COMIC BOOK PSYOP

SGM Herb Friedman (Ret.)

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Wikipedia describes the comic book as “a magazine or book containing sequential art in the form of a narrative. Although the term implies otherwise, the subject matter in comic books is not necessarily humorous; in fact, it is often serious and action-oriented. Comic books are so called because some of the earliest comic books were simply collections of comic strips (most of which were humorous) that had originally been printed in newspapers. The commercial success of these collections led to work being created specifically for the comic book form…American comic books have become closely associated with the superhero tradition...”

That is a rather fancy way to describe those old Batman and Superman comic books that cost a nickel and were the bane of your parents who wanted you to spend your time reading classical books like Moby Dick and Ivanhoe. However, many children probably cut their teeth on the English language while sitting around with their friends, trading comics and struggling over the big words.

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Captain America fights the Nazi Fuhrer Adolf Hitler

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The Green Hornet, Superman and Uncle Sam all took on Hitler in the comics

Comic books have always been patriotic in nature. In time of war, American firms that produced them were happy to boost circulation by printing copies showing national heroes fighting the enemy and protecting the American way of life. We saw such comics during WWII, Korea and Vietnam. Heroes like Captain America regularly took on German and Japanese troops and defeated them. Some of those old comics are now quite valuable and considered historical works of art. 

Dwight J. Zimmerman wrote an article entitled “Comic Books go to War” for Defensemedianetwork. He says in regard to commercial comic books supporting the war:

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the comic book industry went on a war footing of its own, ramping up production, and war themed titles quickly proliferated. They ranged from fictional (Uncle Sam Quarterly, The Fighting Yank, and Airboy Comics, amongst others) to biographies and real adventures (two were titled, appropriately enough, Real Heroes and Real Life Comics). Some, like Thirty Seconds over Tokyo and Guadalcanal Diary, were adaptations of best-selling books. Others, like The American Air Forces, Don Winslow of the Navy, and Military Comics: Stories of the Army and Navy, focused on a particular branch. There was even a title, Popular Comics, that reprinted war themed newspaper strips, most notably “Terry and the Pirates” and “Smilin’ Jack.”

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Undercover War

It wasn’t just the commercial printers that produced comic books during WWII. The U.S. Government also printed a number of different comics to help with the war effort. The story is told in the military magazine America in WWII. For instance, the US government’s Petroleum Administration for War (PAW) designed comic books to motivate refinery construction workers and of course to keep a sharp eye out for saboteurs. In the comic book above Nazi spies try to destroy a petroleum plant so the allied bombers have no fuel to attack the German homeland.

Another comic, “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer” appeared in 1943. This comic told of the need for 100 octane gas and depicted American fighters and bombers fighting in all the theaters of WWII. The title was certainly inspired by the 1943 song by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh

One of our planes was missing
Two hours overdue
One of our planes was missing
With all its gallant crew
The radio sets were humming
We waited for a word
Then a noise broke
Through the humming and this is what we heard

Coming in on a wing and a prayer
Coming in on a wing and a prayer
Though there's one motor gone
We can still carry on
Coming in on a wing and a prayer

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The Nightmares of Lieutenant Ichi

This 14-page comic book is entitled The Nightmares of Lieutenant Ichi – Juan Posong gives Ichi the Midnight Jitters. It was produced by the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) in Brisbane, Australia, for distribution in the Philippines, meant to raise the morale of the Filipinos and ridicule their Japanese occupiers.

Ben Roth headed the OWI Art Department in Brisbane and drew the cartoons in the book. The story takes place in Panegcenao where the dashing Filipino hero Juan Posong (who pretends to be “slow” but is in fact very clever) makes life miserable for the Japanese Army officer Lieutenant Ichi (who expected to be welcomed with open arms by the Filipinos but was surprised to find out that they considered him a usurper). Posong constantly harasses Icho and this causes the Japanese officer to have nightmares which are depicted in the comic book. Note that Ichi fears the return of General Douglas MacArthur and thus wants to return to Japan. This is a very low-key use of the “Cult of MacArthur” theme that American propagandists pushed in the Philippines.

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 The Sound that Kills

The Office of War Information (OWI) also produced a number of comic books and even posters that featured comic strips. One such poster was “The Sound that kills.” It displayed five panels that first depicted a worker talking about a ship full of explosive leaving port, and ended with the ship being destroyed by a Nazi submarine.

One OWI comic book that caused some controversy was “The Life of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.” Although the propaganda comic was meant to be read by overseas civilians to encourage them to feel positively about the Americans, Republicans in the United States complained that it unfair Democratic propaganda.

The OWI believed that comic books would work as an instrument of propaganda but apparently had very little luck with the actual product. According to Steve M. Barkin, “Fighting the Cartoon War: Information Strategies in World War II,” Journal of American Culture, Spring/Summer 1984:

They decided that the comics inclined toward hackneyed portrayals of patriotic ideals and overly stereotyped characterizations of the enemy as stupid and incompetent, and these depictions tended to lull viewers into complacency rather than prompting them toward greater effort on behalf of the war…

Comic strips in newspapers and magazines did not lend themselves to control or manipulation…Actual government production of comics did not appear to be an answer, either. OWI ultimately decided to leave comics alone for the remainder of the war, ironically after demonstrating the considerable power of the cartoon images and their undeniable hold on the American public.

OWI’s attempts to use comic strips as propaganda ceased in November 1942.

For the purposes of this article on Comic Book PSYOP we will discuss those comic books that were produced by the United States government and used to further its military and political aims. For the most part, those comics were humanitarian in nature and focused on such subjects as mine awareness. The comic books have become part of the media of military psychological operations and we should now take a moment to study the concept in more depth.    

THE KOREAN WAR

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Only the Dead are Free

When the Korean War was suddenly thrust on the Free World on 25 June 1950, once again American publishers produced a number of comic books that showed American soldiers as heroes and the Communist North Koreans and Chinese as villains. In the above comic, the Communists forces slaughter innocent women and children, driving a South Korean to becoming a guerrilla, eventually fighting alongside American troops.

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Sometimes the U.S. Government authorized comic books that were really a form of internal propaganda. For instance, in 1951 the United States Government Printing Office and the U.S. Air Force Psychological Warfare Division produced a 5-page comic book entitled Bullets or Words. It was written by Herb Block and drawn by Milton Caniff, best known for his “Steve Canyon” cartoons. The comic discussed the history of psychological operations, the war in Korea and ended with a recruitment advertisement for “Syke-Air,” which the booklet explains is “the U.S. Air Force word for Air Psychological Warfare Activities.”

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Korea My Home

I have seen one very small full-color image of the cover of this comic book. It appeared in the Heritage Comics and Comic Art Signature Auction #823 identified as “Johnstone and Cushing 1953 – price $245.” If any reader can send me a high resolution image of the cover it would be deeply appreciated.

The firm of Johnstone and Cushing created several comic books for the State Department. In the case of “Korea My Home,” the State Department script was broken into panels and laid out in pencil by Al Stenzel, and then finished in ink by Bill Timmins. Leonard Rifas mentions the comic book “Korea My Home” in his MA thesis The Forgotten War Comics. He says in part:

The story presents a melodramatic interpretation of Korean history from the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule in August, 1945 to the Chinese intervention on the side of North Korea in October, 1950.

He quotes Edward W. Barrett's 1953 book Truth is Our Weapon, Funk and Wagnall Company; NY, 1953:

To demonstrate the true nature of Communist ‘liberation’ in gripping human terms, for people of minimum literacy, the Department [of State] and USIE Korea collaborated in producing a true-to-life cartoon story. Based on interviews with North Koreans, this cartoon book tells a dramatic story of a Korean farmer and his family and their sufferings - how the Russians drove out the Japanese and set up a North Korean ‘People's Republic’ which seized crops, forced young men into the Army, introduced thought control, and finally plunged North Korea into a bloody, aggressive war. More than 700,000 copies are printed or in production.

