Commando Comic No.19: Effects of Propaganda on Canadian Children
29 November 2017
In the comic Commando Comic No.19., propaganda against Japanese people is prevalent. The stories “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” and “The Young Commandos” use images that resemble Golem in reference to the Japanese, thus framing them as monstrous people. This propaganda instills a negative view of Japanese people in the minds of Canadian children, and is dangerous as it could lead to future racism.
Commando Comic No. 19 Title Page.
Moyer, Hy, et al. “Commando Comic No.19.” Commando Comic No.19, Bell Features and Publishing Company Limited, 1945, pp.1-56.
Commando Comic No.19 was created in 1945 during World War Two. (Moyer et al.) Previous to the war, Japan invaded Manchuria in 1932 and China itself in 1937. (Keery 11)When the war officially began, Japan attacked Hong Kong on December 8th 1941. (Keery 14) Following this attack, the 1,860 Canadians that were left surrendered. (Keery 17) These men were tortured, and as a result of malnutrition,“264 Canadian Prisoners of war died” by 1945. (Keery 17) American President Roosevelt was concerned about these events, so he created an embargo on oil sales to Japan in 1941, thus cutting down their oil supplies by 93% .(Keery 11) This embargo is what led to the “surprise aerial attack on the U.S naval base” on December 7th 1941, igniting war for the American people. (encyclopaedia brittanica) The attack on Pearl Harbour was initiated by Japanese Prime Minister Tōjō Hideki (encyclopaedia brittanica), and “climaxed a decade of worsening relations between the United States and Japan” that had begun with the invasion of China in 1937 (encyclopaedia brittanica). 2,300 people died during this attack. The states were united and war was declared against the Japanese on December 8th 1941. (encyclopaedia brittanica) A few short years after Pearl Harbour which involved Canada, The United States, Commando Comic No. 19 was released.
Propagandistic Elements of “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator”
Throughout the comic “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” there are several propagandistic images and words aimed at the Japanese. For example, the three crewmen named “Gabby”, “Suds” and “Marty” all sit in a lifeboat following a plane versus submarine battle. (Moyer et al. 3) This fight leads the reader to believe they are soldiers. “Gabby” sees an island in the distance, “Marty” wonders if there may be ‘Japs’ on it and “Suds” says “they’ll not take me alive —- their cruelty to prisoners knows no bounds.” (Moyer et al. 3) This panel informs the reader that these men view Japanese people as being cruel without bounds as well as people who take prisoners. However, Canadians also took prisoners during World War Two, as noted by Jacques Dextraze, a Canadian soldier:
“…and we take some prisoners… When the man in charge of the prisoners comes to a bridge – he had made them run almost three miles – he says: ‘no, you lot blew up the bridges, you are going to swim.’ Well, you can well imagine that a man who has run three miles and then tries to swim… Most of them drowned.” (Dyer 236)
Moreover, the creators of this comic are being hypocritical, as soldiers from their own country have both taken prisoners and showed them unimaginable cruelty, so cruel that Dextrase noted “fifty bodies of drowned men” in this one instance. (Dyer 236)
“Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” follows “Gabby”, “Suds”, “Marty” and later on “Salty”. The reader associates themselves with these men – much like when an individual watches a film and puts themselves in the shoes of the main character, called typing-. Therefore, an impressionable child would take the crew’s views whilst reading this narrative. Upon further inspection of the characters names, which always appear in quotations in this story, some references seem apparent. The first character “Marty” could very easily be a reference to a man named Marty Robbins.
“Marty Robbins.” Discogs, Discogs, 2017, www.discogs.com/Marty-Robbins-Good-N-Country/release/2952993
“Robbins enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II,” he operated an LCM and when waves smashed it, “the crew was stranded on Bougainville Island”, an island that was occupied by the Japanese in 1942. (Diekman) His situation can be compared to that of “Marty” and the crew, who are working on a ship and end up stranded on an island inhabited by the Japanese as well. It is not unreasonable to believe that this story’s creator based it on real world events that took place just before its release in 1944. Additionally, the course of Robbins life would have been widely broadcasted in Canada as he was a famous country singer. (Diekman) The inclusion of this names is critical as Robbins is considered a wartime hero, thus children would want to associate themselves with him and would be inclined to take on his position against the Japanese.
A few more examples of the propaganda in this comic are when “Salty” and the crew use a “sneak play” and refer to the Japanese as “dirty jungle fighters” . They follow the Japanese to their garrison and decide to take them out. “Salty” strangles a Japanese man from behind and says, “this is one of your own strangle holds ‘nippee’—– how does it feel?” (Moyer et al. 5) as he snaps the mans neck. This dialogue implies that the Japanese are guerilla fighters, and later on, as the soldiers walk back to the garrison, they refer to the Japanese as “dirty jungle fighters” (Moyer et al. 7), thus solidifying this implication. However, the Japanese are not the only people to use guerilla warfare. Serres Sadler of the Calgary Highlanders reflected on the atrociousness of battle, stating that “when you think back about some of the things you did, and they did to you, it was totally frightening.” (Dyer 242) Therefore, “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” references famous war heroes and bashes the Japanese for wartime techniques that both the American and Canadian army used during World War Two. This was done in an effort to brainwash children into viewing the Japanese as dirty and sneaky while simultaneously instilling a sense of Canadian nationalism.
