Daffy Duck and the Nazi Threat
Propaganda is everywhere, and despite the word’s negative connotations, it’s used as a force for good, as well as evil.
In World War II, propaganda was used by both sides. The Nazis used it to extol the purported virtues of a “master race.” American propagandists looked to sway public opinion and increase support for the war.
Patriotism and love for America became central themes, particularly in cartoons. The cartoons were aimed at increasing support for the war effort, and many concentrated on selling bonds to help fund the war.
Fearing the possibility of US involvement in WWII, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. began planning for a National Defense Bond program in the fall of 1940. But following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the US entrance into WWII, the bonds became a necessity in order to fund everything from weapons production to troops’ salaries. They were renamed “War Bonds” or “Victory Bonds” — an $18.75 investment in the war and in the buyer’s financial future.
Promotion of the bonds came by way of posters, radio broadcasts, comic books, and cartoons. Warner Bros. Pictures, along with Walt Disney and many other production companies, worked to create propaganda cartoons in the 1940s. The bad guys are “cartoonish” to say the least, and there are certainly no mentions of war crimes.
“Daffy the Commando” (seen above) was produced in 1943 by Warner Bros. The Looney Tunes film depicts Daffy Duck being dropped behind enemy lines in Nazi Germany. Throughout the film, Daffy evades capture by a fictional German commander — “Uberkomt von Vultur” — in series of comedic encounters. The commander, who looks like a vulture, is under heavy pressure from the “Gestinko Gestapo” to arrest the commando. Though the film doesn’t directly promote war bonds, it offers a clear morale boost.
“The Ducktators” — also a Warner Bros. production — took the approach of satirizing the world’s dictators and events of WWII. In the seven-minute film, released in 1942, caricatures of Hitler and Mussolini plan the war, destroy treaties, and face off against Allied leaders. The film ends with the downfall of the “ducktators” and a promotion for war bonds.
Some of the cartoons were far more direct. In 1941, Morgenthau, Jr. asked Irving Berlin to rewrite his song “Any Yams Today” into “Any Bonds Today.” Berlin’s new version became the official song for the government’s National Defense Savings Program. Warner Bros. Pictures then took the song and created a short film featuring Bugs Bunny, intended to boost sales.
Seen from the American point of view, these propaganda cartoons pointed the way for ordinary citizens to aid the war effort from behind the battle lines while boosting morale with a good laugh.
Written by Hannah Meyer, Program Coordinator, Division of the Senior Historian, US Holocaust Memorial Museum