Mindy Newell: I Want To Believe
Comics have often reflected the events going on in the real world. During World War II, American comics vilified the Axis Triumvirate, i.e., Germany, Italy, and Japan – Superman was fighting a German paratrooper on the cover of Action Comics #43, and Marvel (then known as Timely Comics) presented the All-American hero, Captain America, who, in a story written by and drawn by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, punched out Adolf Hitler on the cover of his eponymous first issue, cover-dated March 1941. In Gleason’s Daredevil #1 (July 1941), the red-and-blue hero also took on the Führer, as did the Human Torch and The Sub-Mariner in the autumn of that same year.
The Boy Commandos, again from the team of Kirby and Simon working for DC, were four orphaned kids from the United States, England, France, and the Netherlands. They form an elite fighting unit under the command of Captain Rip Carter to fight the Nazis and appeared on the newsstands in the winter of1942. In Green Lantern #5 (May, 1945), the Emerald Crusader brings a bigoted Army private to Nazi Germany to show the private the rotten fruit of racism. Quality Comics’ Blackhawk first appeared in Military Comics #1, August 1941.
The Japanese didn’t get off easy. In The Nightmares Of Lieutenant Ichi or Juan Posong Gives Ichi The Midnight Jitters was published by U.S. Office of War Information for the Pacific Theater, and secretly circulated in the Philippines to boost morale during the Japanese occupation of country.
During the Korean War, the United States Department of State authorized the Johnstone and Cushing Company to create and publish the comic book Korea My Home, which was a true propaganda masterpiece worthy of Joseph Goebbels. In direct contrast, EC Comics debuted Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales; these comics did not propagandize war as a “field of honor,” but showed the killing fields for what they were – im-not-so-ho, the real reason why EC Comics was attacked and shut down by Congress… although William Gaines, Al Feldstein, and Harvey Kurtzman, most notably, kept up the good fight by continuing to publish Mad Magazine, the “original” subversive comic magazine for us baby boomers.
But it’s all propaganda, whether you’re on the right or the left of the political 50-yard line.
During the Reagan administration (I have a picture in my mind of Ronnie in the Oval Office ignoring the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and dreaming up “trickle-down economics” and pulling the Marines out of Lebanon while giggling over the gang’s antics in Riverdale and munching on some jelly beans), the CIA got into the business of publishing comics – though it was credited to the fictional “Victims of International Communist Emissaries,” whoever the fuck they were supposed to be – in 1984 with Grenada: Rescued from Rape and Slavery.
Get this – the storyboards were delivered in a Washington, D.C. taxi, where the head of the company received a suitcase full of cash for them. Ooooh, James Bondian skullduggery! The comics were airdropped over Grenada prior to the American invasion of the island, and, according to Wikipedia, “were intended to justify the American intervention in the country by describing the rise of communist forces there and how their presence demands military intervention” and “outlines President Ronald Reagan’s justifications for the invasion: alleged oppression and torture of the local inhabitants, threats to American medical students on the island, and a potential domino effect leading to more Communist governments in the Caribbean.”
Also under Ronald Reagan – he who got away with the Iran-Contra scandal – and the CIA was the 1985 The Freedom Fighter’s Manual, distributed to the Nicaraguan Contras during the fight against the Sandinista government in that country.
This one if fucking unbelievable!
It states that its purpose is that of a “practical guide to liberating Nicaragua from oppression and misery by paralyzing the military-industrial complex of the traitorous Marxist state without having to use special tools and with minimal risk for the combatant,” and instructs the readers on all the “various techniques” the “guerilla fighter” can use to fight the oppressor, up to and including terrorism. Okay, it talked about non-violent protest (work slowdowns, wasting resources), but it also instructed the reader on “minor sabotage, how to set fires with makeshift time fuses, demonstrated the making of Molotov cocktails and using them to firebomb government buildings.”
It also is a political manifesto on the necessity and ultimate goal of guerilla warfare:
“…guerrilla warfare is essentially a political war. Therefore, its area of operations exceeds the territorial limits of conventional warfare, to penetrate the political entity itself: the political animal that Aristotle defined.”
This comic was repackaged and retitled “Afghanistan: The Mujahedeen’s Handbook for Overthrowing the Evil Empire” and redistributed to Osama Bin Laden’s team of freedom fighters in Kabul.
Propaganda. It’s not just for kids anymore.