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February 14, 2013

Private Snafu
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 04:52 PM * 50 comments

The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as being potentially offensive or inappropriate. Viewer discretion is advised.

Private Snafu was a character in WWII training films. Here is Spies:

Script by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, voice characterizations by Mel Blanc, music by Carl Stalling, directed by Chuck Jones, racism, sexism, and xenophobia by American Popular Culture c. 1943.

This is one of the reasons that I find it difficult to believe that the translator/clerk character in Saving Private Ryan didn’t know the term FUBAR. Private Fubar was a character in some of the Private Snafu cartoons, and everyone in the Army would have seen all of them. A lot.

See also, Booby Traps (1944, directed Bob Clampett). Risque humor, silhouetted nudity, bad language, plus all the standard Warner cartoon tropes.

Comments on Private Snafu:
#1 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 05:11 PM:

Original post has an open italics tag in it somewhere.

#3 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 05:28 PM:

Deary me, those Japanese caricatures are... of their time, aren't they?

That was surprisingly rude for a WWII cartoon.

#4 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 05:35 PM:

"As you don't know clerk, FUBAR stands for . . ."

#5 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 05:50 PM:

There's a standard hierarchy:

SNAFU: Situation Normal All Fucked Up.

TARFU:Things Are Royally Fucked Up.

FUBAR: Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.

#6 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 05:52 PM:

Good to know the book isn't a fluke.

#7 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 05:59 PM:

The best, I think, is the JANFU: The Joint Army/Navy Fuck Up.

#9 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 07:42 PM:

SUSFU has a certain je ne sais quoi (whatever that means) - Situation Unchanged, Still Fucked Up.

#10 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 08:10 PM:

I like the bit around 1:20 when the antlers of the two moose-heads tangle and form a swastika.

I wonder whether Geisel played any role in the visuals, or only the script.

#11 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 08:17 PM:

Is SAMFUTU real or apocryphal? (Situation abnormal: more fucked up than usual.)

#12 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 08:33 PM:

Cadbury @ 8... je ne sais quoi (whatever that means)

I know not what.

#13 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 08:33 PM:

These acronyms are reminding me of tHPTFTU, as Francis Spufford calls it in _Unapologetic_. (The Human Propensity to Fuck Things Up.)

#14 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 08:38 PM:

Jim @7: BATTLE OF THE PACIFIC: Janfu (from the August 30, 1943 issue of Time)?

#15 ::: Brooks Moses reports situation normal, comment gnomed. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 08:39 PM:

Probably for weirdness in a url pointing to Time's archives. Have some homemade fruitcake?

#16 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 09:26 PM:

Serge Broom @11:

Well, if *you* know not what it means either, then you can't really answer Cadbury's question, can you?

Perhaps instead you could tell me who is on first?

#17 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 10:28 PM:

oldster... I should have known someone would make that joke. :-)

#18 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 10:44 PM:

Script by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, voice characterizations by Mel Blanc, music by Carl Stalling, directed by Chuck Jones, racism, sexism, and xenophobia by American Popular Culture c. 1943.

All masters of their respective arts. Nothing but the best for our boys!

#19 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2013, 11:52 PM:

Wow, just watched "Your Job in Germany." Obviously that attitude did not prevail for long. Was it the blockade and Berlin Airlift that did it? Or did the attitude toward Germany change before that?

#20 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2013, 12:01 AM:

Xopher -- it's good to know that someone else has wasted a lot of time watching the other videos linked from this one ... I think.

#21 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2013, 08:09 AM:

Xopher, we have a pair of US government propaganda pamphlets. One is titled "Our Enemy Japan", and the other, "Japan, Our Friend and Ally". IIRC they were printed within a year or so of each other.

#22 ::: Ian C. Racey ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2013, 12:30 PM:

Xopher @19

It happened within the first year or so of the occupation. The State Department and the American occupation government understood pretty early on that something like the Cold War was coming, at which point they realised they were in competition with the Russians for the hearts and minds of the German people. There's a quote by General Clay that, "There is no choice between being a communist on fifteen hundred calories a day and a believer in democracy on a thousand." The moment for the change in policy being made public is probably the 1946 Speech of Hope by Secretary of State James Byrnes, where he stated the United States's commitment to rebuilding a prosperous and united Germany.

#23 ::: Ian C. Racey has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2013, 12:31 PM:

Maybe for listing my Twitter page as my home page?

#24 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2013, 07:34 PM:

I looked at part of the video. Not a drinking man, our moose is Bullwinkle.

Ian's quote from General Clay interests me, being a believer in Democracy (at least in governments) currently on about 1500 calories a day.

#25 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2013, 07:42 PM:

In follow up to my last post in re Snaffu, I was just pointed, yesterday, to this: http://yad-vashem.blogspot.com/2012/05/recalling-rescue-of-mir-yeshiva.html

(Moveable Type isn't allowing me to embed a link in the traditional way, right now.)

