Shull, Michael S. and David E. Wilt. Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films 1939-1945. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2004.
Chapter 8 of Shull and Wilt's book describes the history of Private Snafu and his role as an educational tool. GIs could relate to Snafu, yet did not want to be him. Private Snafu was goofy-looking, physically unimposing, ignorant, and disgruntled young soldier: "a diametrical opposite of the handsome soldier portrayed in Hollywood films." Private Snafu proved to be the transition between the sanitized training videos and the harsh realities of war.
Wartime US military videos often downplayed the gory traumatic injuries and death of war. The Private Snafu series, being an animation, could portray GI death and ease soldiers into reality that disobedience and noncompliance would lead to death. After all, animations lived in the borders of fantasy and reality, so death, capture, or pain were unreal, even comical to the viewer. Such has to be the outlet for the anxieties the soldiers felt. It had to allow soldiers to desensitize them from the senseless destruction around them. In many ways, the transformation of Private Snafu mirrors the transformation of every GI. In the beginning (the first few episodes), Private Snafu is the complete idiot who disregards authority, but by the end, becomes a quirky member of the unit that gets the job done.
Ohmer, Susan. Rev. of Animating Culture: Hollywood Cartoons from the Sound Era, by Eric Smoodin. Film History Vol. 6, No. 3 (1994): 405-408.
Animation was an outlet of soldiers to vent their frustrations, but more importantly, a tool to indoctrinate them about military life and protocol. The cartoons emphasized fulfilling patriotic duty, despite tensions and contradictions in military life. But additionally, Smoodin asserts that cartoons functioned to reduce tensions arising from the rest of the program. The film bill exemplified American ideals, the cause that the soldiers fought for, but also diffused potentially jarring differences to produce a smooth, functional unit. Animation was a key component in mitigating differences.
Frank Capra produced the Army-Navy Screen Magazine, which featured newsreels, training, and usually concluded with Private Snafu. As the entertaining and humorous portion of bill, animations was a happy contrast to newsreels and dramas, which dealt with more serious subjects. SNAFU stood for "Situation Normal: ALL F**ked UP". It was an unofficial acronym describing how the normal state of affairs is in a mess. The Private Snafu series presents the idea of tensions and contradictions in military life, but in an acceptable manner. Often times, newsreels, training films, and dramas triggered tension, which needed a safe outlet: cartoons. This led to acceptance of the norm and desensitization towards the harsh realities, even the idea of killing or being killed becomes less foreboding.
Birdwell, Michael. Technical Fairy First Class? Is this any way to Run an Army?: Private Snafu and World War II. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television Vol. 25, 2 (2005): 203-212.
This article explains how Private Snafu was brought about and why he was brought about. Snafu was the anti-soldier: he kept idle, left weapons in disrepair, skipped training, and so forth. He "died--again, and again and again--so that many GIs might live". Snafu was a tool of indoctrination that the military believed was necessary for the average GI. The lack of censorship for crass behavior catered to the soldier's need for humor and escape from the mundane training videos and dramas.
Chuck Jones used the voice of Bugs Bunny for Private Snafu's voice, creating a dissonance. Soldiers associated Bugs Bunny with wit, doing the right thing; Snafu, on the other hand, does the wrong thing, but still preserves two essential traits of Bugs Bunny: disrespect for authority and a knack for smart-aleck remarks. This dissonance leads soldiers to distance themselves from Snafu and unite against his blunders. The message is clear: every GI could be snafu. As mentioned in the article, the Private Snafu series was an antidote to the tedious training videos and reinforced what they had learned from those training videos. Additionally, the parody of Jiminy Cricket, the Technical Fairy First Class, served to represent the shortcuts in the military that always backfires. In end, Snafu is bi-polar: on one hand, we have the normal non-career solider that the GIs related to and on the other, we have the anti-soldier that GIs had to alienate against. This enforces obedient behavior--the "if I follow orders, I will be fine" mentality. It desensitizes them against reality, in hopes of staying alive.