Seduction of the Innocent
11. Murder in Dawson Creek
The Comic Books Abroad
"Reputation abroad is contemporaneous posterity"
The Alaska Highway, which runs for some fifteen hundred miles to Fairbanks, Alaska, begins at Dawson Creek, in the Peace River district. Dawson Creek used to have about five hundred inhabitants. Then it became a boom town during the construction of the highway. Now it has settled down to about 3,800 people. The center of a famous wheat-producing agricultural area with record yields, Dawson Creek is a well-ordered community which boasts of a $600,000 high school. The farmers of the surrounding region go to the town for trade and recreation.
One evening in 1948, one of these hard-working men, Mr. James Watson, was returning in his car from a show not far from the Dew Drop Inn in Dawson Creek to his home in Kilkarren. With him were some friends and relatives. His son was driving while he, on the back seat, was holding a small child on his knees. Suddenly the occupants of the car thought they heard a loud bang like a shot. Before they could decide what it was a second shot rang out It was about nine thirty in the evening and they couldn't see anybody. But Mr. Watson slumped over, shot through the chest. His son Fred stopped the car, still couldn't see anybody. Someone screamed. And he turned the car around and rushed the wounded man to the hospital. He died three days later.
Mr. Watson was one of the most respected residents. For some time he had been president of the Dawson Co-operative Union. He had come from the north of England and had owned his farm in the Peace River district for thirty years. Who could have murdered him, and why?
When the police traced and arrested the culprits the mystery of the motive became even greater, for they were a boy of thirteen and a boy of eleven. "This is one of the worst tragedies to come about by juvenile delinquency in this North country," one newspaper commented. The authorities, puzzled and serious, made a thorough investigation of the whole case. The boys were turned over to the Department of Health and Welfare for study.
Neither boy had any excuses to make. They verified what the police had found and told a straightforward story. They were like amateur actors repeating as best they could remember the plot of a play they had carefully learned. They had stolen a rifle from a parked car. Then they went to the railway yards and stole cigarettes from a truck. The night before they had stolen a flashlight. The night of the murder they had proceeded along the Alaska Highway, stood in a ditch and waited for a car to come along. They were playing highwaymen. When a car did come they flagged it to stop, and fired a shot; but the car went right on. When Mr. Watson's car came along they did the same, firing a shot in the air. But when that car didn't stop either they fired right at it.
The mother of the older boy, although her son had not been in any trouble, was worried about him. She had noticed that he spent a great deal of his time reading little colored booklets all dealing with crime. Three days before the shooting she had tried to get advice as to what to do about him. The authorities had no preconceived ideas; buf after investigation they all came to the same conclusion: These boys had been not only influenced, but actually motivated to the point of detailed imitation, by crime comic books. Every detail of what they did was found blueprinted in the comic books they had been reading. The older boy had read about fifty crime comic books a week, the younger boy only about thirty. They didn't see anything peculiar in that, either as something wrong or as something which could serve as an excuse. It was left to the authorities to piece it together.
This case was like an experiment. Nobody was looking for a "scapegoat." Nobody had given any thought to comic books (except the mother of one of the boys) before the murder. No body wanted to prove anything, except what really happened. Nobody wanted anything except the truth. The presentative of the Department of Health and Social Welfare declared as a result of his investigations that the source of the ideas possessed by these children was clearly their comic books, and he testified to the effect comic books had had on their minds. In his verdict the coroner also referred to the evidence of comic books in this case, comic books "which are apt' to encourage crime."
At the trial in the juvenile court the Crown Prosecutor, Mr. A. W. McClellan, told the Court: "I feel that parents and the public generally have been on trial this afternoon as well as these two boys. . . . I have no doubt that if the public generally had been present at this trial they would have gone in a body to the purveyors of these so-called comic books and demonstrated in no uncertain terms what they thought of their pernicious influence. It is clear that in many cases parents have no idea of the effect the reading of this muck - for that is what it is - can have on the minds of children. I cannot say too strongly that I think these two unfortunate boys have been strongly influenced by what they have been reading. I would like to see a concerted effort to wipe out this horrible and weird literature with which children are filling their heads."
