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[Detail] Krazy Kat goes a-wooing. 1916.

The films in Origins of American Animation provide an opportunity to examine a number of historic events in the early-twentieth century. Topics range from U.S. involvement in World War I and Prohibition to cultural phenomenon such as consumer culture and the relationship between vaudeville and the motion picture industry.

1) World War I

When Germany and Great Britain entered into a war in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson announced that the United States would remain neutral. Investments with the English and strained diplomatic ties with the Germans, however, prompted the U.S. to declare war against Germany on April 2, 1917. Two propaganda films from the following year reflect the different roles of the U.S. in the European conflict.

An advertisement for war saving stamps, W.S.S. Thriftettes (ca. 1918), features a funeral procession for the German Kaiser while imploring the audience to "Save and buy" war stamps and "Hurry the end of the war." Meanwhile, AWOL-All Wrong Old Laddiebuck (1918), points out that military actions don't officially end with the restoration of peace.

AWOL-All Wrong Old Laddiebuck features a troop of U.S. soldiers ready to return home after Germany's surrender in November 1918. One impatient soldier declares that everyone should have been discharged "the minute the armistice was signed."

His colleagues, however, counter that they're obligated to remain on base until they are instructed to leave. The first soldier refuses to wait for his superiors and heads off base without permission. He meets up with a woman known as "MISS AWOL" and rides with her, wreaking havoc across the countryside.

After a series of mishaps, including an appearance in a local court, the soldier returns to camp. The rest of his battalion, however, turn their backs on the deserter. The soldier is then imprisoned while everyone else celebrates their return home by jumping and leapfrogging on their way out. As the soldier angrily shakes the bar of his jail cell, the bars form the ominous letters, "AWOL."

  • According to these films, how can U.S. civilians and soldiers contribute to the war effort?
  • What do you think is the difference in these contributions?
  • What do you think is the role of the federal government in both of these efforts?
  • How does W.S.S. Thriftettes compare to print ads for War Savings Stamps such as "Size Up Your Savings" and "The Circus Poster"?
  • What do you think is the effect of the fact that AWOL-All Wrong Old Laddiebuck never actually defined the term, AWOL, as "absent without leave"?
  • What message would this film have for civilian audiences?
  • Why do you think that it was important for soldiers to remain on base even after the end of the war?