Anti-Axis Propaganda - Film and Music

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Media terms today that include DVD, CD, satellite radio, internet, and 24-hour news channel did not exist in the 1940s.  Entertainment media for the Greatest Generation was based on film and music.  The only common forms of popular music were the 78 rpm record, music broadcast on the radio, and sheet music for home use. Television technology existed but it was not used by the public until after the war.  Here I will examine four sources of entertainment media as it related to propaganda:  Movies, Cartoons, Documentaries, and Music. 

An entire website could be dedicated to the subject of war films from the years 1942-1945.  The film industry served the dual purpose of entertaining the public as well as keeping them informed and that included propaganda.  By the end of the war, weekly attendance at the countries movie theaters had reached an all-time high at 90 million weekly with 60% of the public seeing one film a week.  Many of the films were not created solely for propaganda but rather included propaganda messages.  Some consider Casablanca the greatest film of all time, and it includes several references to freedom, the evil Nazis, and the poor choice of being neutral (though it was released in 1942, it was filmed prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.)  Other films such as Air Force, which is the story of a U.S. bomber in action against Japan in the early war years, takes great liberties with the truth for the purpose of propaganda.  Some films, like Beyond the Rising Sun, were used mostly for propaganda purposes.  The poster below is from 1943's Behind the Rising Sun. 

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Additional film information on movies made during the World War II era can be found on the Internet Movie Data Base.

Click here to visit the IMDB

Movie-goers, in addition to seeing the feature film, also viewed newsclips and cartoons at the theater.  Popular cartoon characters included Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, and Popeye.  Animators were busy creating cartoons with war themes and produced some classic propaganda.  Today many of these cartoons have been banned due to inappropriate racial characterizations of the Japanese and sensitivity to Nazi symbols.  Disney released its World War II cartoons on DVD in a set titled Walt Disney On the Front Lines.  It includes the 1943 classics Education for Death and "Donald Duck in Nutzi Land (Der Fuehrer's Face)."  In the latter, Donald Duck dreams he lives in Nazi Germany and wakes to realize he loves America. 

Click here to view the entire classic "Der Fuehrer's Face."

Sheet Music for Der Fuehrer's Face
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Click here to view another Disney classic that will compel you to pay your taxes to beat the Axis in "The Spirit of '43." A very interesting propaganda short on paying your income taxes.

While one could find cartoon characters who remain very popular today, such as Superman in Jungle Drums, Popeye in You're a Sap Mr. Jap and even Bugs Bunny in Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips taking on the Axis, I found one of the most interesting cartoons made about the Axis powers in World War II to be Ductators.  It has some of the best lines and imagery in a propaganda cartoon.  It can be found on compilations of WW II cartoons released by individuals but has not been released by a major studio since 1943.

Click here to view "The Ductators."

I can't explain film propaganda in World War II without mentioning the role of the documentary.  Documentaries were straight-forward propaganda that lacked the entertainment value of movies and cartoons.  That doesn't mean that some of them were not well produced, such as the Why We Fight series that was directed by Frank Capra.  One of the series, Prelude to War, won an Academy Award in 1942 for Best Documentary.  While some of the documentaries made were excellent, others pushed the envelope so far in terms of racial prejudice that they are hard to find in today's world in spite of our easy access media.  One example is Know Your Enemy (also directed by Frank Capra), and it is the most racially charged view of the Japanese.  My college library had a research copy, but I have only since found it on a Pearl Harbor commemorative DVD from 2001 as an extra and from a small company that sells historic videos on VHS.  A more common but unusual documentary film is the 1945 My Japan done from the perspective of the Japanese. 

Click here to view "My Japan." (Content Advisory for Explicit Racism and Violence)

Music, like film, reflected many of the themes of the effort on the homefront and that included anti-Axis propaganda.  Americans enjoyed listening to music on the radio and records.  Below you will find a link to actual WW II recordings and some images of World War II sheet music.

Click here to select one of twenty-two actual recordings of propaganda songs from World War II.

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These are but a small sample of the movies and music that were produced in World War II.