An Animated Discovery
Investigating a U.S. airman’s response to North Korean propaganda
In the 1950s — at the same time that Disney was making short, educational films for children that featured an accident-prone Donald Duck — Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s first dictator and the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un, ordered North Korea’s state-run animation studio Scientific Educational Korea to begin airing nationalistic, anti-American cartoons, some of which remain popular to this day. One such cartoon is the graphically violent Squirrel and Hedgehog.
The heroes of this long-running series are uniform-wearing squirrels, hedgehogs and ducks, which represent North Korea’s military leadership, its soldiers and its navy. The antagonists in the cartoon are evil weasels, mice and wolves, who represent Japanese, South Korean and American soldiers, respectively. A benign and drunken bear — a heavily stereotyped Russian soldier — totters across the screen on occasion, too.
The characters in Squirrel and Hedgehog are as iconic to North Koreans as Donald Duck is to Americans, and knowledge of the cartoon was widespread across East Asian countries. As a young child, Tallahassee resident Dee Dee Malone lived in Okinawa, Japan, at the Kadena Air Force missile base, where her father, then-Capt. Roy William Malone (he retired as a Major in the United States Air Force), was a tactical command pilot.
“The threat of war was constant in the early ’60s, when we were there,” Malone says. “We learned all about the propaganda that was being distributed by the North Koreans. We were taught in school, on the base, to fear war. Every night I prayed, ‘Please, God, let us not have a war.’”
One young airman, who served under Malone’s father and who had fought in the Korean War just a few years earlier, was amused enough by the idea of gun-toting forest animals to appropriate the North Korean cartoon characters and Americanize them. He created a series of comics that Malone discovered among her late-father’s possessions more than a half-century after her family left Okinawa.
“I was totally surprised when I found them,” Malone says. “My father had never shared them with any of us. They brought back all of these memories, and they gave me insight into the dynamics between my father and his fellow servicemen.”
Malone’s interest in these relationships comes from the investment she has put into her own relationships with members of the military. In April 2016, Malone retired from the Veterans Administration office in Tallahassee, where she had served for 25 years.
“I’ve seen a lot of combat veterans return home and not be welcomed,” she says. “They need friendship. It was my honor and my joy to work with these men. It was so important to me to try to make them smile. I’d greet them as they came into the V.A. office and sing to them, ‘It’s raining men! Hallalujah!,’ and they loved that. I lived every day to bring joy to their lives.”
Malone describes herself as an “independent patriot” with a great love for and pride in her country. “But,” she says, “I think that only those who have fought for freedom really know what it is.”