Juvenile Court Judge C. S. Kitchen also singled out crime comic books as the predominant factor in this tragedy. He spoke about "the influence of the literature these boys have been sub jected to" and added: "I am satisfied that a concerted effort should be made to see that this worse-than-rubbish is abolished in some way."
It did not do the boys much good, but Dawson Creek had become comic-book conscious overnight.
I heard about this case right after it happened. There was nothing new about it. It was just like so many others where children had taken their roles from comic books. It was one of those cases where cause and effect were so clear that nobody dared dispute it.
Although the number of comic books in Canada is infinitely smaller than in the United States, the problem was recognized there with far more seriousness. Mrs. T. W. A. Gray, chairman of a special committee of the Victoria and District Parent-Teacher Council, was in the midst of an extensive investigation when the Watson comic-book murder was committed. To her it was another of many instances of the detrimental influence of comic books on children. She had collected cases, studied the literature, communicated with other parent-teacher organizations - eventually reaching the provincial and national level - looked into the industry and its experts, and last but not least had studied the comic books that children read. She reported these samples from one comic book:
1) As the American army is returning home, and the flag is going by, an old gentleman asks three men to remove their hats. They reply: "If he's so patriotic he might as well die for his country," and one of them stabs the old man to death.
2) An honest alderman tries to protect the public and is killed. The hero says: "Bullets are better than ballots!" And the commentator says: "Ah! That impulsive boy! He's absolutely fearless! Why can't everyone be like that!"
Mrs. Gray did not permit herself to be sidetracked by the industry or by those who wanted her to include all kinds of other reading and entertainment. She unflinchingly isolated one evil and pursued it. Her campaign was endorsed by the British Columbia Parent-Teacher Federation and then by the National Federation of Home and School. Damning evidence against crime comic books accumulated from all over the country. There was a striking similarity in youthful delinquencies which be came more violent and involved ever younger children.
My advice was sought off and on by various Canadian organizations and it was interesting to see where the chief difficulty arose in the attempt to protect children. This became part of my own investigation of the general social aspects of the comic-book question.
Modern child psychiatry, mental hygiene and educational psychology are in a crisis. Far from being leaders, they are behind the times. Some of their literature is filled with vagaries and generalities. When confronted with a new phenomenon like comic books, they do everything except study the books. They make pronouncements without first learning the objective facts and, without bad intent, repeat the same old arguments which the crime-comic-book industry - aided by its experts - had culled from the psychological verbiage of the day.
That is precisely what happened in Canada. The parents knew there was something very wrong, teachers and others who had directly to do with children knew it, and Minister of Justice Garson, after going over a great deal of evidence, said that crime comic books are "nothing but hack-work filth." But the leaders of mental hygiene, who stood idly by while comic books gained increasing influence over children, pooh-poohed the whole thing. It was not in Freud, it was not in mental hygiene books, and it could so easily be explained away like other social evils. The medical director of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (Canada) told a convention: "A child may ascribe his behavior to a comic he has read or a movie he has seen. But such explanations cannot be considered scientific evidence of causation." (Note that in Canada, as in the United States, it is not the children who "ascribe" their behavior to comic books, but those adults who really study the facts and the comic books.)
Here, it seemed to me, was one of the points where my comic book study - just because it was so focussed on one element - led me to a clear perception of a much larger problem. Some modern psychiatrists and educational psychologists have done a lot of harm with their pseudoscientific drivel. In this instance, a newspaper evidently more in contact with life than the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (Canada) commented editorially: "This may not be considered 'scientific evidence of causation.' It is significant to note, however, that the Montreal Star and the Montreal Gazette, commenting on the unsuccessful attempt of a ten-year-old to hang himself, both state that the youngster was imitating a scene in a comic book open beside him." And the editorial went on to mention another similar case with a fatal ending.
