Disney War Propaganda

Disney's "Der Fuehrer's Face" (JPG)

Disney did not prosper during the Second World War;[1]…the outbreak of the war in Europe cut off Disney’s highly profitable foreign market.[2] During the war years, Disney turned to making war films for the Department of Defense.[3]

The animated training film, pioneered by Max Fleischer during World War I, played a vital role in the education of the men and women in the various branches of the armed services. Animated shorts were often a more effective means of instruction than live-action films or illustrated lectures, because the trainees watched them more attentively.[4]

The studio produced Chicken Little, an anti-Nazi film showing the evils of mass hysteria; Education for Death, depicting how German youth were converted into Nazis; and Defense Against Invasion, promoting immunization against disease.[5] [Victory Through Air Power] expounded the strategic bombing theories of Major Alexander de Seversky.[6] The plot of Der Fuehrer’s Face[i] focuses on [Donald Duck’s] miserable existence as a Nazi.[7] The film was translated into several languages, and copies were dropped behind German lines.[8] In Donald Gets Drafted,…he went through the…harrowing experiences with which millions of men could sympathize. There on the screen was Donald Duck submitting to an assembly line physical, getting measured for an ill-fitting uniform, quivering before a monster of a drill instructor, and marching until his feet were ready to fall off.[9]

Disney's "Der Fuehrer's Face"

Disney's "Hitler's Children: Education for Death; The Making of the Nazi"

Disney’s World War II propaganda films are never shown [on television]. Disney refuses to let the public see these films with strong anti-German and anti-Japanese messages. The Spirit of ’43, Education for Death: The Making of a Nazi (1943), Victory Through Air Power (1943), Reason and Emotion (1943) and other films from the period are important historical documents. While they are not appropriate as family entertainment, they do belong on shows covering the history of the war. They are remarkable and powerful films and capture the patriotic zeal of the United States during a time of crises.[10]

So vital was the Disney war work that drafted employees were sent back to the studio in uniform to resume their work.[11] One area of the war effort for which Walt Disney got little publicity and credit at home was nevertheless a tremendous morale-builder in the battle zone. It was the role of Disney artists in creating insignias for military units.[12] Soldiers carried the cartoon-figure emblems of his creations on their uniforms and their war planes.[13] The use of corps insignia was originated through the necessity of distinguishing planes at times of poor visibility. Later, it developed that pride in organization, or the Spirit of the Corps, was equal in importance to the necessity of identification.…

Although the Walt Disney Studios ha[d] been deluged with requests for insignia from fighting organizations seeking whimsical interpretation of their military functions, the first isolated request, and the one which started “the rain,” arrived from Cadet Stanley in June of 1939, who was then stationed with the “Fighting Seven” squadron of the new navy carrier U.S.S. Wasp at San Diego, California.

Then, in March 1940, request Number Two came from Lieutenant E. S. Caldwell of the office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington. The first American motor torpedo boats, known as the “mosquito fleet,” were in need of insignia. The request was honored,…and a nasty looking mosquito riding on a torpedo soon adorned the hull of each of the tiny craft. One of these stunned the Japanese Fleet as it rode off Formosa in the early weeks of the war following the attack on Pearl Harbor and buzzed away unscathed leaving destruction and consternation in its wake.[14]

In the 1940s military propaganda, the film bill constructed a space where much might be displayed, but only one thing, finally, was on view: a national consensus accepting hardship and responsibility in order to achieve an American-made peace. To control this view, the Screen Magazine appealed to two forms of power: that of medicine and science, and that of a controlling male gaze. Both together constituted systems of rank, hierarchy, collective good, and discipline, and also informed audiences how to think about class, gender, religion, technology, leisure, and home.

While rarely thematic — that is, covering a single issue — the magazines used the various combinations of newsreel, special segment, and cartoon to fix attention on one of several core issues. Some of the magazines constructed a scientific discourse that assured audiences of both the benevolence of the United States government and the superiority of its technology. Others insisted that biology determined behavior, making the military hierarchy seem natural and therefore beyond questioning.… Mainstream magazines like Popular Science and The Saturday Review…disseminated instructions for the proper attitudes toward such issues as gender, race, class, and labor.

The Walt Disney thereby created varied only slightly from journal to journal, from Time magazine, for instance, to Business Week. But the private discourse about Disney, produced by the United States government, demonstrated all of the contradictions inherent in the government’s project of promoting capitalism and democracy at home and abroad. State Department documents detail Disney’s work for the U.S. government in South America during the 1940s, as a representative of the Good Neighbor policy and of North American industry. But it was largely this progovernment work in South America and the increase in the global influence of the Disney product that made the FBI cautiously suspicious of the cartoon producer.[15]

[i] Realizing that the whole country was singing what Oscar Hammerstein II called “the great psychological song of the war,” Disney executives changed the title from Donald Duck In Nutzi Land to Der Fuehrer's Face.
— Richard Shale, Donald Duck Joins Up: The Walt Disney Studio During World War II (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1976, 1982), p. 63.


[1] Douglas Gomery, The Hollywood Studio System : A History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), p. 145.

[2] Leonard Maltin, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, Revised ed. (New York: Plume, 1980, 1987), p. 63.

[3] Judith A. Adams, The American Amusement Park Industry: A History of Technology and Thrills (Boston: Twayne Publ., 1991), p. 93.

[4] Charles Solomon, Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation, Revised ed. (New York: Wings Books, 1989, 1994), p. 113.

[5] Bob Thomas, Walt Disney: An American Original (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), p. 176.

[6] Christopher Finch, Walt Disney’s America (New York: Abbeville Press, Inc., 1978), p. 175.

[7] Bob Thomas, Disney's Animation: From Mickey Mouse to Hercules (New York: Hyperion, 1992, 1997), p. 133.

[8] Kathy Merlock Jackson, Walt Disney: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993), p. 39.

[9] Thomas, Disney’s Animation, p. 125.

[10] Karl F. Cohen, Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., Inc., 1997), p. 124.

[11] Thomas, American Original, p. 178.

[12] Walton Rawls, Disney Dons Dogtags: The Best of Disney Military Insignia from World War II (New York: Abbeville Publ. Group, 1992), p. 6.

[13] Time eds., Great People of the 20 Century (New York: Time Inc., 1996), p. 118.

[14] Combat Insignia Stamps of the United States Army & Navy Air Corps, in War Insignia Stamp Album, Vol. 1-4, 1942-44 (Hollywood: Postamp Publ. Co.).

[15] Eric Smoodin, Animating Culture: Hollywood Cartoons from the Sound Era (Oxford: Roundhouse Publ., 1993), pp. 4, 5, 75.

See also

Disney’s “Education for Death” video
Brainwashed at the Mouse House
Walt's Youth
Disney and the FBI
Disney Sweatshops
Disney Pedophiles
Disney, Hoover and Reno
Why We Hate Disney news group

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