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Disney and World War II
How Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck supported the U.S. and its Allies
Robert Neff (neff)     Print Article 
Published 2006-11-03 11:34 (KST)   
Several years ago I had the opportunity to see a Dutch documentary about a typical North Korean woman's working-day. The documentary was extremely well made, but perhaps the most amazing part about it was that it had been sanctioned by the North Korean government. This film provided the viewer with an extremely candid, and not all together positive view of North Korea during the late 1990s early 2000.

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I remember there was one scene that really disturbed me -- the children's preschool. The walls were painted with images of cute little animals, just like the walls of many daycare centers around the world, but unlike them, the little animals were not innocently playing, instead they were dressed in North Korean uniforms and were armed with weapons and slogans to use against the United States! It seemed almost sacrilegious of the innocence of youth to have these cute little animals transformed into symbols of war. Of course, North Korea is not the only nation to have done this -- the United States has done it in the past, as many other countries undoubtedly have.

When it became clear that the United States would join World War II, the country began making preparations. Everyone was asked to do their bit. Men volunteered for the military, women entered the work force to make up for the shortage of men, and families made do with less. However, not all of the men picked up weapons, drove trucks, or piloted planes -- some contributed to the war effort with pens and paper. One such group was Disney Studios.

Just prior to America's entry into the war, the U.S. Navy asked Disney Studios to assist in designing an emblem for one of the new American warships -- the U.S.S. Wasp. Disney Studios, appropriately enough, designed an emblem of a wasp wearing boxing gloves straddling an American aircraft carrier. It proved extremely popular and further requests were made.

Unit emblems from World War II
©2006 Robert Neff Collection

Unit emblems from World War II
©2006 Robert Neff Collection

Over the next six years Disney Studios devoted 94 percent of its facilities to support the allied war effort through the creation of over 1,200 unit emblems, posters and designs for war bonds. Disney also produced a number of short cartoons for propaganda and educational purposes.

Patriotic cover with letter from military leaders about war bonds
©2006 Robert Neff Collection

The United States was not the only country to use Disney characters for military and propaganda purposes. Many of America's allies, including Britain and New Zealand, used Disney characters as nose art for their warplanes and unit emblems. The First Polish Divisional Signals, exiled in London, England, also requested the magical art of the Disney Studios. Their unit emblem depicts Mickey Mouse using semaphore flags and the Polish eagle in the background.

Polish signal unit in exile
©2006 Robert Neff Collection

Perhaps one of the strangest examples of Disney art being used in the war was by the enemy. According to Bruce B. Herman -- an expert on military antiques -- one German pilot painted an image of Mickey Mouse on his airplane. "It annoyed Walt Disney no end that the Nazis were using his creation."

Disney characters were such an important part of the Allied war effort that they were even used in top secret operations. The password for the Allied forces on D-Day was none other than the famous mouse himself -- Mickey Mouse.

Some of the most popular comic books during the war were the Walt Disney Comics and Stories. In these comics the war was seen from the point of view of the families back home, and the shortages that they faced because of the war. Several stories were about tin can and rubber drives, and growing Victory Gardens so that the produce of farms could be used for the troops overseas.

One particularly memorable comic book cover depicts Donald Duck, dressed in a cat costume, perched on a fence with a couple of real cats, meowing loudly in the hope that some tortured person, unable to sleep because of the yowling, would throw shoes or boots at him. At the base of the fence is Donald's little wagon full of old shoes with a sign proclaiming "2nd hand shoes -- no ration points." During the war everything was rationed and hard to come by.

Donald Duck collecting shoes
©2006 Robert Neff Collection

Some of the stories were about spies amongst us, and how important it was to be aware of activity in our surroundings. Of course the enemy was always depicted in black; devious and evil at heart, but rather stupid. Good would always eventually triumph over evil, but only as long as the good were willing to make the sacrifices needed.

Even more ominous were the stories of real events. One story entitled "Donald Duck's Atom Bomb" was about a spy who tried to steal a top secret weapon -- the atomic bomb. Even amongst some of the Disney staff there seems to have been some concern about the use of such a horrific weapon being used in a comic. There are two versions of this comic -- one is a little nicer and instead of mass-destruction the bomb simply causes baldness.

Ironically, "Donald Duck's Atom Bomb" was a morning cereal give-away. If you ate so many boxes of a particular cereal you were able to trade the box tops for a set of comics -- this particular comic is now very expensive -- up to 1,000 American dollars, depending on its condition.

For the most part, comics from the war years tend to be hard to find. Many of them were destroyed during the paper drives, while others simply deteriorated because of poor paper quality. Fortunately within the last ten years, most of them have been reprinted at least once if not several times.

However, the comics that satirized the enemy and their efforts are very difficult to come by, because many have never been reprinted and won't be. They have been deemed politically incorrect because of their racial stereotyping, warlike and political stance, and the fact that yesterday's enemies are today's allies.

Buy war bonds
©2006 Robert Neff Collection
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Robert Neff

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