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An Anti-Communist Comic Book for Japan - Communism Exposed
Courtesy Major Hammond Salley

This Japanese-language Allied comic book was produced for Japan or Okinawa during the Korean War in an attempt to show that the Communists were war mongers who invaded other lands while they took orders from the Soviet Union. That was a common theme of much American propaganda. The comic is 32 pages long and I have chosen to show the cover where international communism based in Moscow is depicted as an octopus; it has one bloody tentacle sunk deep into China, while the one reaching into Korea has been hacked off by the Allies (hence his surprise). He's getting a grasp on Vietnam as well. On the back, a rapacious Communist wolf pretends to be a non-threatening fawn. I include page 14 where North Korean stooges murder innocent South Korean mothers and babies, and page 15 where the resolute forces of the United Nations march to their rescue.

The comic book was probably printed in Okinawa around 1953. It was apparently printed under the sponsorship of the Information Coordination Committee, affiliated with the Office of the High Commissioner USCAR (United States Civil Administration of Ryukyus). The U.S. Eighth Army was headquartered in Japan and the booklet was likely meant to keep the Japanese firmly on the American side during the Korean War. There are no markings of any kind on the comic so it could be “black” or “white.” About the same time, a million watt Voice of America transmitter was beaming messages into Mainland China from a transmitter located on the edge of the Okuma Rest Center on Northern Okinawa. The Central Intelligence Agency was also training mainland Chinese at a secret camp in Northern Okinawa at that time. Before his firing by President Truman, General MacArthur had planned to use Chinese Nationalist forces from Formosa in the Korean War.

Some of the text is:

Communism Exposed – Information Coordinating Committee

In North Korea, the Communist party under the dominant rule of Soviet philosophy started a war against the people.

However, the countries of the free world denounced Soviet aggression. They took the field to defend South Korea. (Pennant on UN flag: The Flag of Righteousness)

No matter what country, the Communist Party bosses follow the policies of Moscow.
Okinawa, Indochina, Chinese Communists, North Korea, Japan.

One frog said “I am a fish”. However, by the way he cried out and by the way he swam and by his shape he was a frog. No matter how much he said he was a fish he could not become a fish. A frog is a frog.

COMMUNISTS are the same as this frog.

A well-known Japanese expression is “the offspring of a frog is a frog”. The Japanese also have an expression that “a tadpole is still a frog”

VIETNAM

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SGT ROCK comic book "Paper Bullets" told
readers at home about leaflets in Vietnam

During the Vietnam War comic books were used for in several different campaigns. For instance, they were used as part of the Chieu Hoi (Open Arms) amnesty operation where Viet Cong guerrillas were invited to return to the national government where they would be greeted as wayward children, given clothes, cash and training for the workforce.

One of the Army officers who worked at the Regional Service Center in Manila producing the comic books for the U.S. military and other agencies told me:

The comic book type booklets we did were not like U.S. style comic books for kids. Most were educational and instructional targeted at adults. They were approximately 3x 6-inches or 3 x 8-inches. We had been using this format for at least two decades before the Vietnam War PSYOP effort came into existence, primarily to support the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and international development efforts across Southeast Asia. They were targeted at adults, given that in the middle of the 20th Century literacy rates in the region were not much above 10% and even then at the low side of comprehension.

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Comic Book 2078

Comic book 2078 is an example of a Chieu Hoi product. Its title is A Nightmare Passed - Chieu Hoi. This July 1967 Joint United States Public Relations Office booklet is 5 x 7-inches in size and 20-pages in length. The comic book presents, in cartoon style, the experiences and thoughts of a Hoi Chanh (defector or “rallier” from the Viet Cong) on the events which led to his decision to Chieu Hoi (return to the National Government). At the start of the book a happy young man is shown at school. Later he decides to join the Viet Cong. His group is first bombed by the Americans and then he gets sick but cannot be treated properly in the field. He is forced to take part in self-criticism and after a second American aerial attack he finds Chieu Hoi leaflets on the ground. He returns to the fold at the end of the book has returned to his old school.

The Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office Field Development Division booklet Guidelines to Chieu Hoi Psychological Operations: the Chieu Hoi Inducement Program, states that various media should be utilized to the maximum degree to reach military forces of the Viet Cong and encourage Hoi Chanh ralliers with Government of Vietnam and United States support. Some of the “other media”mentioned are:

Comic books, calendars, almanacs, messages on gifts or donated items, books and letters.

Comic books could also be used to win the trust of children and orphans. Specialist five Jack O’Neill of the 6th PSYOP Battalion told me:

While working with 82nd Airborne in 1969 First Lieutenant Ben Rogers and I volunteered at an orphanage just outside Saigon. We were happy to spend time there because the children were mostly orphans of ARVN soldiers whose parents had been killed by the Viet Cong or North Vietnamese Army. When we were there the kids would flock around us, wearing my hat, and wanting hugs and laughter which we were able to give them by making faces and funny noises. We also cried a lot worrying about their future. When working with 1st Air Cavalry we helped with medical and dental projects and spent time with the children teaching them how to play baseball, taking them to the Saigon Zoo, giving them comic books, coloring books, soccer balls and other items.

There are other mysterious reports of comic books used in psychological operations in Vietnam. For instance, although we know little about the product, 60 copies of “Vietnamese War Heroes” children’s comic books coded 6-789 and 50 copies of a later issue coded 6-791 were distributed during Operation Lanikai, from November to December 1966 by PSYOP troops of the U.S. Army 25th Division. On other occasions during the same operation 15 “Navy Hero” and 30 “Children’s Hero” comic books were given to the locals. On another Medcap visit 10 copies of the comic book “History of America” coded 6-182 were given to the children of Long Dinh. These comics were of course printed by the American 6th PSYOP Battalion.

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Mr. Ba reads the Phoenix leaflets

One of the more interesting PSYOP items was in the form of a comic book. It tells the story of a “Mr. Ba ” who has Communist agents hiding in his village of Phong Thanh and decides to inform the authorities of their presence. The VC have taxed him, killed his friends and innocent civilians, and generally made life inconvenient by blowing up bridges and buildings. Mr. Ba reads posters offering rewards for the capture of the two VC and listens to the same offer on his radio. The village is then covered with aerial propaganda leaflets offering a reward for the two VC. Mr. Ba is convinced. He talks to the local authorities, the Communists are arrested and Ba is rewarded. The village is once again peaceful and all live happily ever after.

Major Marcus S. Welch, mentions adds in his Command and General Staff College thesis: Irregular Pen and Limited Sword: PSYWAR, PSYOP, and MISO in Counterinsurgency:

To augment the “specific” wanted posters, the “general” Phung Hoang comic book was created. Similar in concept to the Chieu Hoi Safe Conduct Pass, the Phung Hoang comic book provided the method for peasants and villagers to report information concerning Viet Cong Infrastructure activity, and how to do it anonymously. The comic book pictographically and textually conveyed the intent of Phung Hoang posters, leaflets, and broadcasts and how villagers could act on the information.

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Comic Book 2554

This May 1968 Joint United States Public Relations Office comic book is entitled “New Life Development.” It is 5 x 8-inches in size and 29 pages in length. It tells the story of Hoa Dong Hamlet and how the unsophisticated villagers and the Revolutionary Development Cadre worked together to build a new school, market, and other projects. Comics such as these were used to motivate the Vietnamese people to accept the new hamlets where the government hoped to keep them protected against Communist exploitation.

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Soldiers against Desertion

I was recently sent what appeared to be a Vietnamese military comic book but is more in the form of an illustrated instruction manual. It is a propaganda product and since each page has at least one cartoon panel, I have added it here, though I could make a case that it is not really a comic book in the most classical sense of the word. The title of the booklet is Soldiers against Desertion, and below are the words “Study Document” or “Training Manual.” The back cover says “General Department of Political Warfare, Psychological Warfare Department.” The booklet was printed by the South Vietnamese Political Warfare Department.

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The Loyal Soldier

It is a propaganda manual on how to talk soldiers out of deserting and disappearing into the populace or going over to the enemy. Each page of the booklet depicts a different scene. Loyal soldiers of the south are depicted as admired, with their friends looking on in awe and women looking at them lovingly. The soldiers are shown getting paid well, eating good food and wearing fine clothing. They learn usable trades. The sun shines on them and smiles. The text on these two pages is:

On 1 July 1965 a soldier's salary was increased from 20% to 100%.
On 1 June 1966 a soldier's allowances were increased from 20% to 30%.
A Grade 1 Private in the South with a wife and 3 children who previously received 3,875 piasters now receives 5,052.5 piasters.
A Corporal with a wife and 5 children receives 6,482.5 piasters.