#26 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2013, 11:11 PM:

Was anyone else surprised by the end of the cartoon? Snafu ends up in hell, but the ship doesn't go down.

#27 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2013, 07:16 AM:

In Booby Traps, when Pte Snafu passes and then enters the harem, a stereotypical Middle Eastern tune is heard. At school, we used to sing "In the South of France / Where the naked women dance" to the 1st 4 bars.

Does anyone know its origin?

#28 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2013, 07:34 AM:

Humoresque No 7 in G Flat Major for piano by Dvorak
I don't know if it comes from an earlier source.

#29 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2013, 08:13 AM:

Oops, wrong song.
Never mind, nothing to see here, move along.

#30 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2013, 08:19 AM:

According to "The Strait Dope", a California impresario (and later New York congressman) named Sol Bloom first used the tune, and claimed to have composed it at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. They say it more likely traces back to an Algerian or Arabic melody known as Kradoutja that was popular in France in the 1600s. Apparently no actual source can be traced.

#31 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 10:48 AM:

It looks like Cecil Adams may have used Fuld's The Book of World-Famous MUSIC as his source. Page 276 of that volume duplicates the information above, mentioning that this Hootchy Kootchy Dance was written for Little Egypt (who I believe can be seen at YouTube, with or without horizontal censor bars across her shocking midriff). Other writers were quick to claim the piece in arrangements, such as Adam Ferry in 1895.

The first five notes (identical in harmony and meter) turn up in an 1857 composition as a Chanson a danser with the citation back to Kradoutja.

(Fuld's book, by the way, is a Dover edition, chock full of fascinating trivia, including the first publication of "Mysterioso Pizzicato," a tune everyone recognizes when they hear it: doot; doot; doot; doot; BLAAHHHH! -doot.)

I was so grateful to USA Network's classic "Night Flight" for presenting a bunch of SNAFU cartoons, back in the 80s. Oddly, the narrator called him 'Corporal SNAFU,' and I picked that up when I wrote about the cartoons in APATOONS later in the decade. I accepted gentle correction on the matter, which led me to speculate on whether Snaf stayed in the service after the war, in which case he could be General SNAFU by now!

The short THREE BROTHERS, by the way, has the most harrowing and unflinching look at what work really looks like in its opening sequence. SNAFU stands alone in a shelf-lined room with a pile of boots the size of an outhouse, dully plucking pairs and chanting as he puts each pair in its appropriate place. "Nine and a half Benny, nine and a half Benny, nine and a half Benny, nine and a half Charlie, nine and a half Benny, nine and a half Benny, nine and a half Charlie, nine and a half..." His eyes suddenly light up at the pair he is conveying. "...DAVID! Hmmm!" He puts them on the 9-1/2D shelf, gently, gratefully — smiling for the first time — then turns back to the pile. "Nine and a half Charlie, nine and a half Charlie, nine and a half Benny..." Fade to him finishing up the pile. He leans on the shelf and whistles, and from somewhere above, another pile of boots taller than his head comes down, and he bends back to his drudgery. "Nine and a half Charlie, nine and a half Charlie..."

#32 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 10:59 AM:

The depiction of the Japanese, by the way, was a national mania, and Geisel was not immune to it. Even in the liberal NYC tabloid PM, it shows up in one of his political cartoons that has an endless line of them — you know what they looked like; I don't need to spell it out — lining up on the West Coast as "Honorable 5th Column," and being handed their own bundle of TNT while waiting for "the signal from home." February 13, 1942 seems to be the date… yes, here it is online.

I had discovered the Seuss cartoons while browsing the bound sets of PM at the library at William & Mary (looking for Barnaby strips), and spent a number of evenings and weekends driving up there to copy all of them out, as well as a bunch of other interesting items I found while going through the volumes page by page. It was a real shocker to see how far this liberal cartoonist would go on that xenophobic limb. (I was happy to have the copies for my very own, and cackled over them like a miser, thinking I could trade copies of them for other cool stuff friends of mine had. Shortly after that, of course, somebody came out with a whole book of them.)

#33 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2013, 12:24 PM:

Ogden Nash also wrote some nasty racist stuff in there with all the fluff pieces. As you say, it was a national mania at the time.

#34 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 08:34 AM:

And "Fifth Columnists": we had that scare here in Britain. The Wikipedia article gives the origin, and recounts the American usage during WW2, but the idea had a lot of traction in England, and sort of got blended with the wilder ideas of how the Germans succeeded in France: parachutists disguised as Nuns, for instance.

(You could recognise fake nuns, they still had snow on their boots.)

#35 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 09:12 AM:

the wilder ideas of how the Germans succeeded in France: parachutists disguised as Nuns, for instance.

