Apologies for the lack of posts here at The Best of World War II. Life has a way of shoving fun things like this to the back of the pile. I've been busy working on a lot of writing projects, including gathering research for my upcoming book on the POW camps in Nebraska during World War II.
So for today, I wanted to showcase a few of the funnier World War II propaganda posters. You have to love how completely entwined the advertising industry was with the war itself.
Cartoon studios created some terrific propaganda pieces during World War II. Posters featuring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck urged people to get in the fight, buy war bonds, and keep their morale high.
Cartoons were also a great medium to get the message across. The one featured below, "The Ducktators", is from 1942 and tells the story of three "ducktators" - i.e. Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. The parody is spot on, and though by today's standards, some of it could be considered racist, it is definitely a product of its time.
Though it was made in 1997, the six-part BBC documentary, Nazis: A Warning from History should be required viewing for not just World War II history buffs, but everyone. I don't say this lightly because "required" is a loaded word, and what one person believes should be required is another person's propaganda.
But I will make an exception for this.
Laurence Rees wrote and produced this series, and if you know who Rees is, you'll realize you're dealing with an expert in World War II history. In short, he's brilliant. In addition, Sir Ian Kershaw, one of the most noted historians on the Third Reich, was the historical consultant. What does this mean? It means you will get an objective, honest, no-holds-barred look at the Third Reich from two men who know its history inside and out.
Broken down into six parts, this documentary takes an in-depth look at how the Nazis came to power in Germany, the structure of their government (very disorganized), their relentless propaganda, Hitler's bizarre hold on everyone from children to high-ranking Nazi officials, the origins of the Final Solution, and how Germany became a racist state.
Archival footage, photographs, and recordings of Hitler's speeches sometimes make for hard viewing, but it is necessary. The series also draws on Nazi documents that were discovered in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union that offer further damning evidence to Nazi atrocities.
Survivors of the Nazis' brutality are interviewed, but it is the interviews with former Nazi party members, Wermacht soldiers, SS men, and even one of Hitler's secretaries that make this a truly original piece of documentary history. Though years have passed, many still justify their behavior, and it is fascinating to see how some skirt the question of responsibility.
One of the conclusions drawn from this documentary is that ordinary Germans were allowed to undertake and express sadistic fantasies against other human beings simply because the very morality of their government not only did nothing to stop it, but encouraged it. When the moral framework of a society disintegrates, those who wish to exercise their dark sides have free reign. Those who want to stand up against it must have incredible courage to do so.
But herein lies the question that continues to plague us all - how could such a cultured nation stoop to such horrors? My theory: Because they allowed the collapse. Indeed, it was easier to let the State do the thinking for them then to think and judge for themselves. Critical thinking skills disappeared as they allowed themselves to be swayed by propaganda and hero worship of a man who sought to control them. They voted to end their democracy, and that is exactly what happened.
What the series does is ask a very important, simple question: Could this happen again? The answer is an unequivocal yes. To this day, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, we have those who continue to deny the Holocaust happened, downplay its severity, point to ridiculous Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracies, or continue to harbor anti-Semitism. This is why the Nazis are a warning from history, as this documentary so ably shows, and this is why we can never forget how and why they were able to create hell on Earth.
For those interested in viewing this documentary, it is available on YouTube or on the website, www.documentaryheaven.com
To any historian, there's nothing quite like primary documents to get the heart pumping in excitement. Sometimes getting to those primary documents is a chore, especially when you're nowhere near any federal archive or library.
That's where it's handy to let someone else do the work. BACM Research - PaperlessArchives.com compiles a nice selection of World War II declassified government documents, all on a handy CD.
Here's just a small list of what you can find there:
FBI files on Adolph Hitler
Artwork done by U.S. Navy war artists for D-Day
Winston Churchill correspondence
Military field manuals
German U-Boat captured documents
Prices range from around $10 per CD, and you can also purchase complete sets at a discount. No matter which way you look at it, it's a heck of a deal, and just might save you a trip to the National Archives.
Throughout his career, noted British historian Antony Beevor has certainly done his best to capture the truth of war. He's extensively covered the European side of the war, including Stalingrad, Berlin, and Paris following its liberation.
With the massive scope of World War II, however, Beevor certainly had his work cut out for him, yet there is no doubt that he delivered with The Second World War. It's mammoth, coming in at nearly 800 pages, and has a bibliography that's a treasure trove for any historian of World War II.
This is mostly a military history of the war rather than a social one, though Beevor includes fascinating tidbits from numerous points of view. Beevor starts with the first few months before the war in 1939, when Hitler was planning his invasion of Poland, and takes us all the way through to September 1945 and Japan's defeat.
Make no mistake about it - this is a dense book. But its chock full of details, battle tactics, personalities, and just about everything in between. Beevor devotes nearly equal time to both the European and Pacific Theaters of war. His prose isn't heavy or plodding, but highly readable. His writes of the common soldier, the politician, and the generals, weaving a solid narrative filled with tidbits of information that truly make history come alive. For example, when Hitler heard of the German surrender at Stalingrad, he apparently stared into his vegetable soup. One wonders what he saw.
Beevor's discussion of the Soviet war with Finland is particularly jarring, shedding light on a conflict that tends to disappear within the larger narrative of World War II. Likewise, he doesn't blink in describing the gruesome atrocities committed by the Japanese, Soviets, and Germans alike.
Don't be dissuaded by the thickness of this book. It's well worth your time, and though this may be a cliche to say, it belongs on every World War II historian's book shelf.
"Sitting around a miniature Christmas tree and opening a Christmas package are (front row, left to right) S/Sgt. John F. Suchanek; and Pfc. Joseph G. Pierro; and (back row) Sgt. Charles M. Myrich; and Sgt. Leon L. Oben. All are members of F. A. Bn., 3rd Div. Pietramelara, Italy. December 16, 1943." - From the U.S. Army Center of Military History