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Because World War II is generally regarded as “the Good War”; because, even in the face of the firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden, the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the alliance with, and subsequent awarding of Eastern Europe to, the rapacious, murderous regime of Josef Stalin, it’s still pretty clearly a good thing that the side that won, won; because it marked the ascension of America as the free world’s undisputed superpower; because, Pearl Harbor and internment camps aside, it wasn’t fought on American soil. Because of all that, it’s easy to forget that it was the most massively, horrifically violent rupture of civilization in all of human history, and that like less favorably viewed conflicts such as World War I, Vietnam and Iraq, any such blow to the world’s societal and moral fabric is going to have devastating consequences for decades or more to come.
Today is Battle of Britain Day, and the British blog Bear Alley takes the opportunity to investigate a bizarre bit of popular knowledge: That the editors of the kiddie comics Beano and Dandy were on the Nazis’ death list.
Beano and Dandy traffic in broad, slapstick humor, usually involving pies in the face, broken windows, and the eternal cycle of bullying and revenge. Most stories ended with someone getting whacked with a slipper, apparently the traditional means of restoring authority in postwar Britain. But according to local lore, in the late 1930s (Dandy was founded in 1937, Beano in 1938), many of the jokes came at the expense of Hitler and Mussolini. Aware of comics’ ability to lead youth astray, the Nazis put the editors of both comics on their list of people to be dealt with once they had successfully invaded Britain.
There is actually such a list—the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.—and anyone can read it, as London’s Imperial War Museum printed a facsimile in 1989, but apparently nobody bothered to until Bear Alley’s Steve Holland took the initiative. His finding: Although a number of newspaper editors appear on the list, along with playwright Noel Coward and novelist H.G. Wells, the Beano and Dandy editors, George Moonie and Albert Barnes, are nowhere to be found. The sole cartoonist on the list is David Low, the political cartoonist for the Evening Standard, who, not surprisingly, had been churning out anti-Nazi cartoons by the barrel. He was slated to be handed over to the Gestapo, but history dictated otherwise.
It’s not surprising that the British found this story credible, as both comics are beloved institutions over there, and the British themselves recognized the power of popular culture after the war by hanging Lord Haw-Haw, an American-born broadcaster who made Nazi propaganda broadcasts on German radio, for treason.
(Image from the pop culture blog The Daily Hitler.)