George Orwell published his satirical allegory Animal Farm (free copies here) in 1945 at the tail end of World War II. While Orwell claimed his inspiration for the farm setting was a bucolic village scene, it’s tempting to imagine that he also drew some of his ideas from American propaganda cartoons made during WWII by Disney (see below) and Warner Brothers. One particularly striking example from 1942 is Loony Tunes’ “The Ducktators,” set on a farm that becomes Europe under a newly-hatched Adolf Hitler duckling, sporting the forelock and mustache and shouting “sieg heil” as soon as he emerges from his jet-black egg. Hitler-duck’s posturing appeals to a strutting, broadly stereotypical Italian goose (Mussolini), and many of the ducks and geese on the farm, who line to up salute and, um… goosestep. There are plenty of little gags thrown in—it’s all played for comedy—but of course, there is a message (or two) here.
First, cut to the simpering “Dove of Peace,” an androgynous creature who wrings its hands and says, “Have they forgot? ‘Tis love that’s right, and naught is gained by show of might.” This is clearly a caricature of Neville Chamberlain, whose ineffectual policies enabled and emboldened Hitler. Chamberlain is remembered for prematurely declaring that his appeasement of Hitler in the 1938 Munich Pact (here represented by a barnyard “Peace Conference”) had secured “peace for our time.” The reference is an interesting example of a wartime dig at the U.S.’s British allies.
Hitler-duck tears up the “Peace Conference” treaty and beats up the British and French ducks. Then a (painfully racist) Japanese duck rows ashore singing “I’m a Japanese Sandman”—a stand in for Tojo Hideki or Emperor Hirohito. The three “Ducktators” rule the roost and trample the Dove of Peace underfoot. Historical allegory gives way to slapstick, and the wimpy Dove morphs into a pudgy, victorious Churchill with the Ducktators’ heads mounted on his wall. Then, message number two appears with fanfare: “If you’d like to make this true, here’s all you have to do: For Victory Buy United States Savings Bonds and Stamps.” Overall, The Ducktators is a fascinating example of wartime advertising, and of contemporary U.S. feelings towards its European allies. You can download The Ducktators here.
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Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.