Volunteer for a 5-year service commitment and receive a 4,500 piaster bonus.
After completion of services, if you sign up for an additional 5 years you receive 7,500 piaster bonus.
A draftee who completes his term of military service and who has a Level 1 Specialist Certificate will receive 12,300 piasters bonus if he signs up for an additional 5-year service commitment.

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The Deserter

Deserters are depicted as losers, who are tried and found guilty, jailed, cannot find a job, are snubbed by women and laughed at by civilians. The sun frowns at them. It is a nice piece of propaganda, but heavy-handed by American standards. The text on these pages is:

No matter where a deserter goes to apply for work, his application is rejected and he is chased away.

Out on the streets a deserter does not dare to maintain a proud, bold attitude but instead must avoid people and slink around like a thief.

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Collating the Pages of a Booklet

Members of the Australian 1st Psychological Operations Unit gather together to collate and put together a propaganda booklet for the enemy. This is definitely not high-tech. Notice the stapler at the lower left.

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History of PSYOP

Sometimes comic books are just written and drawn by military cartoonists for their own amusement. This 32-page Vietnam War comic was created by a member of the 246th PSYOP Company named Bentley while stationed in Bien Hoa. The title is History of PSYOP – You really can’t believe anybody.” The second page of the comic book states that it is dedicated to all Psywarriors, and especially a number of officers and men serving in the unit that were helpful to Bentley. It was varityped by Specialist 4th Grade Forrest. The text and images of the comic are a humorous look at the alleged origin of PSYOP in prehistoric days; how words like “Love” and “Hate” mold opinions and actions, and the last page depicts what appears to be PSYOP as practiced by the American forces in Vietnam. It was a nice souvenir for the unit members.

This book was found by Australian Army Psychology Corps Captain Tom McCann in Late 1970 in the files of the 16th Psychological Unit in Sydney, Australia. Remember that during the Vietnam War the Australian PSYOP troops worked closely with the 246th PSYOP Company so they would have probably been given a copy of the comic as a souvenir. Readers wanting to know more about the Australian-US connection should read my article Australian PSYOP of the Vietnam War.

Note: After we added the History of PSYOP comic book to this article it was donated to the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum, the designated PSYOP Regiment Museum, at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

THE HUMANITARIAN COMIC BOOKS

Mine Awareness

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Croatian, Serbian and English versions
of the Superman Mine awareness Comic Book

The U.S. Government and the United Nations joined with DC Comics, a division of the Time Warner Entertainment Company in 1996 to produce a special Superman comic book entitled Superman - Deadly Legacy. The idea for the mine awareness comic book was allegedly sparked by a comment by First Lady Hillary Clinton during her visit to Bosnia. She reviewed a mine awareness coloring book for young children, and asked what was being done for the older children. The comic was then created to foster landmine awareness among children in the Former Yugoslavia and was printed in both the Cyrillic alphabet used by Serbs and the Roman alphabet used by Croats and Muslims. Half a million Superman books were initially shipped to Bosnia and Kosovo. Superman was chosen to spread the message because “he is a citizen of the world.” The text on the back is:

Superman has come to help the children of Bosnia-Herzegovina! But even when he can’t be here, you can keep yourself safe from landmines.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Implementation Force (IFOR) distributed over 1 million of the magazines in their first year in Bosnia.

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Swayne was the liaison with DC Comics in New York City tasked with the mine-awareness project. The military paid for the materials, ink and transportation, but not the art or concept work. It supplied the photographs of Bosnians, local homes, landscape and backgrounds and the comic book artists did the rest.

In regard to the comic book for Bosnia, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the Mine Action Center lent their endorsement to the project. They said that there are 130,000 copies of the comic in Latin and Cyrillic, and 35,000 in English. The priority for distribution was to children in hospitals, orphanages, refugee camps, and schools.  

A Kosovo version of the comic book was released in the school system through UNICEF and through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the area. Originally, the Kosovo version of the comic book was designed to be released for children in the refugee camps. The comic book was designed to teach children to stay away from landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO), to recognize areas where mines may be located, and to take certain actions if they find a mine. The comic book also encourages children to share their understanding of the landmine threat with friends and family members and teaches them that deminers working in their country are protecting them from dangerous landmines. The Bosnia-Kosovo version of the comic book depicts Superman protecting two young children from mines, while the dog of one child is severely injured. They meet a boy who has lost his legs, and later save a girl who has wandered into deep grass. It is a wonderful joining of the military and commercial sector to save lives. 

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Spanish and English versionsof the Superman
and Wonder Woman Mine Awareness Comic Book

A second comic book in Spanish was released for children in Latin America 11 June 1998 at UNICEF House at UN headqurters in New York City. It is entitled Superman and Wonder Woman - the Hidden Killer. Brian Sheridan, principal deputy to the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, represented the Defense Department at the unveiling ceremony. He called the book a major step forward in the effort to protect children in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras from the threat posed by land mines.

The Central American book is 32 pages long, compared to 10 pages for the Bosnia version. The second book includes 24 pages of story and eight pages of activities targeting children between 8 and 15. Text on the back is “Superman and Wonder Woman have come to help the children of Central America! But even when they cannot be here, you can keep yourself safe from landmines. This book tells of the story of Brothers Miguel, Diego, and Sister Gabriella. One brother suddenly finds himself in a minefield. He is rescued by the super-heroes, shown some mine-warning signs, and then introduced to a military deminer. Later, Gabriella washing clothes in a stream also comes upon a mine. She is saved by Wonder Woman. The children are shown signs and posters depicting different mines and meet a child who has been injured. They then kick their soccer ball into an area that sets off another mine. The book contains a number of mine warning stickers, and features a two-page scene depicting a countryside with various signs and clues of hidden mine fields. The reader is urged to place the stickers on those sites. It closes with a 10-point quiz and the warning: “Spread the word: Mines Kill!”

Soldiers from the 1st PSYOP Battalion (Airborne), Fort Bragg, North Carolina, conducted assessments in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras, provided background information and photos and recommended a story line to the creative staff at DC Comics. The collaboration ensured accuracy and that Central American children would be able to identify with the villages, countryside and clothing depicted in the new book. Once the story and artwork were completed, the battalion tested the comic book in Central America to see if it conveyed the intended message. Members of the Army’s Special Forces, as well as the staffs of UNICEF, U.S. embassies and local governments, worked together to distribute the book throughout the region. 

The comic books were distributed through U.S. embassies, and presented to the Ministries of Education in Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. A U.S. Southern Command Mine Awareness Team assisted the host ministries of education in the distribution. The initial printing was Six hundred fifty thousand copies of the book, 560,000 in Spanish and 90,000 in English. Mine-awareness posters based on the comic book, 170,000 in Spanish and 30,000 in English, were distributed in Latin America. Similar posters were used in the Bosnia campaign.  

A third version of the comic book will be published in Portuguese for the children of Angola, which the United Nations estimates has 15 million land mines. The release date for the third comic book is unknown. “I can think of nothing more rewarding than to know that Superman and Wonder Woman have leapt beyond the pages of the comics to save real lives,” said Jeanette Kahn, President of DC Comics. DC Comics donated the use of the Superman and Wonder Woman characters and worked closely with the Department of Defense and UNICEF to make sure that the stories and artwork would be specific to the host countries. 

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PSYOP Soldiers passing out the Superman mine awareness comic book

The compliments for the comic books were not unanimous. There were doubters. One official in Bosnia said:

I was the Chief of Information in Sarajevo, at the United Nations Mine Action Centre for 18 months (1997-98). The comic book was brought there by US forces as part of the UN-mandated NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) with the intent to win hearts and minds. As a group, we determined that Superman (the comic) gave the wrong messages. (1) If you find yourself in a mined area, Superman will fly in and save you. (2) Retrace your foot steps out of a minefield. It was the decision of the Mine Awareness Working Group that the Superman comic gave the wrong messages, and it was stopped from further distribution. It was never field-tested to see if it was suitable!

