Friday, 2 February 2018

Defending Disney - Part 3: Walt the Anti-Nazi Propagandist

[<- Index]
[<- Part 2: Walt, the Supposed Nazi]

Looking at the actual evidence makes it nothing short of madness to claim Walt Disney was a Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer. As we have seen, the pro-argument consists of assuming a meeting with a German filmmaker (who herself was actually taken in by Hitler) was maliciously motivated rather than just being a meeting between filmmakers (and which Walt later disavowed), and a dubious claim from Disney's enemy of him attending open German American Bund meetings that is corroborated by nothing else. Such underwhelming evidence hardly even requires counter-evidence since it is all based on rumor and fallacious extrapolation anyway. However it truly becomes ridiculous once you start looking into Walt Disney's actual contributions to the war effort. The most famous anti-Nazi propaganda cartoon Disney made is no doubt Der Fuehrer's Face (1943), which I covered in the previous section. There are several more cartoons that mock Hitler and the Nazi's. I'll go over some of the more well interesting ones, for a list of many others (but not nearly complete) there's a list over on Wikipedia.

As mentioned earlier, Education for Death (1943) is an animated short based on Gregory Ziemer's book of the same name, based on his experiences as an educator in Germany. It shows a young boy named Hans who from birth is being indoctrinated into worshiping Adolf Hitler with all his compassion and sentimentality stomped out so he can grow up as a good soldier and die trampling on the rights of others. It starts with children being indoctrinated with a fairy tale in which Adolf Hitler is shown as a knight scaring away the witch (democracy) so he can save the princess (Germany). However in the version we see on the screen Hitler is portrayed as a raving lunatic who reflexively keeps saluting himself and briefly grows devil horns while doing so. German officials in the short are invariably portrayed as an extension of the oppressive government who don't care about the well-being of Hans or his family outside of the boy's utility as a soldier for the war machine.

The New Spirit (1942) shows a radio program instructing Donald Duck on how and why to do his taxes to help America win the war against the Axis forces. Yes, it's a cartoon about Donald Duck doing his taxes, then it explains why they are necessary to fight against the aggressor. "Taxes to beat the Axis" and variations being a recurring phrase. The film was requested by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr. to cast the tax increase for the war effort in a positive light and ensure they were paid timely, which it succeeded in doing as income taxes were more prompt in 1942.
This film received a sequel in The Spirit of '43 (1943), which is, yes, another cartoon about the necessity of Donald Duck doing his taxes for the fight against Hitler and Hirohito (much of the animation was reused from the previous short however). This particular film is also noteworthy for containing what looks like a prototype for Scrooge McDuck.

Six other Donald Duck cartoons were created where he served in the army during World War II. However some of these (Donald Gets Drafted (1942)) show a more anti-military sentiment because one of the writers, Carl Barks (best known for his extensive comic run of Donald Duck), was a pacifist against America being involved in the war (It also reveals Donald's full name is Donald Fauntleroy Duck). The last one, Commando Duck (1944), actually features Donald Duck engaging in military action against the Japanese.

Walt Disney was heavily involved with creating confidential military training films for the United States government, which as Disney historian Jim Korkis notes required the highest security clearance and previous or current sympathy with the Nazis or Adolf Hitler would have likely disqualified him to do so instantly. The importance of Disney's contribution to the war effort is probably best demonstrated by his studio being the only one in Hollywood to have the U.S. Army deploy troops to protect it. Clearly the United States government, while they were actively at war with Nazis, didn't think Walt Disney was a Nazi.

The opening cartoon of Stop That Tank! (1942), a training film on the use of anti-tank rifles, a ridiculous laughing stock caricature of Adolf Hitler is shot literally to hell after pathetically whining how oppressed he is by a peaceful village he is in the process of attacking. He then continues his whining until it annoys the devil. The rest of the film demonstrates the use of an Anti-Tank Rifle.

After Walt Disney had read Alexander P. de Seversky's 1942 book Victory Through Air Power, he felt that its message was important enough that he personally financed its production into a documentary feature film to catch the attention of both government officials and the public in general. Among those convinced by Seversky's theories after seeing the film were Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Personally I find it rather difficult to entertain the belief that Walt Disney was a Nazi or a fan of Hitler when he wasn't just continuously producing cartoons mocking him, but also producing training films and promoting strategies to defeat him. According to Neal Gabler, the Treasury Department credited Walt Disney with helping to sell more than $50 million worth of saving bonds (however I found no alternate sources to back this up).

"Even before the U.S. entry into the war, Disney was doing war bond work for the National Film Board of Canada."
- War and American Popular Culture - Kalman Goldstein (edited by M. Paul Holsinger) p.327

The most baffling part of the previous Paste Magazine article follows when the author attempts to use Walt Disney's anti-Nazi propaganda films as somehow not anti-Nazi enough since they didn't explicitly address antisemitism enough for the author's sensibilities. Somehow the fact that the wolf in Three Little Pigs (1933) disguised himself as a Jewish stereotype is enough to reduce Walt's many contributions to the war effort, explicitly to stop the Nazis from trampling on other people's rights, to nothing. Evidently producing 68 hours of educational war films, as well as many films to promote war bonds, propaganda films to vilify the Nazis and their allies (Der Fuehrer's Face (1943)Education for Death - The Making of a Nazi (1943)Reason and Emotion (1943) and Commando Duck (1944)) and a feature film Walt himself sponsored (Victory Through Air Power (1943)) all to promote winning a war against the Nazis doesn't matter because an old cartoon had an offensive stereotype.

However even that was not the extend of it. In early 1941, before the United States had even entered World War II, Walt Disney became an ambassador of a goodwill tour under Nelson Rockefeller through South America as part of the Good Neighbor policy in an effort to counter Latin American ties with Nazi Germany. The end results were the package films Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944) (with one segment Blame It On the Samba being conceived but only later used in Melody Time (1948)). Film historian Alfred Charles Richard Jr. notes in Censorship and Hollywood's Hispanic (1993) that Saludos "did more to cement a community of interest between peoples of the Americas in a few months than the State Department had in fifty years". Saludos Amigos (1943) Trailer

So again, the belief that Walt Disney was a Nazi or a Nazi supporter hinges on him meeting German film maker Leni Riefenstahl (who was in fact a Nazi sympathizer, but not classified as an actual Nazi or convicted of war crimes) once but the fact that he went on to denounce her later on (and was hesitant while he was meeting her in the first place), only to then go on to become the propaganda arm for the American anti-Nazi sentiment, a proponent of new methods to defeat the Nazis and an international ambassador to pry away foreign support from the Nazis is soundly ignored.


Apologies if this section is rather disjointed and less in-depth than I'd like it to be. I might expand on it later but I was not interested enough in outdated military training films (Behold, Four Methods of Flush Riveting (1942), an almost 10-minute cartoon on riveting techniques) to sit through the majority of the films Walt Disney produced during World War II.

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