The same medical director wrote to a parent-teacher group the usual generalizations favoring comic books, obviously with out knowing anything about them or the real effects they have on children. He asserted that only "children who are deeply disturbed, unhappy, rejected and fearful, are attracted to comics of this type." Make clear to yourself how far we have gone astray in relying on the official mental hygiene of the day if a leader makes a statement according to which tens of millions of children would have to be considered "deeply disturbed"! What an alibi for the corrupters of children! What a boon to private practice! His final pronouncement about comic books is "control by legislation is not the device of a truly democratic and mature society." If the law is not the device of a democratic society, what is? The dogma of an expert who has not studied the subject fully? Other mental-hygiene officials made similar statements.
But it was the democratic process which proved a better safeguard for truth, science and the health of children. While in the United States parents and parent-teacher associations were stalled, confused by the experts and the maneuvers of the comic-book industry, the Canadians persisted. The Parent-Teacher Association of Kamloops (B.C.) asked its representative in Parliament, Mr. Edmund Davie Fulton, to bring the matter to the attention of the House of Commons.
There were full discussions on several occasions. Mr. Fulton, rising to introduce legislation to control crime comic books, 'took issue with the director of research of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene (Canada), who had wired the Minister of Justice to say that legal banning would be a confession of failure on the part of parents and educators to raise the child.
"That may be true," Mr. Fulton said, "but from all those who have spoken to me and from articles I have read I know that parents and teachers are literally at their wits' ends to find a solution. . . . They are powerless to prevent the tremendous circulation of these crime comics."
The member from Kamloops, who had accumulated a great deal of material (including some of mine) won the respect of everybody by making his points very definitely and precisely. He clearly separated comic books from newspaper comic strips; he concentrated on crime comic books and did not let himself get inveigled into talking about movies or other things; he did not include only the current crop but mentioned the harm already done and continuing to be done by the old ones. In the course of various speeches in the House of Commons, he gave credit to the many parents', women's and teachers' organizations. He said:
The man of violence is portrayed as acting directly, quickly and forcefully. In this way the sympathies of children are directed toward the wrong side.
The debates on the Fulton bill were extensive. Among the speakers were judges, members of school boards and others who evidently had gone carefully into the subject. Mr. Hansell, from Macleod, held up one comic book: "On the cover is the word 'CRIME' in large letters. I think, Mr. Speaker, you can read that from where you are sitting; but I will bet a million dollars that you cannot read the type underneath which says 'does not pay.' It is so small it is almost negligible."
He gave statistics of the contents of one book:
punch or bludgeoning with a blackjack or something else: 11 times
"I ask any reasonably minded man," he went on, "is that the sort of thing our young people should be reading? The publishers circumvent the law by using the words 'does not pay.' You see, we all know that is only a way of getting around the law."
Mr. Browne (St. Johns West) spoke of his experience as a judge interested in juvenile delinquency: young people are "prone to fall victims to the temptations which come to them through reading literature of that sort." He cited cases.
Mr. Cavers (Lincoln) spoke of the influence of comic books on gangs: "I am told young people buy these comics, and then form voluntary circulating libraries, passing them from one to another, so no matter what supervision there may be in the home, it is difficult to stop such a practice."
Mr. Goode (Burnaby-Richmond) characterized crime comic books as the "offal of the magazine trade" and described one as "the most filthy book that I have ever seen on a magazine stand." He was referring to an ordinary comic book, like millions on the stands in the United States right now.
Mr. Rodney Adamson (York West) took issue with the familiar argument that delinquency is often caused by family and home conditions and that "then the crime comic book got in and did its work." "That," he said, "reinforces the argument of my friend the honorable member for Kamloops [Mr. Fulton]."
