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.
During World War II, the American government, especially the military, turned to Hollywood to aide in the creation of animated instructional films. The entire industry had little precedents and guidelines. Walt Disney, as one of the industry giants in animation, had an immense task and was instrumental in the indoctrination of GIs. This book chronicles the works from Walt Disney's studio and the profound effects it had on viewers. The particular section is the author's brief discussion of propaganda and Disney's works, The New Spirit (1943) and its sequel The Spirit of '43 (1943).
Shale states that while it is difficult to define the term propaganda, activity is key to any definition. If propaganda leads to only heightened emotions, but no action to follow, it is considered a failure. According to Shale, propaganda arouses emotions that in turn elicits vital action. But outright blatant propaganda leads to rejection. As Disney put it, "outright propaganda is resented...molding [public] opinion is something else again." Animation is key to this molding process because it is not as "real" of a medium as newsreels or drama.
A real example of this molding process was Disney's first big wartime propaganda hit, The New Spirit. The Treasury Department reported it had been seen by 32,647,000 people and according to the Gallup Poll, an astonishing 37% of viewers felt it had affected their willingness to pay their taxes. Even the great Frank Capra whose Why We Fight series indoctrinated the GIs congratulated Walt Disney and conceded that animation is the only method that could achieve certain effects that conventional film could not. Animation was the ideal medium for imparting uniform concise instruction, but in the powerful bridging manner as not to appear as outright propaganda. As opinions are molded, soldiers become less sensitive to what they perceive as wrong or not ideal and internalize those opinions as their own.
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.
Fyne, Robert. Rev. of Doing Their Bit: Wartime American Animated Short Films, by Michael S. Shull and David E. Wilt. Film &
History: an Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies 35.1 (2005): 78.
Robert Fyne reviews the monumental body of work by Shull and Wilt on Hollywood World War II propaganda. Fyne discusses of parody's importance as a viable propaganda format. Cartoons, according to the authors, became an extension of the government persuasion machine. Animation spoofing reality was a method of escapism for the public weary of wartime films.
This is the basis of my research--that indeed, Hollywood through the animation medium created propaganda to desensitize soldiers towards reality. This becomes clear when you consider the plentiful use of parody as a propaganda format. In Snafuperman (1944, Private Snafu), Snafu is transformed into a super version of himself (a clear parody of Superman), but instead of helping the troops, he creates more mayhem. But Snafu's comic parodic ways repackages the importance of protocol of studying manuals in an acceptable manner. In The Spirit of '43 (1943), Donald Duck is in the classic parody of devil and angel. It emphasizes how the income taxes paid would support the troops, rather than the sacrifices civilians were making; the animation associated spending with vice as opposed to surviving in tough times (remember, this period is at the end of the Depression).
Katz, Robert and Nancy Katz. "Documentary in Transition, Part I: The United States." Hollywood Quarterly Vol. 3, No. 4 (1948): 425-433.
Documentaries attracted widespread public interest after World War II, but during the wartime period, it was mostly shown to the armed forces. To the soldiers who fought in distant theaters, it was a means to political education. It was important for the ordinary GI to know his allies and to the causes and issues at stake. Documentaries such as Frank Capra's Why We Fight series or True Glory politically educated soldiers, but there were also documentaries such as the This Is America series, which portrayed images of normality for the homesick GIs. The first major US documentaries with a definite point of view came during the second Roosevelt administration and included the popular Private Snafu series, but it had to overcome the stigma of being government sponsored. There is also the element of interactive instruction through documentaries (including the Private Snafu series). Such films acted as direct answers to concerns and questions that soldiers had (in accordance to the military viewpoint). It simultaneously satisfied individual curiosities as well as assimilating individual soldiers into the unit; it made these sources of propaganda seem unbiased and trustworthy.
It is important to understand the amount of propaganda that was thrown at soldiers, in order to keep the discontent to a minimum. In addition, it was a form of social control. The constant stream of propagandistic documentaries took a toll on the soldiers as well as priming them for more propagandistic material. Torn between the images of home and normality and the patriotic duty demanded, they were susceptible to additional propaganda. The earlier animations and documentaries geared towards to soldiers were overly conscious of the "official" nature of the work and tried to avoid committing to a concrete message. Instead, the later animations and documentaries struck a clearer chord by gearing the feature to a specific message, whether it is not revealing secrets liberally (Private Snafu in Censor) or why we fight the war. With clear messages in the form of entertaining animation, soldiers become desensitized to constant barrage of propaganda, in other forms besides animation, as well as to the conditions they are exposed to.
Fagelson, William F. "Fighting Films: The Everyday Tactics of World War II Soldiers." Cinema Journal Vol 40. No. 3, (2001): 94-112.
Fagelson looks at the feeling of alienation from home felt by World War II American soldiers. Soldiers, in an attempt to "keep in touch" with the home front, would watch the popular flicks. However, as they saw the film, they pinpointed Hollywood as a source of the home front's inaccurate understanding of the war and of able-bodied men who remained safely at home (and misrepresented them in film). Additionally, film's portrayal of promiscuous women ignited fears of infidelity and portrayal of idle able-bodied men created resentment of civilians whom soldiers perceived as doing nothing in the war.
The article emphasizes how soldiers were skeptical of Hollywood films. However, cartoons were an alternate source of propaganda, which WWII soldiers would have been familiar with since they had grown up with it. It is important to understand the mentality that was united against what was perceived as a disingenuous portrayal of war. Despite being preyed on by films, soldiers continued to watch films, but actively challenged the themes. Cartoons portrayed the "fun" side of patriotism and used parody to tone-down the same propaganda elements available through cinema.