I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Daffy’s Inferno: An American World War II Propaganda Revue in Seven Chapters


by Joe DeMartino
June 14, 2013

 

Beyond a few broad, core truths (the Nazis are Evil, the Axis are a Threat), propaganda is by its very nature filled with falsehoods, exaggerations, and lies. It reveals far more about the country that created it than its actual target. In the following cartoons, which cast the most popular animated characters of the time into situations both comic and nightmarish, the concerns of World War II America are laid bare: it's scared, defiant, and strangely obsessed. 

 

Wrath

During a parable about the idiocy of signing a non-aggression pact with a man who is a wolf AND a Nazi, the Three Little Pigs run into the eldest pig’s house, which is made out of bricks and heavy cannons. There’s a sign on the door which says: “No Dogs Allowed”, except “Dogs” has been crossed out and replaced by “Japs”. No other mention of the Japanese is made during this sequence. Frankly, it seems like an afterthought -- like they completed this cartoon and sent it through the editing process, where it was determined that there was just not enough racism against the Japanese. By then, it was too late to add, say, a horrible buck-toothed reptile sidekick for Wolf Hitler, so they slapped the sign on the house and called it a day.

They really went out of their way to portray the Japanese as inhuman, too. Hitler and Mussolini are caricatures of people: Hitler is thin and floppy, while Mussolini is fat and bull-headed. Hirohito, on the other hand, is practically an alien--he’s got bright yellow skin, a face that seems to be composed entirely of buck teeth, long ears, and pinprick eyes. Last time I checked, Japanese people do not possess any of those characteristics (I would say, “anime doesn’t count”, but this doesn’t even happen in anime).

 

Gluttony

The wolf wants more. He will not use what he gains. It is enough for him that it is there to make his own. He will blow down the house of straw and sticks, and try to blow up the house of cannons. He will eat the pigs. All of his minions are either obese (they have gorged themselves well) or rail-thin (they are starving of their want). He will send his crow after you, to catch your duck. He will fill your children full of death. The wolf wants more.

 

Lust

How many times are people going to get shot in the ass in these cartoons? There’s something very strange going on here -- you Nazis may have annexed the Sudetenland and made war on civilization, but we’re gonna shoot you in the butt! Wolf Hitler gets chased around by bombs and shells that seem to have been designed to seek out his rear end. Nazi Donald Duck (more on that later) is prodded to his fascist re-education by bayonets that poke him in the ass. In the title screen to his starring role in this rump drama, Daffy Duck shoots a Nazi duck (not Donald) directly in the asshole with a rock from a slingshot.

I understand the need to be aggressive against Nazi Germany, but do we really need to move from invasions to invasions? If you watched The Fog of War, you’ll know that General Curtis LeMay (whose dying regret must have been that he never lived to use a railgun on a communist) never went near recommending anything of this nature (mostly, his strategy was bombs, regardless of anatomical location). I’m not sure exactly what this reveals about the mindset of the gentlemen animating these cartoons, but if I had a communications device that ignored the boundaries of space and time, I’d tell them to cool it down a bit. I would also tell them to make a prequel to Space Jam, this time featuring bespectacled giant and early NBA icon George Mikan, on the condition that they put aside a small percentage of the profits in a trust fund for me.

 

Greed

It’s perhaps a little vulgar when the three little pigs launch bullets literally full of money at Wolf Hitler. They’re helpfully labeled “Defense Bonds”, which is a nice little reminder to the American public to get crackin’ with the bond-buying. Additionally, the exhortation to BUY WAR BONDS gets repeated an awful lot during the less-subtle cartoons, but this is to be forgiven. Tanks were needed to crush the Nazis, and tanks are not free.

 

Envy

One very specific type of envy, to be accurate. A hint: observe the number of cannons in these cartoons. Cannons abound. Tanks have two at minimum, sometimes as many as five. Sometimes, the cannons go limp. A pig will feed the cannon vitamins, and it is ready once again to fire away.

 

Pride

There is only the barest mention of Russia in these cartoons. This may be a disservice.

Did you know that, out of the total number of German army soldiers who died in World War II, something like nine out of ten were killed by the Russians? Our image of that war is of America saving the day, and this is not without merit. England alone would have been unable to mount a counter-invasion on its own and would have been forced to surrender eventually had it not received American aid. It’s important to remember, however, that alongside Good Old Fashioned American Know-How and the Legendary British Resolve, the war was won by Millions and Millions of Russian Conscripts, dying in Stalingrad, clogging the gears of a meat grinder.

 

Sloth

Donald Duck is in hell.

He doesn’t know how he got here. It seems like he’s always been in hell, but the memories of another land flicker across his overworked brain like the last fireworks of the last Fourth of July. He is on an assembly line which stretches into infinity. His tormentors want him to build shells. His tormentors want him to hail the Fuhrer. They are not satisfied with the slightest delay in either of these actions. Earlier, in a different world, the Fuhrer was a wolf, but here, he’s a man. Someday, the wolf will be blown to hell, greeted by a leering band of devils, but Donald will not be there for that.

Donald has been up since four o’clock in the morning. He was awoken by a band of grotesques singing a song about the Fuhrer, and it seems like their chorus ambushes him at the worst possible times.

He is so very good at his job. His wings long ago evolved into hands, and they shame humanity with their quickness and dexterity. Small shells are no problem. Larger ones are a cakewalk. Donald could screw shells together forever, but his skill only encourages his tormentors. They finally trip him up. They may have never wanted him to succeed. If only they would stop screaming at him. If only the music would stop.

One day, Donald will wake up in America. He never left. He was only dreaming. The dream was eternity.

 

Joe DeMartino is a Connecticut-based writer who grew up wanting to be Ted Williams, but you would not BELIEVE how hard it is to hit a baseball, so he gave that up because he writes words OK. He talks about exploding suns, video games, karaoke, and other cool shit at his blog. He can be emailed at jddemartino@gmail.com and tweeted at @thetoycannon. He writes about sports elsewhere. The sports sells better.