer
Fudd. Though all studios and characters contributed
to the war, none did so quite as much as Disney. At the outbreak of war, Walt Disney and his
studio had established themselves as the Gold Standard in animation. However, due to the
war, and the fact Disney could not distribute his films throughout much of Europe, profits
suffered. To keep the studio going, he offered it to the government. As we saw earlier, Disney had collaborated
with the US military, producing short animations in their instructional videos. In 1942, Disney
would co-produce the similar Stop That Tank! an instructional film showcasing the use of
the Boys Anti-Tank Rifle, with the National Film Board of Canada. Disney characters would also appear in PSAs,
also produced in association with the NFB, encouraging Canadians to purchase, you guessed
it, war bonds. IP from the features Snow White and Pinocchio, as well as the 3 Little Pigs
urged sacrifice at home, as taxation and saving were presented as benefiting the Allies while
spending would only help the Axis. The Disney-NFB collaboration would also give
us Donald’s Decision, wherein Donald Duck joins seemingly every other cartoon in promoting
the purchase of war bonds. He would repeat this call in America, as well as illustrated
the importance of filing your income tax, in The New Spirit and its sequel, The Spirit
of ’43. Donald Duck had rose to prominence throughout
the 1930s, starring alongside Mickey Mouse in several shorts before breaking off on his
own. In many ways, he was the face of Disney during the war. Donald, like Daffy, would
get drafted into the military, literally; he was the mascot for both the Air Corps and
the Coast Guard- and was assigned to sergeant Pete in a series of a shorts, which found
him stumbling through army life similar to Snafu. Donald also starred in what is quite possibly
the most famous of all propaganda cartoons, Der Fuehrer’s Face. Taking its title from
the novelty song by Spike Jones, this followed Donald through a nightmare in which he is
a Nazi. He reluctantly works in an ammunition factory and is subjected to constant indoctrination
before he finally snaps. What follows is a hallucinatory trip through fascist imagery,
ending with Donald waking up, relieved to find himself still in America. If Der Fuehrer’s Face is the most famous,
the most infamous piece of propaganda Disney produced was Education for Death. With the
subtitle, The Making of a Nazi, Education For Death walks viewers through how German
children were indoctrinated and radicalized from birth. It features a cameo by Hitler
as the saviour of Germany, itself portrayed by an obese woman. Like in Why We Fight, fascists
are seen are mindless, killing machines hellbent on destroying everything you love. The fascists had cartoons of their own. Italy’s IIl Dottor Churkill, casts Winston
Churchill in the role of Jekyll and Hyde, mocking British imperialism and showing him
pilfering other nations before being chased away by Nazis. In the end, he is seen hiding
while London burns. Nazi Germany furthered its anti-Semitic rhetoric
with 1940’s Of The Little Tree Which Wished For Different Leaves. This showed a tree with
golden leaves being picked cleaned by a Jewish caricature.
Germany had a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, a partnership that would be
lampooned in Britain’s Hitler Dances to Stalin’s Tune. This didn’t last long, however, as Germany
invaded Russia in 1941. The Soviets responded with Fascist Boots Shall
Not Trample Our Motherland. Directed by Alexander Ivanov and Ivan Ivanov-Vano, this showed boots
marching across European countries in the order they had been conquered. Pulling out,
a Nazi pig is revealed. As it approaches the Soviet Union, it is stopped and thwarted by
the Soviet’s superior fire power. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy and what
followed was the bloodiest conflict in human history. Nearly half the War’s total deaths
came from the Eastern Front, estimated around 30 million, with many being civilians who
either succumbed to starvation or perished in genocide. To keep moral up, the Soviet’s pumped out
propaganda. This is best exemplified in A Journal of Political
Satire № 2, or, Fascist Pirates. Told in four parts, this 8 minute epic was produced
by many who had worked on the earlier China In Flames. The first part, subtitled What Hitler Wants,
shows the dictator giving the factories to the capitalists and enslaving the Soviet people,
ending with what he will actually receive. Part 2 depicts German U-Boats as sharks, that
are as adorable as they are terrifying, which are sunk by Soviet torpedoes. Espionage and sabotage are the themes of part