It is interesting that the Superman comic, once again, tried to save the Balkans, this time in Kosovo. I was the Chief Mine Information Officer at the time. This time it has been field-tested. The results indicate that the Superman comic is not a suitable medium for mine awareness education for children in the 7-9 age group, and with appropriate supervision, the comic book is a suitable medium for mine awareness education for children in the 10-14 age group. However, the Testing Board recommended that if the comic is to be used in schools that, teachers can use them, hand them out in class, but withdraw them at the end of the class.

It has been alleged that the French were not enamored with the comic book, apparently disturbed that Superman represented “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” Superman was very popular among the youth of Bosnia, but was the subject of consternation among certain allies. 

Philip M. Taylor criticized this leaflet in Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda from the Ancient World to the Present Day, Manchester University Press, UK, 2003. He claims:

A classic example of how such well-intentioned propaganda can backfire, this comic had to be withdrawn when it was discovered that some young children were deliberately walking into minefields in the hope that Superman would come and save them.

The Landmine Monitor seems to agree. They don’t exactly say that young children might enter a minefield, but they do say:

Most attention, however, has been focused on the Superman comic book, with concerns being widely expressed as to both its technical accuracy and cultural appropriateness. The comic book has apparently been used to advantage as one of a number of media items in Guatemala but overall the reaction has been extremely negative. As a result, the original version produced for Bosnia-Herzegovina has now been withdrawn from distribution; a Spanish version was not distributed in Colombia; and a version planned for Mozambique appears to have been shelved, at least for now. Independent testing of the Superman comic book in Kosovo concluded that it was suitable for children in the 10-14 age group but not for children in the 7-9 age group, who might infer incorrect and dangerous messages.

These comments are rejected by Major Jeffrey White who told me that the comics were never withdrawn from circulation, and definitely not as Phil Taylor suggests, based on the rationale that he cited. Major White never saw any comic books returned to Sarajevo.  He did feel that there was a significant undercurrent of anti-American sentiment among the NATO Forces, but the criticisms did not bear out in any of the post-testing in Bosnia. There was never even one incident where it was ever reported that a child went into a known minefield hoping to be rescued by Superman, nor were there any other incidents provoked by the comic book.

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A Serbian boy examines the mines
shown in the Superman Comic book

LTC Swayne states that he recalls two minor negative reactions to the Superman Comic Book. The first occurred when he coordinated with the United Nations Mine Action Center in Sarajevo prior to putting their phone number on the back cover of the comic book and matching poster. They were not prepared for the number of calls that flooded their office.  Overnight their office went from a “Sleepy Hollow” to a place where the phone never quit ringing.

The second was something that did not come out in pre or post-testing among the 10 to 15-year-old target audience.   It was brought up by the International Press Corps at the unveiling of the comic book in the Sarajevo Holiday Inn. They posed questions about the sexist nature of the comic in that the girl was always the subordinate character. The comic was made for an audience and culture where that is the case whether we like it or not. As a result, although it was an overwhelming success among the target audience, it was scrutinized by the international press because it did not depict an unrealistic but politically correct dominant role for the female characters.

Although I am absolutely certain that this story is incorrect, I must note that the October 2001 Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Managed Information Dissemination claims that some Bosnian children entered a minefield because they wanted to be saved by Superman. The report states that it is also likely that because of such dangers, companies like DC Comics will likely seek immunity for such future government-sponsored operations.

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Batman: Death of Innocents: the horror of landmines.

It appears that DC Comics might have been moved by the plight of the children in those nations where mines are still a hazard. About the same time that they published the landmine awareness comic book for the military, they also published a graphic novel by Dennis O’Neil in December 1996 entitled Batman: Death of Innocents: the horror of landmines. This story is meant to educate the American Public to the lunacy of landmines. A reviewer on Amazon stated in part:

In "Batman: Death of Innocents", the Dark Knight takes on the tragic horror of landmines and finds himself in the unusual position of being relatively helpless against the scale of the problem. That scale is highlighted in the forward by Senator Patrick Leahy and later Colonel David H. Hackworth, Jody Williams of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, and Jerry White of the Landmine Survivors Network. They tell of the tens of millions of landmines deployed around the world, often active for decades after their war is over.

The comic itself does not take a stand as “for” or “against” the morality of any given war, using instead the fictitious country of Kravia as the main ground for the story; it instead focuses on the horrendously indiscriminate killing of landmines against anything that moves, and that, as Col. Hackworth notes, “can't tell a tank from a tricycle.”

In the story itself, Batman is drawn into the conflagration of the Kravian civil war when a Wayne Enterprises employee in Kravia working on an irrigation project is killed when his car drives over a mine in the middle of the road…In Kravia we see the ruthlessness of both sides in this one particular civil war, and the deep goodness and quiet courage of those caught in the middle, including some people who risk everything to give aid to a child….
 

We should mention that in the comic, Senator Leahy wrote a two-page text article entitled “The Innocent Victims of Landmines”; Colonel Hackworth wrote a three-page article entitled “Landmines, the Indiscriminate Killers”; Jody Williams wrote a 4-Page article entitled “Landmines – We Must Ban Them Now” and Jerry White added a 3-page article entitled “Landmine Victims need Your help.”

Afghanistan

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Afghanistan Comic Book

Comic books were also used as a nation-building tool in Afghanistan. The Coalition Bulletin, January 2008 mentions a “Train the Trainer” workshop where local teachers learned about a set of six comic books designed to teach children about their rights and duties as citizens of Afghanistan. Distribution of the comics in Kandahar City schools began on 10 December 2007, and the 16 teachers at the workshop were trained to show some 800 of their colleagues how to use them in class.

A donation of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the comic books use the characters Yassin and Kaka Rawoof to introduce the basic concepts of the Constitution of Afghanistan. 45,000 copies of the comic books were delivered to representatives of all the schools in Kandahar City. Each pupil in grades 1, 2 and 3 received one comic each. At the same time, a radio and television campaign featuring Yassin and Kaka Rawoof was conducted.

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Afghan Commando Comic Book

During the rebuilding stage of the Afghanistan War when the United States was trying to train the Afghan Army and Police Forces to do their duty in a democratic and efficient way, a number of items like leaflets, posters, dolls and comic books were prepared to enhance the image of these forces. Above is a Comic book that tells of the good deeds done by the Afghan Commandos.

The story begins with several Afghan children hurt by a terrorist bomb. The Commandos approach the village to look for the terrorists and protect the people. They ask the local villagers to inform on the Taliban members. They explain to the villagers that their identification will be kept confidential and the Commandos will act quickly on the information that is provided. The locals tell the troops that the Taliban is making bombs in a nearby village. The Commandos find out that the information is correct and thank the villagers. The soldiers raid the bomb house and catch two Taliban in the act. The Taliban are immediately arrested and put behind bars. The people rejoice and the villagers that informed on the terrorists are paid a reward. The villagers say:

Thank you, but the real reward is that you saved our village from the enemies.

We have to stop our criminal activities. I really miss my family. Me too.

If you have more information, share it with us. We will quickly act on it.

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The First Graduating Class of Afghan Commandos

I spoke to one of the Information Operations (I/O) officers involved with the origin of this comic book. He told me:

I developed the Afghan comic book idea while working at Headquarters, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), in Kabul, 2008. Comic books did not exist as a concept there until my team did this. I still have all my original story lines which were to be two-part installment. The picture above (May 2008) is of the very first Commando class to graduate in 30 years from the Afghan army. These were the inspiration for the characters and the concept of the comic book.

The idea of a comic book was not received well by the officers at the Afghan Ministry of Defense (MOD). They did not like trying something new and unknown. A comic book did not exist in Afghanistan – how would the tribal elders react? So, I decided to do a demonstration to get him to buy in. School year had just ended, and my Afghan counterpart had a 10-year-old son. The kid could read and write four languages and just charming to boot. The last Indiana Jones “Crystal Skulls” movie had come out. It was immediately turned into a comic book and I saw it on the shelves at the Military Exchange in Bagram. I bought it and took it to my next visit to the MOD. I said to my counterpart there, “Would you do me the favor of giving this to your son tonight and when I come back next week tell me how he reacts to it.” It was a “Grand slam.” The next week there was no negativity at all. It was now, “How fast can you do this commando comic book?” He said his kid wouldn’t put it down or stop talking about it. Here is some of my 22-page original plot. [Author’s note – I just show a few lines].

