Heroes in Service of the State / Nimrod Reshef

translated by: Margalit Rodgers

Myths are created in times of crisis to imbue the nation with hopes that the wheel will turn, and that the future will be rosy.

Fairytale heroes are the sum total of humanity’s aspirations. They are extraordinary, always with striking good looks, rippling muscles, doing the impossible, and even if the end of the story is tragic, the hero will go on living forever on Mount Olympus, or at least in the hearts of his believers. Immortality.

The Maharal created the Golem of Prague to save Jews from the pogroms perpetrated by non-Jews.

The gods intervened in the Trojan War and sent the great warrior Achilles to help the Greeks.

Samson the Hero rose up against the Philistines, and with the jawbone of an ass he kicked the asses of a thousand men.

And with his remarkable bowmanship, Robin Hood saved the English from the devastating reign of Prince John.

The belief that we are not alone in the world, that there are benevolent sons of gods who will come and save us from ruin, exists in virtually every human society; Rasputin, Baba Sali, the Oracle of Delphi, Uri Geller, and many others are perceived by their believers as the chosen few, and as possessing superhuman abilities. Over the years, this assumption led to the creation of myths around figures, possibly true, probably fictitious, that found their way to the pages of history.

To achieve their objectives, clerics and rulers made use of myths and enlisted their heroes. One notable example is the propaganda poster created by James Montgomery Flagg in 1917, and Uncle Sam’s call: “I Want You” (*1). Out of the printed poster the symbolic figure of the grave-faced Uncle Sam points at citizens and calls them to enlist and fight in World War I. This was a direct appeal made by a superior, undisputed authority to ordinary men to stand up and do the necessary heroic deed. The poster was in fact based on an earlier one in which Lord Kitchener instructs Britons to enlist and fight in the Boer Wars in Africa. In 1942, in the spirit of these posters, J. Howard Miller created Rosie the Riveter (*2) for Westinghouse Electric; on the one hand, she is wearing a red bandana on her head, an item associated with a housewife, and on the other she is rolling up the sleeve of a blue shirt, which is identified with the working class, and reveals her muscular arm, under the caption: “We Can Do It!” The revolutionary poster not only called the women of America to enlist in the war effort on the home front by joining the arms manufacturing industry, but over the years it became a highly important image of women’s empowerment and the feminist movement. The propaganda machines were not restricted to the fighting parents alone, and while Pop was courageously fighting, and Mom was holding the fort, the children could help as well. The young audience is the most coveted market segment for patriotic merchandise in the spirit of the Founding Fathers. After all, the youths of today are the next generation of soldiers. American boys and girls who read comics and followed their heroes in the newspapers and animation films during World War II were inspired, and received a reinforcing shot in the arm to raise national morale.

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Superman, the firstborn son of the comic-strip mythology, stars in an illustrated story (*3, 4) published in February 1940. He helps the French forces fighting along the German defensive line, known as the Siegfried Line, and destroys Nazi cannons on the ground, flies through the air, and downs a Luftwaffe plane in an aerial battle. The superhero breaks into the Fuehrer’s hiding place, makes short work of his guards, and grabs him. With Hitler in tow, he flies to Moscow, where General Secretary of the Communist Party Joseph Stalin is reviewing a parade of Russian troops from his balcony. Grabbing Stalin in one hand and Hitler in the other, Superman flies to Geneva, Switzerland, the seat of the League of Nations. The villains stand trial and are found guilty of crimes against defenseless countries. As a consequence of this story, Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, declared Superman an enemy of the German people, and all the comic books featuring him were banned under the Third Reich.

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Superman gave as good as he got, and subsequent comic books featured Goebbels on the front cover (*5). His ugly, grotesque character is presented as being no match for the caped American hero, and the sound of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is heard on Radio Berlin. The leaders of the Axis powers officially became the villains in comic-book stories. The same happened when Batman’s archenemies, the Joker, the Penguin and Catwoman, were substituted by Adolf Hitler the German, Benito Mussolini the Italian, and Hideki Tojo the Japanese (*6).

