I don’t know how far I am from the artillery field at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the nearby combined Army/Air Force base, but I know I live about twenty miles from the main gate and that most of the base sprawls closer, its border within ten miles of me. I also know I was awakened at five the other morning by artillery practice. Which is listed on their website as lasting 24 hours a day until today. Their Facebook page has people talking about this being the sound of freedom; this blind support of the military is ahistorical even by the standards of propaganda shorts, as any of the various shorts where Donald’s in the army make clear.
Donald has received his draft notice (dated, I’d note, March 24, 1941). It is here that we learn, in fact, that his middle name is Fauntleroy. As with many men who received their notice, though, he decides that he’d rather go in and try to enlist in a different branch of the service than get drafted. Specifically, Donald wants to fly, of course. (Unlike Daffy, Donald has never been shown as able to fly under his own power.) He passes a ludicrous physical, but he’s sent to the infantry. Where, naturally, his sergeant is Pete.
I think Donald might be the only major cartoon character other than Popeye to actually join the military during World War II. I haven’t seen many of the old Popeye shorts—because they’re horrifically racist—but while I remember a cartoon where Bugs says he’s going to be a real superhero and becomes a Marine, we don’t actually see him as a Marine beyond a brief shot of him in uniform. When Donald joins the Army, he’s a soldier, and while we don’t see him in combat, thank Gods, we see him on base. A lot.
But the part where my area’s occasional blind support of being awakened at all hours by artillery practice that shouldn’t be happening during a pandemic becomes ahistorical is in the shorts’ awareness of the realities of military life. Yes, all right, “Der Fuhrer’s Face” is blindly jingoistic, but Donald isn’t in the US military in that one. When he is, we see the low-level foibles of the average soldier. Donald’s not an ideal physical specimen—he even has flat feet—and gets hauled into the military anyway. He’s a terrible soldier, just objectively bad at what he does, yet not everything that goes wrong is his own fault.
Actually, the military cartoons are the ones where you can really feel sympathy for Pete. He’s likely career military, and nothing in that career prepared him for Private Duck. This one is relatively benign for him; Donald is merely incompetent at standing, walking, and holding a rifle. Then again, he also decides that firing said rifle is the best way to deal with an ant nest, so there’s that, I suppose. (Once again, Donald and guns turn out to be a terrible combination.) Donald’s lucky to just be on KP at the end, not in the stockade.
It’s no wonder, really, that Donald’s the one to join the military. Oh, fine, the psychological testing should keep sociopaths out, but obviously it does not and anyway Disney doesn’t acknowledge that Donald’s a sociopath. But Mickey’s too carefree and Goofy would be even worse. On the Warners side, it’s hard to picture early ’40s Bugs or Daffy as dealing with the structure, and Porky was fading by then. Popeye, as a sailor, was a natural for the Navy, but other than that, only Donald could do it. But they were never going to show him as doing it well.