GHOST - COMIC BOOK CONCEPT

BASED ON A FICTIONAL AFGHAN COMMANDO UNIT - SQUAD ALPHA

The purpose of this comic book is to educate about IED dangers, counter the message of the insurgents who try to recruit young rural males, enhance the image of the ANA and cause a change in the outlook of young males in rural areas.

The hope is to effect change in young male population by providing an alternative message, good role models who are tough, smart, courageous ANA commandos who hunt down insurgent cells. It will deal with many themes laying out Taliban intimidation, opium and other drug trafficking, corruption and brutality. The opening segment will portray graphic violence but beyond that the intended focus is on rendering Taliban members captured.

The main character is Ghost, a 23-year-old commando, who leads an elite special operations team. A thought for their slogan/patch: “Taliban Hunters, We own the night.”

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Valiant

Sergeant Rich Bryan, an illustrator for the British 15th PSYOP Group has deployed twice to Afghanistan. During his second tour as part of Operation Herrick from July to December 2008 in Helmand Province, he started work on a comic book for the Afghans. The author says:

This is an ongoing project that I am working on targeting the Afghan youth. “Valiant” is an Afghan super hero. Indications from Afghan interpreters that I work with suggest it could be a winner. I still need to make a few cultural adjustments to it before it goes to press.

In the first panel the Afghan superhero punches a Taliban suicide bomber high into the sky where his vest explodes.

BOSNIA

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County Bumpkin meets Sarajevo Kids…and Wins them Over

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Tolerance Poster used in Bosnia featured on back cover of Comic Book

After the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina the North Atlantic Treaty Organization formed a multinational peacekeeping Stabilization Force known as SFOR. The Stabilization Force mission was to deter hostilities and stabilize the peace, contribute to a secure environment by providing a continued military presence in their Area of Responsibility, target and coordinate SFOR support to key areas including primary civil implementation organizations, and progress towards a lasting consolidation of peace, without further need for NATO-led forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

As part of their campaign to teach peace and tolerance to the former combatants, about 2003, SFOR published a miniature comic book called Growing Up. The comic was produced in English and two forms of Serbo-Croatian (Latinic and Cyrillic) so it had the added bonus of being a teaching aid for language. The 14-page comic was produced as both a stand-alone product and an insert to be placed in the German Army OPINFO battalion magazine Mirko, a monthly youth magazine designed to appeal to the teenage audience. Mirko publication began in June 1996 and production increased to 100,000 copies per edition in fall 1997. The magazine's sections were sports, the music pop-scene, computer and internet stories, the youth, exciting events and movies. There were posters in every issue showing international soccer-teams or famous pop-stars. Although not overtly evident, Mirko helped spread the word of a new understanding that would form the basis for the permanence of peace. Mirko, the title chosen for the publication, is a common male first name used in Bosnia as well as in Serbia. It contains the word MIR (peace).

The comic book tells the story of a young man named Damir from a tiny village called Brcko is sent to school in Sarajevo. Strangely, in a nation of many nationalities one would think that the tolerance would be between Bosnians and Serbs or Croats. Instead, it is between the boy from a small village and the other children from the big city. Damir says at one point:

The wealth of a country lies in its differences and its cultures and peoples. We are very lucky to live in such a country.

By the end of the comic Damir has made friends with the city kids and the lesson of local tolerance has been taught. Perhaps SFOR thought it best to start with small steps.

Major Robert Jablonski (Ret.) was the Media Director for SFOR in Bosnia Herzegovina. He told me about how the comic book came into being:

“GROWING UP” was a “Campaign Roundtable” plan primarily targeting Juveniles 12 to 15 years old and secondarily teenagers 16 to 19 years old. Some of the major themes in the book were: acceptance of differences through reconciliation provides hope for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s long-term prosperity; violence is not a legitimate means of solving problems, solve differences by peaceful means and peace will bring prosperity; and the rule of law applies to everyone.

“Roundtable” was an ongoing program aimed at lessening Interethnic rivalries from the War. “Growing Up” was written and illustrated by Senad Mavric, a staff artist in the PSYOP Section. Our thought was to indirectly address the Ethic problems by allowing the characters to deal with other problems. This was a long-term project and due to the long lead time and the difficulty of changes later we first got the story approved with no illustrations. We went out and shot photographs of actual locations in Sarajevo to get the look and feel right. The product was storyboarded and then drawn and colored in watercolor. Part of the story-boarding was also to get the thought bubbles the right size so we could lay out pages correctly. It was scanned into Photoshop, and then the hand-drawn text in English and Serbo-Croatian (Latinic Font and Cyrillic Font) was manipulated to fit. The story was originally written in Serbo-Croatian and had already been translated into English so that part was already done. We also had to contract for its printing and insertion into Mirko and this process took approximately 6 weeks. The whole process took about 4 months.

The “Peace and Tolerance” PSYOP product on the back page was previously used and was one of our main Tolerance images. Notice the subtle difference between the two characters: white head and black body; black head and white body. You can see part of the poster hanging on Damir’s wall in the comic along with “Smile” which was on a city light sign in the background of one of the Panels. We had extra copies printed separately from Mirko and PSYOP teams from all of the Multinational Divisions distributed them to schools as a primary point and any other collections of youth. Schools used both Mirko and Growing Up as reading material as they had English and Serbo-Croatian versions to practice with.

Cambodia

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Although not nearly as fancy as the big commercial comic books, smaller versions were prepared for use by Army teams around the world. The booklet above is entitled “Land Mine Awareness program” and was prepared for use in Cambodia. It is smaller than the usual booklets at just 4.25 x 5.50-inches and identifies explosives and explains how to avoid them. The pages above identify four weapons that might be found on the ground and depict a youth pulling back another boy that is about to touch a weapon on the ground.

COLUMBIA

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Capitan Omega

This PSYOP super-hero was never published as a comic as far as I know. In 2011, I heard from a United States Army Sergeant assigned to a Military Information Support Team (MIST) in Columbia. He supported Joint Task Force Omega and as part of his PSYOP campaign wanted to prepare a comic book. He had a design for his hero but was unsure how to go ahead and produce a comic book. I helped as best I could, but I have no contacts within the comic book industry. I recommended that he contact the 4th PSYOP Group for publication support.

Joint Task Force Omega (Fuerza de tarea conjunta Omega) involves the Army, Navy and Air Force of Colombia in support of “Plan Consolidation,” assembled with the main purpose of capturing the leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

I do note that there is an American comic book hero named “Captain Omega,” but the PSYOP soldier used the Spanish title Capitan.

A POSSIBLE “BLACK” COMIC
BOOK FOR GRENADA

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Grenada – Rescued from Rape and Torture

There was a rumor of an American “black” operation during the 1983 invasion of Grenada. According to that rumor, the Central Intelligence Agency prepared and airdropped a pro-American anti-Communist comic book over the Island in an attempt to explain why the Americans had come. The following is what we have discovered about this operation.

A private comic book entrepreneur named Malcolm Ater founded Malcolm Ater Productions in New York City in July 1946. By 1950, Malcolm Ater Productions was called Commercial Comics Inc., now based in Washington DC. Ater seems to have specialized in political comics, producing them for Senator Scott Lucas, Connecticut Governor Chester Bowles, Senator Brien McMahon, Congressman Al Loveland and Arkansas Governor Sid McMath. Perhaps because of his independent stature and his location in the nation’s capital, the CIA “might” have used him to produce a 14-page comic book for Grenada. Because this was a black operation, neither the CIA nor Commercial Comics appears anywhere in the book. It is alleged that Ater was paid $35,000 by the CIA for his work on the project.

The cover of the comic depicts Grenadians being murdered by communists, and then freed by Americans, and finally the joyous celebration of the Grenadian people for the American troops. The inside front cover states that the comic is a product of the Victims of International Communist Emissaries (V.O.I.C.E.) and the introduction is signed by A. C. Langdon, 1984. The story tells of Grenadian citizens held hostage in their own homes and later freed by the Americans, and features Antonio Langdon who was held a prisoner in a communist prison for four and one-half years. Langdon tells American reporters how the communists took over power in Grenada. The book ends with the American rescue and gives an address where Langdon can be reached. 