3, showing enemies burning crops and attempting to derail a train. They are promptly handled. Part 4 illustrates the allegiance between
the British and Soviet forces, much to Hitler’s chagrin. In the end, it is this partnership
that crushes him. Now pretty much everything we’ve seen so
far has been produced by “free” nations. This next cartoon comes from occupied Czechoslovakia. An urban legend had grown out of the occupation
of man who travelled by bouncing on springs, known as Pérák, the Spring Man of Prague.
Something of a superhero, he was said to be a chimney sweep who moonlighted as a vigilante,
helping the people of Prague and opposing the Nazis. The Spring-man and the SS was a cartoon produced
in the final days of the occupation by Jiří Brdečka & Jiří Trnka. It shows the fear
and paranoia of living under Nazi rule, as a collaborator rats out those he believes
are defying them. The Sping-man rises and gives the Nazis a
thrashing, freeing those imprisoned. It ends with the hope of peace, now that the war has
ended. The glory of war is a lie, a powerful lie
that is propagated to no end to convince the young to give their lives for something bigger
than themselves, be it freedom, an ideology or their country. Now I’m not discounting the threat or the
evil of the Axis, nor the sacrifice that was made in order to defeat it. I believe there
is a world of difference between supporting war and supporting the troops, and I can’t
help think of the kids who graduated into this war. For many, this was the sum of their
life experience and I’m sure at one time or another it felt as though this was life,
and that the war would never end. But it did, and when Allied victory was all
but certain, the US government produced short animations to help the soldiers acclimatize
to their post-war life. Snafu would even return in the series A Few Quick Facts. Produced
at different times by UPA, MGM and even Disney, these taught soldiers how to save and spend
their money, as well as the dangers of inflation, credit, and how take advantage of benefits
their service allowed them under the GI Bill of Rights. These people risked, and gave, their lives to give us a tomorrow, a tomorrow, it turns
out, filled with more wars, more fascists, and more propaganda. The period covered in this video is commonly
referred to as the Golden Age of Propaganda but it seems quaint in hindsight, giving the
information nightmare we are currently living through. It’s inescapable. Exhausting, intentionally
so. Our day to day life is designed as such, that we are constantly being bombarded with
information, manipulated into spending our money a certain way or to vote or think a
certain way. Or to just give up, and to not think; fuck it. Ignore it. It’s not happening. Truth. Fiction? Reality is now a subjective concept. I have created mine, you have yours,
and these realties are under continuous attack, by the fear and hate of those in power. Now when I began this project six months ago
I said I wasn’t trying to make a grand political statement and I’m not. I don’t believe
I have that power and If you’ve watched this long I’m probably not telling you anything
you didn’t already know. However, I do want to leave you with one thing: Be careful what reality you chose to live in. So that wraps up about a year’s worth of
propaganda content. It’s been tough, it’s been heavy but thanks for sticking with us.
I’m very excited to move towards more fun topics but this subject, WW2 propaganda is
way too big to fit into one video so we will be exploring it further in a process video
over on Patreon, patreon.com/picsnportraits. You can support us there. And I also wouldn’t
be opposed to reviving this series in the future. It’s something I find fascinating
and there is certainly no shortage of material to draw from. If you’re new here, please subscribe, check
out some of the other episodes or our other videos. Some are much lighter. But if you
enjoyed this video, give us a thumbs and please share. That helps out a lot. As always thank
you so much for your interest in this channel and thank you so much for watching.

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5 Responses

  1. Justice Jones says:

    Dude your channel is one of my favorites and is way underrated imo. Sleepcore is dope, these docs you make are dope, thank you for making what you do!

  2. blueninion says:

    Amazing as always especially the end. Hope your channel grows more.

  3. Mikey P. says:

    This has to be seen by more people.

  4. S M says:

    Vocalllll fryyyyyy

  5. J Stevinik says:

    I hope that my video links for research helped.

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