Propagandistic Elements of “The Young Commandos”
“The Young Commandos” also contains propaganda. An example of this is the title page. It contains three Japanese soldiers -as noted by the circles on their helmets meant to represent the Japanese flag, the stereotypical slit eyes and buck teeth – punching a white male – as noted by his thick eyebrows, slicked hair and sharp jawline-. However, this symbolic image of the Japanese harming Canadian soldiers is not the disturbing element, it is the Japanese soldier in the background of the image with blacked out eyes, goblin ears and buck teeth. This representation of the Japanese as demonic and goblin-esque dehumanizes the Japanese and foreshadows the propaganda that is to be found on the pages following. (Moyer et al. 23)
Later on, the comic’s creators decided that in place of names for the Japanese characters they would simply insert an assortment of lines that resemble Japanese text without actually being such. (Moyer et al. 24) This is highly offensive to the Japanese as it pokes fun at their language. As the reader further progresses through the story, the white prisoners of the Japanese are brought up on a platform for a public execution, all the while the prisoners refer to the Japanese as ‘Japs’. (Moyer et al. 26) A prominent detail in this segment of the story is when the executioner, a Japanese male, is shot in the eyeball. Here, in this triangular panel located directly in the centre of the page, is yet another image depicting the Japanese as Golem. The man’s eyes are angled with exaggerated pupils, his eyebrows are angled downwards in an evil fashion and his ears are elvish. (Moyer et al. 26) This repetition of the Japanese as goblins instills an association between the Japanese and monsters in the minds of children. Following this snapshot, Captain Reddy and some ‘guerillas’ -Japanese soldiers- come barging onto the scene of the execution, killing as they go. The Japanese stranglehold mentioned in the comic “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” is used against the enemy by a Japanese guerilla fighter. (Moyer et al. 27) The Japanese soldiers being attacked are once again presented similar to Golem as they are killed by their own people. They surrender, and the Japanese that helped the white soldiers are praised for “[keeping their] people’s fighting spirit alive.” (Moyer et al. 28) Perhaps this is a message to Japanese born children and young adults living in Canada to help with the war effort. It shows that in defeating the Japanese, despite the fact that the ‘guerillas’ were Japanese, they will be thanked and accepted.
Japanese Culture in Canada
The beginning of Japanese culture in Canada can be traced to the arrival of Manzo Nagano, who arrived in British Columbia in 1877. (Grypma 10) After a few years, “Japanese people of many backgrounds were immigrating to Canada.” (Grypma 11) Despite the discrimination they faced as noted by the “federal Parliament’s 1902 Royal Commission of Inquiry on Chinese and Japanese immigration into British Columbia” (Grypma 12 ), and the 1907 Vancouver Riot in which “white mobs rampaged the Chinese and Japanese quarters of the city, assaulting citizens” (Grypma 20-21), many Japanese men volunteered for World War One. They supported the war effort, thinking that their support would lead to “the public’s support of Chinese [and Japanese] Canadians” (Grypma 21). In World War Two, “the federal government had [still] maintained a fairly steadfast opposition to recruiting Asians” (Grypma 61). The British government had to essentially convince the Canadian government to allow for Asian soldiers, as they needed volunteers for the SOE spy mission in Asia. (Grypma 61)
British Columbia Internment Camps
Image of Japanese Canadian Children during Japanese Relocation
“Young Japanese Canadians Being Relocated in British Columbia, 1942.”
The Canadian Encyclopedia, 23 Feb. 2012,
The internment of Japanese people in British Columbia began in 1942 when the Canadian Government “incarcerated over 15,000 Japanese Canadians in fifteen hastily built internment camps located in isolated mountain valleys throughout the interior of the province of British Columbia.” (McAllister) It began shortly after the news of Pearl Harbour came through. A fear of Japanese invasion in Canada ignited, and was kept up by the sensationalist press. (Marsh) However, the Japanese Canadians did not “constitute the slightest menace to national security” as noted by Major General Kenneth Stuart. (Marsh) The British Columbian politicians of the time turned the very presence of the Japanese into a scandal, speaking of them “in the way that the Nazis would have spoken about Jewish Germans”, said Canadian diplomat Escott Reid. (Marsh) Japanese Canadians suffered from from 1942 – 1949 because of the actions of those overseas.