The problem with this being a black CIA operation is that the invasion was in 1983 and the book clearly is dated 1984. In addition, it depicts the end of the invasion when that could not be known if the book was dropped during the invasion. This is clearly a privately produced post-invasion comic book. There seems no way this could be a black operation, but if anyone found these comic books on Grenada during or shortly after the invasion I would like to hear from them.

A West Indian bibliography says:

A U.S. government-backed propaganda comic by a US citizen living in Grenada; claims to have been shot and tortured by the communist forces.

So, it is possible that the comic book was partially paid for by the CIA a year after the attack to explain the U.S. invasion to Grenadians after the fact. However, it would seem impossible for this to be a comic book designed before the invasion as part of the intelligence preparation of the battle field. I suspect that the individual who had been held by Grenada simply wanted a payday and wrote the comic book for profit.

THE COLD WAR

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It is alleged that the Central Intelligence Agency produced a comic book called The Freedom Fighter’s Manual in 1983 that instructed Nicaraguan citizens how to fight against the Communist rulers of their country and sabotage their economy. The preface claimed that it was:

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.

The text is the above panel says:

Paint anti-Sandinista slogans.

Long Live the Pope.

Patriotic Nicaraguans. Paint your cries and complaints against the pro-Russian FSLN on the wall and other places so that everyone can see your reaction against Communism in the country.

 

THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA

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Lei Feng

Communist China has printed millions of very reasonably priced comic books for its people to instill pride, patriotism and knowledge of history (as they see it). They are simply written and people of every age apparently enjoy reading the comics both for entertainment and education. The prices vary from about five cents to fifteen cents. A general description of the comics can be found in Gino Nebiolo’s The People’s Comic Book, Anchor Press, NY, 1973. He says about the comics and in particular, Lei Feng:

The People’s Art Institute of Shanghai prints 16 million comics a year, and that of Peking 30 million. The first edition of Lei Feng was about 317,000 copies, which successive editions brought up to two million [Note: These are 1973 totals]

Red Chinese comic books can be purchased today. There are many listed on EBay and other Internet sites. The original 1965 China Film Publishers (Peking) version of Lei Feng opens with a comment by Mao Zedong:

Learn from Lei Feng. Out great leader Chairman Mao has written this inscription calling upon everyone to learn from Lei Feng.We should follow the Party and Chairman Mao’s instruction and learn from Lei Feng. We should give our whole bodies and minds to the tasks of proletarian revolution and be rustless screws in the socialist revolution and in socialist construction.

The general plot of the comic book depicts how every aspect of Lei Feng’s life is bettered by his following of Mao’s teachings. Feng is in the people’s Army, assigned to the motor pool. At the end of the day while other soldiers go about their business, he tightens screws on his truck. He picks up nuts and bolts along the road in case he has to repair his truck, thus saving the citizens the cost of parts. He hears that the Nationalists might attack mainland China and volunteers for combat, but it told by his commissar that Mao says that the driver is as important as the fighter. On his way to sick call he stops and loads bricks, later walks 7 miles out of his way to help an old woman and child return home. His entire life is one of unselfishness and sacrifice. He dies at the end from a terrible accident as a comrade backing up a truck knocks over a pole that kills Feng and everyone who knew him or heard of his actions vows to work harder and longer for socialism and China. What I found amazing was not that Feng was a model socialist; after all, he is the star of the story. What was surprising is that every person he met also immediately accepted his values. They all immediately vow to work harder and more unselfishly to build socialism. In the Chinese Communist comic book, there are no skeptics. 

COMIC BOOKS AS PART OF
THE WAR ON TERROR

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The Thunderbolt Team

The first Iraqi Freedom comic books were prepared as part of the war on terror campaign created in collaborative effort with the US Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, which did the initial character and plot development. They are based on the new Iraqi government military and police security forces. The initiative for the comic-book project came from the US Department of Defense's Central Command, which is responsible for US security interests in 25 Middle Eastern and Arab nations. It was hoped that the comics would help engender respect among children for the national police force and the new Iraqi Army. The British Broadcasting Company reported in 2005 that the U.S. Army's Fourth PSYOP Group at Fort Bragg in North Carolina has done initial character and plot development and will produce the series based on the security forces, military and police, in the near future of the Middle East. None of the comic books bear a code, but if they did we would expect it to be the military designation "CB."

Harper’s Magazine reported in June 2005 on an advertisement posted in March 2005 on the Federal Business Opportunities website by the U.S. Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Harper’s said in part:

In order to achieve long-term peace and stability in the Middle East, the youth need to be reached. One effective means of influencing youth is through the use of comic books. A series of comic books provides the opportunity for youth to learn lessons, develop role models, and improve their education.

The Contractor shall provide development of an original comic-book series. Knowledge of Arabic language and culture, law enforcement, and small-unit military operations is desired. The series will be based on the security forces, military, and police, and set in the near future in the Middle East.

A designated representative of the U.S. Army will provide thematic guidance, cultural expertise, and oversight to the Contractor. This will be a collaborative effort with representatives of the U.S. Army who have already done initial character and plot development.

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The Sixth Brigade

At a later date it was apparently decided to use the civilian Lincoln Group as the manager or contractor to publish the comic books. In 2008 the United States Air Force advertised a solicitation for volumes 16 to 27 of “The Sixth Brigade.” The dollar value of the contract for 12 issues is not to exceed $2,400,000. Lincoln Group would supervise the design, production and distribution of 12 issues of 60,000 comic books per issue for a total of 720,000 comic books. The comic would highlight the professionalism of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) and enhance the public perception of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) as a capable, well-trained, and professional fighting force.

A U.S. Army training guide explains the “Sixth Brigade” philosophy as follows:

The Sixth Brigade are the elite soldiers of Iraqi Special Forces. They fight insurgents and evil leaders to support Iraqi nationalism. Their superpowers are based on teamwork that conquests terrorism. They show that fighting for Iraq as a soldier defines honor and patriotism.

In March 2005, Kalev I. Sepp mentioned the Iraqi 36th Commando before the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations. He stated that they had been continuously trained for the past year by U.S. Army 5th Special Forces and were considered an elite combat unit. The 36th is mostly made up of Kurdish troops. The comic books depicted here were distributed to Iraqi children by members of the commando unit. Notice that the books show the new Iraqi government police and military as super-heroes. That same sort of image was occasionally used on Coalition propaganda leaflets such as the one we depict below.

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Leaflet 3010

One propaganda leaflet that depicts a member of the new Iraqi Army as a lone super hero is coded 3010. The insignia of the new army is at the upper left and on the chest of the soldier. He is pictured fighting terrorists with the text at bottom:

Real Iraqi Heroes

This is an interesting leaflet because there is some argument about the concept of a lone superhero for the Muslim people. A 28 September 2007 Stars and Stripes article by Allison Batdorff entitled “Field Marketing in Fallujah” says in part:

Getting into the Iraqi male mind-set requires a shift in focus for the average American. For instance, you wouldn’t self-aggrandize when recruiting Iraqi men to join the local police force. The lone-hero-with-badge-and- gun appeal wouldn’t work here. You would talk about how joining the Iraqi Security Forces would reflect honor on their families, tribes and community. The concept of honor is paramount, instead of emphasizing the individual; it’s the collective that counts.

If Allison Batdorff’s view is correct, we must wonder how the average Iraqi child views the comic book heroes. On the other hand, the comic books might actually change the cultural attitudes of the children. Only time will tell.

On the other hand, it is possible that the U.S. Army understands the problem and has already moved to correct the concept of the one-man superhero. One Army publication mentions the concept of the Sixth Brigade Comic book and says:

The unit is made up of elite soldiers of Iraqi Special Forces. They fight insurgents and evil leaders to support Iraqi nationalism. Their superpowers are based on teamwork that defeats terrorism and shows that fighting for Iraq as a soldier defines honor and patriotism.

