Between patriotism and pacifism: Jacob Lawrence, John Huston, Bill Mauldin, and Walt Disney during World War Two
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During World War II, four artists—filmmakers Walt Disney and John Huston, painter Jacob Lawrence, and cartoonist Bill Mauldin—were among the soldiers fighting on the front lines, and the officers and staff who supported them at home and abroad. I argue that the art they created during the war and in their themes, overt and covert resonates beyond the rhetoric of patriotism. Their work reveals the tension between an artist’s desire to support the soldiers and the cause, while questioning the purpose of the war and its destructiveness. The works discussed in this dissertation all operate on these two levels. Created within the historical context of patriotism and anti-fascism, they present a product aimed at support, designed to inform and persuade the American public about the threat of fascism, the realities of war, the strength and reserve of the soldiers fighting it, and the ultimate righteousness of the task ahead. At the same time, these works also reveal a skepticism about the war. Chapter 1 examines Jacob Lawrence’s paintings from his time in the Coast Guard, as well as his War and Hiroshima series. I explore the ways Lawrence’s experience shaped the form and the content of his war paintings. Chapter 2 looks at the wartime documentaries of John Huston: Report from the Aleutians (1943), San Pietro (1945), and Let There Be Light (1946) as well as Huston’s adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage (1951). This chapter shows Huston’s increasingly ambivalent attitude and skepticism about the war. Chapter 3 analyzes Bill Mauldin’s cartoons for Stars and Stripes, as well as his political cartoons printed after the war and his 1956 congressional campaign. I relate Mauldin’s own skepticism towards the war through my analysis of his main characters Willie and Joe, common soldiers frequently overwhelmed by the tedium of war and military bureaucracy. Chapter 4 explores the propaganda cartoons of the Walt Disney Studios, particularly Chicken Little, Education for Death, Der Fuehrer’s Face, and Reason and Emotion, situating them as precursors to Disney’s future works as an educator.