A misunderstanding that stemmed from the standard format for British Army orders - throughout the first part of 1940, hundreds of officers in hundreds of home-service units would start their daily situation report with "Current enemy threat: Nun."

#36 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 12:03 PM:

@33

Yes, but Ogden Nash
wrote his racist stuff for cash.
Whereas Theodor Geisel
lived in fear of a reprisal.

(Actually I have no idea of either man's motivations.)

#37 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 12:29 PM:

Kip W: I must get hold of that book. Especially if if contains, as well as the tunes you quote, the one that goes

Dum, deDum Dum;
Dum, deDum Dum, DAAAAAAAAA!

and of course
Diddleiddleum, Diddleiddleum
Dun Dun Dun Dun Dun Dun Dun Dun
Diddleiddleum, Diddleiddleum
Dun Dun Dun Dun Dun Dun Dun Dun!

#38 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 07:20 PM:

tykewriter, the first one is the theme from "Dragnet", which the internet tells me was composed by Walter Schumann, originally for the radio show; for the second one, I searched on "rachmaninoff cartoon chase music" and stumbled on this handy site, which, after a bit of poking around, helped me determine that it was Mozart's Piano Sonata #11: Rondo Alla Turca. Hope that helps!

#39 ::: Rikibeth has been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 07:21 PM:

For a link to a site called Kickass Classical Music, I suppose. I'm about to make some Trader Joe's mushroom ravioli, if the gnomes would like some.

#40 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 09:01 PM:

Dave Bell@34 "(You could recognise fake nuns, they still had snow on their boots.)"

During the early 90s, when I lived in New Jersey, we'd have regular anti-war protests in front of the local military base, mostly our Quaker meeting but also other usual peace activists. One of the nuns would occasionally get on my case about wearing Birkenstocks in the snow instead of warmer shoes :-)

#41 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 09:29 PM:

Here's the Mysterioso Pizzicato, played on an upright piano (apparently), as God intended. As far as I can see, it's the only audio link on the page ("play mp3 samples").

There's some nebulous futzing around, but when the theme plays you may look behind you to see if a villain is sneaking in.

#42 ::: Kip W is GNAFU'd ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2013, 09:30 PM:

Gnomed again, possibly for linking to Amazon? Unless it's the three spaces I put after every sentence. (Lying.)

#43 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2013, 07:07 AM:

Thanks for the Dragnet tipoff, Rikibeth. The second tune isn't Rondo Alla Turka though. That goes
Diddleiddle DUM, Diddleiddle DUM, Diddleiddle
Diddleiddle Diddleiddle DUM,
Dum dum DUM dum dum dum DUM dum dum dum
DUM dum dum dum dum.

I'm looking for the Keystone Cops car-chase theme,
with the accent on the first Diddle. Or should that be Dibble?

#44 ::: Columbina ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2013, 04:02 PM:

Belatedly (sorry, haven't made it to ML in a while): Most of the Private Snafu cartoons turn up on the sixth of the Warner Gold Collection cartoon DVD sets. This is in keeping with Warner's general, and refreshing, willingness to show things as they actually happened rather than censor. That is, they say it may be offensive put point out that's the way things were at the time and whitewashing would be a worse offense. (There's a disclaimer screen on the later collections that essentially says just that.)

Contrast this with Disney, which first off balked at putting out their "tin box" collector's set of wartime cartoons/propaganda THREE TIMES - and when they did finally release it after repeated false starts, they actually indexed the disk so you cannot skip past Leonard Maltin's apologia before some of the more controversial cartoons.

I much prefer frankness to denial.

#45 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 03, 2013, 09:17 PM:

The movies made World War II look like fun.

#46 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2013, 11:32 PM:

Viewers of the booby trap movie should be warned about the earworm.

#47 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2013, 12:50 PM:

#27 Does anyone know its origin?

I believe that's "Little Egypt," or "The Streets of Cairo" (from the Chicago World's Fair).

It was also a popular song, "Poor Little Maid":

She was engaged as a model for to pose
To appear each night in abbreviated clothes.
All the gents were in a flurry
For to catch her they did hurry
One who caught her now is sorry
Poor Little Maid.

#48 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2013, 04:19 PM:

The Navy Public Safety Office mentions another couple of characters from WWII-era safety videos: Spoiler the Mechanic and is buddy pilot Dilbert. (umm....)

#49 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2013, 05:01 PM:

Jon Singer was collecting these acronyms for a while. Another one is OMGIBITS: "Omigod! It blew itself to sh**!"

#50 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2013, 09:03 PM:

#34 : Dave Bell

And "Fifth Columnists": we had that scare here in Britain.

So these two Nazi spies parachute into Britain to gather intelligence about troop movements. The first thing they do is head for a public house that caters to American soldiers.

As they walk through the door, one of them calls out, "Two martinis!"

The barman says, "Dry?"

"Nein! Zwei!"

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