This is a contemporary essay of how government agencies helped shape Hollywood documentaries. What is particularly interesting is that an author of the essay was involved first-hand in the Hollywood-US government interaction: Robert Katz was Deputy Chief of Long Range Operations in the Office of War Information (OWI), Overseas Branch and then Assistant Chief of Production Planning in the International Motion Picture Division of the Department of State in 1946 and 1947. In this essay he co-authors with Nancy Katz, Robert Katz discusses the role of the "Private Snafu" series vis-à-vis other elements of government propaganda to manage and ensure morale of the troops. Specifically, the Katzs discuss how one of these shorts film portrays the consequences of Private Snafu neglecting a hole in the mosquito net: death at the hands of "Anopheles Annie," a malaria-carrying mosquito. Such films were direct answers to concerns and questions that soldiers had about life in the military. In addition to the Armed Forces, other forms of government interaction with the film industry included the Overseas Branch of the OWI, which actually made films that were shown exclusively abroad to promote elements of the New Deal.
This essay places the “Private Snafu” series in historical and contextual perspective in relation to other war time film propaganda, both in terms of the intended audience and the production process. It also captures the importance of the documentary filmm=-making approach and its relevance for effective propaganda.
Smoodin discusses the complex relationship between Hollywood and the government, which essentially acts as a studio as it plays a increasing role in controlling film media during World War II. Smoodin points out the irony that in serving to assuage soldiers’ discontent with military life, the “Private Snafu” series also reinforced how much discontent permeated the military. By presenting a negative example of how not to act, these films were effectively both modeling and providing resistance against military authority.
Smoodin’s argument resolves the fact that the “Private Snafu” series both illuminated and worked to address contradictions within military life. In fact, the seeming irony does not undermine the ideological purpose and inherent success of these films to serve the needs of the government in maintaining morale in the military because they represented the reconciliation between the individual and the group in social psychology. The relevance of psychology and one’s awareness as an “everyman” soldier vis-à-vis the greater goals of the group (and the nation) meant that the “Private Snafu” series provides more positive answers to address soldiers’ concerns than exposes negativity about these concerns.
Ohmer notes in her review of "Animating culture: Hollywood cartoons from the sound era" by Eric Smoodin (Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ, 1933. 216 pgs) that "Private Snafu" series was often shown at civilian theaters at the end of military film. According to Smoodin, the character of Private Snafu acted as an outlet that addressed soldiers' discontent while also indoctrinating them further with ways of military life.
Ohmer’s discussion hints at a counterpoint to the effectiveness of the “Private Snafu” series in that the propaganda may have done more harm than good for its audience. Although the films succeeded in ironing out soldiers’ qualms, their discussion of these qualms reinforces many of the negatives of military life.