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The American bald eagle and the stars and stripes of the American flag adorned Wonder Woman’s shapely figure long before Gal Gadot portrayed her. The most important superheroine first appeared in 1942, and from the very first comic book bearing her name (*7), her purpose was clear. The US Army not only needed good male soldiers, but also loyal female soldiers imbued with a fighting spirit and motivation. Astride a horse and swinging a lasso, she captured the hearts of readers, especially female readers, as she stormed the trenches together with the cavalry, and the Wehrmacht was unable to offer any resistance. The parade of heroes went up a notch, and the printing presses worked overtime to meet the ever-growing demand for victory, and it was not long before all the flying, caped heroes joined in (*8) to fight the just war. Even Donald Duck (*9) joined the war effort.

 

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To understand the enlistment of superheroes to the war against Hitler and his henchmen, we must first understand the background from which the cartoonists, writers, editors, and publishers of the comic books came. Without exception, all the American comic book creators were Jews. In the early twentieth century, the American press did not enable Jewish journalists and creators to work in the mainstream, and relegated the talented writers and cartoonists to the back pages of the newspapers, to the cartoon and comic-strip “ghetto”. However, due to imagination and an abundance of satirical messages, the comic-book pioneers created the colorful characters that went on to become a success story. The popularity of comics reached a point at which, according to surveys conducted by the editorial boards, the back pages were in the highest demand, and the most widely read pages in the newspapers. Moreover, a considerable proportion of the characters the cartoonists created possessed Jewish characteristics, and there are numerous theories and studies that have identified parallels between the stories of Biblical heroes, comic-book heroes, and the Jewish way of life.

In 1941, about six months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the first comic book featuring Captain America (*10), the most World War II-specific comic-book hero, was published. On the cover, the muscular hero wearing the colors of the American flag punches Adolf Hitler in the face. The story of Captain America’s creation begins when Dr. Joseph Reinstein (a clear reference to Dr. Einstein) prepares a special serum that turns Steve Rogers, a tall, scrawny young man who attempted to enlist but was rejected, into a Super-Soldier in the US Army. In later years, Captain America will discover that the serum he was given, the hero-creating formula, was based on the Aryan model, and this will lead to a crisis of faith and existential questions. The first issue also introduced Bucky, a teenage boy who becomes Captain America’s faithful sidekick. This was fertile ground for introducing motivation and national messages to the young readership. It was not long before the Captain’s archenemy appeared as well, the Red Skull (*11), a monstrous character in the service of the Third Reich. Jack Kirby, the Jewish comic-book artist who created Captain America, also served in the army and fought with the Allies (*12). When he returned after the war, he created together with Stan Lee (Stanley Lieber), also Jewish, all the familiar Marvel Comics characters. They also created Boy Commandos (*13), a gang of youths who fight against Nazi spies on American soil.

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The publishers, however, were not satisfied with merely introducing messages through the colorful characters and the captivating stories, and took patriotic action. They appealed to the readers directly, and asked them to purchase stamps and war bonds. The comic-book covers featured a call to raise money for the American forces in Europe and Southeast Asia. “Not only Superman can smash Axis tanks, you can too!” (*14). Patriotic messages were added, calling readers to reach into their pockets. Like many other heroes, Batman and Robin also asked their fans for money to buy bullets for the Allied machine guns (*15).

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After Germany and Japan were defeated, the comic-book heroes continued fighting against forces that threatened the American way of life. They mainly fought against Communist agents from China and the USSR, but the Cold War did not provide the same kind of action that Nazis had, and the comic-book market had to change.

Although Supermen clad in tights and capes were not seen in our part of the world, the heroes in Hebrew literature received emergency call-up orders. The Hasamba Gang resisted British rule in the country, and Danny Din, The Invisible Boy, fought in the Six-Day War, captured terrorists, and drove Saddam Hussein mad. From Azit, The Paratrooper Dog, to Laika the Cosmonaut Dog, from the staged photograph of Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, to the Israeli version of the Ink Flag in Ezion-Geber, the hero industry is engineered according to requirements.

It really does not matter whether Joseph Trumpeldor, the hero of the Battle of Tel Hai, hissed kibinimat or a different Russian expletive, because “It is good to die for our country” sounds so much better. Hurry up, send to print, there is a readership waiting for salvation to come.