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The Docs

In 2010, as the US military neared the end of a decade of war, the U.S. Naval Health Research Center produced a 200-page graphic novel called “The Docs” as a communication tool to help Navy Corpsmen with the stresses of combat deployments. The graphic novel portrays four expeditionary Corpsmen from both active duty and Reserve components, who are deployed with Marine Corps and Seabee units and are serving in Iraq at the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

COMIC BOOKS TO BOLSTER BROTHERHOOD

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The 99 – Islamic Superheroes

In 2007, a new comic book was born that featured Muslim superheroes. The 99, featuring 99 characters based on the 99 attributes of Allah, focuses on the positive aspects of the religion and presenting a peaceful, tolerant, multicultural version of Islam to the rest of the world. The powers of The 99 come from 99 Noor Stones created by the Guardians of Wisdom. The Noor Stones contain knowledge from the great libraries that were destroyed when Baghdad fell to the forces of Hulagu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan.

Some of the mysterious 99 are Dr. Ramzi Razem, a psychologist and leader of The 99; Batina the Hidden, a Muslim woman from Yemen who wears a burqa; Jabbar the Powerful from Saudi Arabia; Samda the Invulnerable, a small eight-year-old girl who can create an impenetrable force field; Hadya the Guide from London, a human GPS tracker; Mumita the Destroyer who has exceptional speed, strength and agility and Wonder Worm, a man born with the powers of a newt.

We mention this comic because it has “crossed over,” and in 2010 will be seen in the United States as part of DC Comics and also a television cartoon show. DC Comics has scheduled six special crossover issues in which The 99 will fight crime alongside the Justice League of America, the superhero team that includes Superman and Batman.

There is no overt religion in The 99. No one's religion is ever mentioned although the heroes are clearly Muslim. However, DC Comics has been accused of “Muslim pandering” and “treachery” for producing what might be considered a pro-Muslim comic while the United States is fighting a war on terrorism. At the same time, President Barack Obama praised the comic and its founder for capturing the imagination of young people with superheroes who embody the teachings and tolerance of Islam.

MAURITANIA

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Mauritania flag

I do not have an example of this comic book but hope that one or our military readers will send in an image of the cover.

In 2009, American Military Information Support Teams (MIST) in Mauritania produced a comic book as part of their attempt to fight terrorism. The pandemic of terrorism aided by crime, trafficking, and murdering was a serious concern facing a peaceful and tolerant Muslim society. The publication would make the argument that terrorists have robbed the communities of their chance at economic prosperity within the international community.

Additional arguments included:

We must come together as a people. Extremism does not work to profit our families and heritage, but only make us turn on one another and ourselves. Terrorism has used our holy religion, Islam, as a facade to mask their criminal actions and behaviors.

The publication would use the following symbols if possible:

The Mauritanian flag. The upturned crescent and star, symbols of both Mauritania and Islam. A shadowy figure, symbol of a “suspicious” character to aide in the alert process. A picture or symbol of a terrorist attack and additional visual means to convey extremism.

The plan was to produce one comic book. It was to incorporate all the themes combined together. Comic books had already shown great popularity in Mauritania among the youth and had been proven to be effective media in a variety of programs ranging from AIDS awareness to Mine Risk Education, and Malaria Prevention. The comic books were designed to be disseminated at schools to emphasize full comprehension of the program.

The Insurgents strike back

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Captain Iraq

In a wonderful turnaround, in 2008, a comic book was produced in Iraq, allegedly “Approved by the Iraqi Resistance.” The comic, entitled Captain Iraq depicts the superhero crashing through the window of the White House and delivering a kick to the chest of President George Bush. The back shows Captain Iraq flying out of the White House holding President Bush while American soldiers and helicopters fire at him. The image is in fact not a comic book, but a political parody of a comic book by a Brazilian who did not “copyright” it, but instead “copyleft” it. The book imitates “Captain America” who fought the Nazis in WWII. Notice that Captain Iraq’s uniform bears the three stars which represented the Ba’ath Party motto, Wahda, Hurriyah and Ishtirakiyah (Unity, Freedom and Socialism). During Saddam’s reign the words Allaahu Akbar (God is Great) was written between the stars and the rumor was that the words on the flag were in Saddam's own handwriting. The version of the flag shown on the superhero’s uniform was in style from 2004 to 2008 when the words were changed from Saddam's alleged handwriting to traditional stylized Kufic script.

The artist, Brazilian cartoonist and activist Carlos Latuff tends to draw scenes of suffering in places like the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, and the slums of Latin America. He has touched on issues like Apartheid in South Africa, the plight of Native Americans in the U.S. and the oppression of Tibetans in China. More recently he released series of cartoons about Iraqi journalist Muntazer Al-Zaidi who threw his shoe at President Bush.

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Newssheets for Kids

The 315th Tactical PSYOP Company reached Baghdad in May 2003. By July it was publishing the newspaper Baghdad Now. In January 2004, the PSYOP Company began publishing the comic book newssheet Baghdad Kids. The magazine was prepared in both English and Arabic and distributed free in an attempt to attract children while conveying both news and Coalition policies.

The magazine is mentioned in an article entitled “Can Do infantrymen distribute shoes to Sadr kids,” Army News Service, 2 April 2008. Specialist Ben Brody writes:

“We’re trying to get the kids of Sadr City some new shoes, and hand out copies of Baghdad Kids,” said Specialist. Brandon Wise, 307th Psychological Operations Company, Team 1033, a Missouri Reserve unit. “It’s a fun magazine for kids – it’s got stuff about dinosaurs, outer space, the Olympics – things kids like. It’s got some important safety and hygiene messages too, like ‘remember to brush your teeth’ and ‘don’t point toy guns at Soldiers.’” Wise, of Greenville, Ill., and Staff Sgt. Travis C. Butler, also of the 307th, handed out bags of school supplies, coloring books and issues of Baghdad Kids.

“It’s really important for us to make a good impression on these kids before they grow up,” Butler, of St. Clair, Mo., said. “The kids are the future of Iraq, and fostering a better relationship now will make for better relationships later.”

COLORING BOOKS

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Besides comic books, coloring books were also printed and distributed to Iraqi children as part of the American PSYOP effort. The 4th Psychological Operations Group printed and distributed 250,000 copies of a children's coloring book developed to educate Iraqi children on the dangers of unexploded ordnance. The coloring book, drawn by Corporal Edwardo Vargas, features a baby camel. The front depicts a bombed home. On page three of the coloring book the inside of the house is shown and we note two hand grenades at each side of the entrance with a pull-string between them and two mines on the floor. The title of the book is:

The adventures of the young camel

The young camel finds a destroyed building

The back depicts a puzzle for children to solve and the text:

Help the Young Camel and his Brother Find their Camel Parents

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The Distribution of Coloring Books in Iraq

These coloring books are a wonderful way to teach children about the danger of mines and explosives. During the American occupation of Iraq a number of different books were prepared and distributed. In the photograph above Sergeant Rick Abner, with the 350th PSYOP Company out of Portland, Oregon, attached to Taskforce 1-27 Infantry hands out coloring books to Hawija children during Operation Wolfhound Power in November 2004.

There were also occasional problems with coloring books. U.S. Army Reserve Major Thomas Bergman was activated in December of 1995 for a tour in Bosnia as the PSYOP Support Element Commander attached to the 18th Military Police Brigade at Camp Comanche, near Eagle Base. He says:

Mine awareness among children was a big priority and we were pressed to arrange visits to schools and distribute mine awareness coloring books which we had never received. When they did arrive, (with crayons), the coloring books were printed on glossy paper rendering them useless to be colored on!  I literally had a pallet of coloring books that had to be destroyed. Needless to say, the MP Brigade Commander was not impressed. 

THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS

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Barbargsa - Blood of the Honorable

Comic books are presently very popular as PSYOP media. In the Philippines, U.S. Army PSYOP officers have distributed 600,000 copies of the 10-part series, “Barbargsa - Blood of the Honorable.” There are versions in English and in the local dialect. It features “Ameer,” a practitioner of Kuntao, a local form of martial arts. He dons a mask and vows to protect the downtrodden and innocent victims of terrorists. The Philippines military are also portrayed in a positive and heroic light while the villains are called terrorists or bandits. The creators accurately illustrate the Sulu region, and use character names, clothing and mannerisms that reflect the culture of the Tausug ethnic group. It took about 2,000 hours to create the 10 comic books.