British Columbian Internment Camps are best described in Takeo Ujo Nakano’s poem entitled, “Within the Barbed Wire Fence: A Japanese Mans Account of His Internment in Canada”:
“Against such a thing as tears, resolved, when taking leave of home.Yet at that departure whistle, my eyes fill. Initial detention in the Livestock Building at the PNEgrounds in Vancouver; reek of manure, stench of livestock, and we are herded, milling – jumble of the battlefield. Leaving the CPR station in Vancouver for the interior; many passed this way, my countrymen.This train whistle they must have heard, and passed. Their feelings come to me. At the road camp to which Japanese Canadian men were sent, primeval forest! Feeling as though in violation, cutting down standing trees before watchful guards. Cutting firewood. And his decision two decades later to become a Canadian citizen. As final resting place, Canada is chosen. On citizenship paper, signing, hand trembles.” (Nakano)
This account highlights the pain the Japanese went through, and the struggle to decide to identify as Canadian afterwards. This internment lasted for a few years after the war ended, and Commando Comic No.19 was created during this time period. This comic may have helped to perpetrate the attack against the Japanese in Canada, and justify government actions in the minds of Canadian children, creating a dislike for the Japanese.
German Propaganda Posters in Comparison to Commando Comic No.19.
“Der Jude Kriegsanstifter Kriegsverlangerer.” MADMENART, www.madmenart.com/war-propaganda/der-jude-kriegsanstifter-kriegsverlaengerer/.
The images in these stories can be compared to German propaganda posters of the same time period. The main similarity that can be drawn between “Der Jude” and the images throughout these two stories is the presentation of the “other” as monstrous. For example, in Der Jude the Jewish population is shown as one large, looming, evil figure. The figure appears to be evil because it is much larger than the other, smaller people in the poster. The darkness of the poster in terms of colour also adds a shadowy dimension to the figures face, making it appear even more frightening. (MADMEN) This poster can be compared to the image of the Japanese man with blacked out eyes on the title page of “The Young Commandos”. His blacked out eyes, the use of exaggerated lines on his face, and his large teeth also frame him as monstrous. (Moyer et al. 23) Moreover, these stories and propaganda share much in common, therefore making it plausible that these stories are in fact propaganda.
Effects of Propaganda on Children
To understand the effects that Propaganda would have on a child, it is first crucial to understand the effects that communications have on the general public. What follows is a list of principles and effects of communications as noted by the research of Wilbur Schramm:
- Mass Communications are capable of causing learning to take place and of changing attitudes and opinions in their audiences, the extent of the learning and changes being limited by the related variables in the situation.
- The amount of factual information retained is highest immediately after the communication is received, and thereafter decreases in a curve of forgetting. As facts drop away, general conclusions emerge, and these conclusions ally themselves with new material which agrees with the individual’s original attitude toward the content. Thus the amount of opinion or attitude change may at times increase while the amount of factual retention is decreasing.
- The amount of learning from mass communications, when other variables are controlled, is proportional to the intellectual ability of the member of the audience. (Schramm 404-405)
These first three principles highlight the fact that mass communications can influence opinions on specific subject matter. Information is mostly retained right after the communication is received. Later on, the facts drop away and general conclusions are made about the communication, thereby changing the individual’s original attitude towards the material. Lastly, it states that varying levels of education produce varying results of learning from the communication, meaning that a child for instance may absorb more information than an intellectual adult. The next most important principles of the effects of mass communications are numbers six, eight and twelve:
- The cumulative effects of mass communications are powerful. The communications blend into and form a large part of the individual’s environment, and contribute to the attitudes and opinions which remain as the facts are forgotten.
- Persons are more likely to learn from a communication if they like it, than if they do not.
- Repetition, especially repetition with variation, appears to contribute both to factual and to attitude learning. (In the latter case, it seems to serve as confirmation and as an indication of membership in a majority) (Schramm 405-406)
These three principles state that communications become part of the targets environment. If the individual likes the communication they will learn the intended messages, such as the fun, faced-paced nature of a comic which is meant to be enjoyable. Additionally, if repetition is included in the communication the individual will have a perceived sense of belonging to a majority. Therefore, the children reading these stories will take the information in them as the majority’s view, and be more inclined to believe what it is telling them.
In conclusion, the propaganda within the Commando Comic No.19 stories “Salty Lane: Secret Investigator” and “The Young Commandos” had the power to convince Canadian children that the Japanese were monstrous people. Mass communications leave a prominent impact on people, and without the recognition that these stories were created to have an impact, children are left to vulnerably absorb their contents and take them as fact, thus making it okay for future racism against the Japanese people.
“Der Jude Kriegsanstifter Kriegsverlangerer.” MADMENART, www.madmenart.com/war-propaganda/der-jude-kriegsanstifter-kriegsverlaengerer/.
Diekman, Diane. “Marty Robbins.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 19 July 2017, www.britannica.com/biography/Marty-Robbins.
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“Marty Robbins.” Discogs, Discogs, 2017, www.discogs.com/Marty-Robbins-Good-N-Country/release/2952993.
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The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Pearl Harbor Attack.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 23 Feb. 2017, www.britannica.com/event/Pearl-Harbor-attack.
Violette, Forrest E. La, et al. “Within the Barbed Wire Fence. A Japanese Man’s Account of His Internment in Canada.” Pacific Affairs, vol. 54, no. 2, 1981, p. 399., doi:10.2307/2757416.
“Young Japanese Canadians Being Relocated in British Columbia, 1942.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 23 Feb. 2012, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/japanese-internment-banished-and-beyond-tears-feature/.