The comic books, published for Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines (JSOTF-P) are Part of a campaign to “wage peace” against insurgents and terrorists on Sulu and Mindanao, specifically Jolo Island - a remote 345-square-mile island at the southernmost edge of the vast Philippines archipelago.  Jolo is a known haven for Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups, including Abu Sayyaf, (Bearer of the Sword), which has used the island for 15 years to train terrorists and to coordinate attacks.  Comic books were distributed by American soldiers and they were designed for ethnic Tausug teenage boys thought to be at risk of being recruited by Abu Sayyaf. The story, “Barbangsa: Blood of the Honorable,” tells of a fictional young sailor named Ameer who defeats terrorists threatening his Philippine homeland.

In the first Issue, “The Homecoming,” We are introduced to the main characters for the series.

Ameer - the son of a Kuntao master left his hometown years ago to work abroad.  He has now returned in the hopes of renewing his past life and fulfilling his dreams.

Ayesha - Ameer's tuning (fiancé) whom he left years ago, she still waits for him to finally begin their life together.

Kalid - Ayesha's younger brother.  He has great anger against the military and outsiders.  In his heart though are great courage and the desire to make a difference in his poverty-stricken homeland.

Inah Aminah - Ameer's mother.  She keeps her husband's house and Arnis and Kuntao (forms of Filipino martial arts) School ready and waiting for its new master to come home.

Naga, the Bandit - A power-hungry but petty thief and robber who now leads the terrorists that endanger the town.  The death of Ameer's father is one of the many sins he has to answer for.

Samad - Kalid's friend and classmate, he shares Kalid's desire to make a difference in their town.  He distrusts outsiders and the military, making him very open to influence from the insurgents.

The project was the brainchild of Maj. Edward Lopacienski, military information support team commander for the joint special operations task force Philippines mission, and the non-commissioned officer in charge, Sergeant Russell Snyder. The pair outlined the basic idea in January 2006. The plot follows the battle between good and evil. It depicts real events, specifically the Sulu Co-Op bombing in March 2006, which killed five and injured 40 and the Basilan hostage crisis when members of the Abu Sayyaf Group took school children and used them as human shields.

BOOKS FOR OLDER CHILDREN IN IRAQ

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PSYOP Story Book Set

The use of comic books and coloring books is designed for young children. As they get older they still need to have pro-government and anti-insurgent literature to read and learn from. In Iraq the US Army Central Command PSYOP troops printed a set of eight children’s story books, all pro-Iraq government, and with an anti-Insurgent and criminal message. These books were specifically designed for students considered too old for comic books.

SPAIN

The Spanish Civil War was fought from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939 between the leftist Republicans, who were loyal to the established Spanish Republic, and the rightist Nationalists, a rebel group led by General Francisco Franco. The war began after a rebellion by a group of generals of the Spanish Republican Armed Forces against the elected government of the Spanish Republic. The Nationalist forces received munitions and soldiers from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the Soviet Union and Mexico intervened in support of the Republican side. Other countries, such as the United States, Britain and France, mostly remained neutral although volunteers from those countries sometimes joined one side or the other.

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Cartoon – They shall not pass
Republic men and women hold off the Fascist hordes

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Red Pioneer - published in Barcelona by the Iberian Communist Youth
Called by historians the most important Republican propaganda comic

The Republicans published several comic books and many cartoons that depicted their side fighting for freedom and liberty against the Fascist hordes. The main comics were: Pionero Rojo (Red Pioneer); Camaradas (Comrades); El Pionero (The Pioneer) and Altavoz para el frente (Loudspeaker for the Front). In all of them, the propaganda message basically stated: the kindness of the Republic; the desire for liberty; the need to resist the Nationalists; and that Communism and the USSR was the best system of government.

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Flechas – 20 December 1936
Notice that the young boys almost appear to be Hitler Youth

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Pelayos – 6 June 1937
The Fascists watch marching children

The Nationalists also printed a number of patriotic comic books that showed their side fighting Communist anarchy. The most important ones were Flecha (Arrow) and Pelayos. Pelagius (Spanish: Pelayo) was a nobleman who founded the Kingdom of Asturias, ruling it from 718 until his death. Through his victory at the Battle of Covadonga, he is credited with beginning the Reconquista, the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors. It is a name with a great nationalist sense).

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Flechas and Pelayos – 1939
Notice the Falangist, Nazi and Italian Fascist Symbols

Both magazines later merged to Fleyas y Pelayos. It was a magazine for the young, published by the official Nationalist Party (Falange Española de las J.O.N.S.). Young people were indoctrinated in a military way: in the love of their Homeland and God and the cult to the dictator Francisco Franco; as well as the Fascist superiority over the Republicans and Communists. The subtitle of the comic was “Por el Imperio hacia Dios,” which means roughly “By the Empire towards God.”

Another title was Chicos (Boys). After victory of the Nationalists, the magazines continued to spread the same ideology (but in a more subliminal way) with a great number of comic books of fictitious Spanish heroes in different periods of History: like a crusader; a peasant during Roman Empire; a Knight during the Reconquest (against the Muslims); a detective and adventurer during 20th Century; and many others. Some titles are: El Capitán Trueno (Captain Storm), El Jabato (The Brave), El Guerrero del Antifaz (The Masked Warrior) and Roberto Alcázar y Pedrín. The last comic (the intrepid adventurer) held the Spanish record for being printed over 35 years, with a total of 1219 books printed.

COMIC BOOKS TO TRAIN THE TROOPS

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Preventive Maintenance

When I was an Army instructor I taught a course entitled “the Army Writing System.” As reference we various pamphlets such as Department of the Army 600-67, Effective Writing for Army Leaders. The concept of the new writing system was to put the most important data at the top of the page, use fewer “big” words and shorter sentences. I often argued that we were “dumbing down” the language, but the brass said that it was simply a faster and more efficient way to prepare correspondence. I never believed them. I had to constantly tell my college grads to use smaller words and sentences and less complicated ideas. About the same time, some military publications changed over to a more comic book style. There was some cheesecake, some women in shorts, and generally technical details were taught in a comic book style that apparently held the attention of the troops to a higher degree. One such example is the magazine Preventive Maintenance. Some very detailed instructions were placed in a comic book format, and although this is not exactly psychological warfare, I think it is worth mentioning because it was clearly believed that our own troops would be more impressed by cartoons than by plain text. In the pages above the soldiers are taught how to keep the M-16 rifle working by a busty blonde. With a little tongue in cheek, one caption says "How to strip your baby."

If you were educated, this new comic book style could be quite a problem. I can give an example from when I had troops in the field coming down with chiggers and other biting pests. It was not a big deal but I went to the Army Education Building to read up on these arthropod pests. I wanted some serious facts on how to best protect against and prevent my troops from being infested. Three lieutenants were in the building and they were elated to see me. They immediately brought me to a TV viewer where I expected to see a scientific documentary on pest control. Instead, a bunch of Walt Disney characters appeared on the screen beating drums and singing, “Put the lid on your garbage can.” I was embarrassed for myself to have to watch and embarrassed for the officers for having to stand there and watch me view the awful tape. I finally left and used the old tried and true methods passed down for years. The tape that they had prepared aimed at 12-year-olds was totally worthless from my point of view.

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Der Fuehrer’s Face

It appears that movie cartoons are also being designed to mold the minds of children. During WWII a favorite was “Der Fuehrer’s Face” by the Walt Disney studio that featured the Spike Jones Band. Every time the Fuehrer was mentioned a sound similar to passing gas was “honked.” Other cartoons depicted Superman fighting the Nazis, and more childlike cartoons showed an American canary fighting a Nazi vulture. Bugs bunny had several cartoons where he fought Japanese soldier in the South Pacific.

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I only bring this up because in 2011 there was news that a Muslim cartoon was being tested that aimed to recruit children to the al-Qaida terror network. According to a news report:

Scenes from the proposed short film show young boys dressed in battle fatigues and participating in raids, killings and terror plots. News of the animated film was announced by a group called Abu al-Laith al-Yemen. The group behind the film said it was in its final stages and planned to distribute it through websites and DVDs.

This is just a quick look at the use of comic books in psychological operations. I am sure that there are many more on the drawing board at this moment, and perhaps even being disseminated in various nations around the world. I ask any readers with knowledge of the subject to write to the author at sgmbert@hotmail.com.