Mr. Low (Peace River): "The best teaching in the world in the home, the wisest guidance in the home, cannot always protect youngsters when they are subjected to such alluring things every time they go to a store. Any time a child goes in to buy an ice-cream cone or an all-day sucker he is faced with the alternative of these very compelling pictures and colors, and very often a lot of good salesmanship in displaying them."
Mr. Drew: "We know as a matter of actual experience that if these books are available, they will be read, and if they are read, they have a certain influence. Only two weeks ago, a mere boy of sixteen was sentenced in one of our courts to be hanged, and the evidence demonstrated clearly that his mind had heen influenced by books of this kind." He called crime comics "an extremely harmful poison to the minds of our young people."
The Minister of Justice, the Hon. Stuart S. Garson, summed up the debates: "When publishers and disseminators of various kinds of crime comics and obscene literature are heartened and emboldened by this concern of ours for the preservation of literary and artistic freedom, and become steadily more impudent in their degradation of that freedom so that they transform freedom into license, the time comes, and I think we all agree that it has come, when we must take further action to curtail their offences."
No debate on such a high ethical plane, with proper regard for civil liberties but with equal regard for the rights and happiness of children, has ever taken place in the United States. Was the widening periphery of any investigation into the effects of comic books leading me to the problem of where and why the democratic process is being corrupted here, to the detriment of the most defenseless members of society, the children?
The Fulton bill to outlaw crime comic books by an amendment to the criminal code was passed unanimously by the House of Commons. Then it had to come before the Canadian Senate. The Senate referred the bill to one of its 'standing committees. At the committee hearing, two representatives of the comic-book trade gave evidence. They were eloquent and made their usual persuasive arguments. They said that far from having an adverse influence, crime comic books are highly moral and have a very good influence on children. They almost swayed the committee.
But they made one error. They handed around some free samples of comic books. Some of the Senators had been inclined to listen to the plausible arguments. But after taking a good look at the samples selected by the industry itself to show its worth, they were aghast. The Senate passed the Fulton bill by the overwhelming majority of 91 to 5.
After the Fulton bill became law, a committee representing publishers, distributors and printers decided that comic books affected by the definition of the new law should be discontinued. Twenty-five crime comics, every one of which had figured in my Lafargue and Queens Mental Hygiene Clinic investigations, disappeared from the Canadian newsstands. Canadian parents lost nothing in the way of freedom of speech. Their children were protected from one of the influences which had made it harder for them to grow up decently. Said Mr. Fulton: "The new law imposes an obligation of self-censorship on the publisher and makes certain that what he publishes is not harmful, and this is a perfectly fair duty to impose upon those who derive profit from literature for children."
This pioneer legal experiment in the protection of childhood has been played down as far as American public-information goes. Spokesmen for the industry have proclaimed that it does not mean anything, that the law came about only because my writings had stirred. up Canadian parents. There is little merit in that flattering argument. The resistance against American crime comics is going on all over the world. It is a fair statement to make that most civilized nations feel threatened by them in their most holy possessions, their children. One of the worst crime comics boasts: "Distributed in over 25 countries throughout the world!" - while a picture on the opposite page shows a U.S. Federal Agent knocking a man down with a rifle butt to the words: "Boy, that's the sweetest sound on earth."
While the American taxpayer is paying a lot of money for propaganda, including the Voice of America, and information libraries abroad, parents in most civilized nations have seen comic books right in their own towns and villages. It has gone so far that people all over the world believe that American civilization means airstrips and comic strips. Comic books are our ill-will ambassadors abroad. Whatever differences there are between the Eastern and Western countries of Europe, they are united in their condemnation of American crime comic books.
What are these nations doing about it? In Sweden, American crime comic books cannot be imported any more. On the other hand, it is reported that American-type comic books "are circulating in alarming numbers" and that there is "a campaign against them." In Holland also American crime comic books cannot be imported. Some comic books are published in Holland, but there is a wide revulsion and agitation against them. There have been articles severely criticizing them, and I have received letters from writers and others who have studied the subject: "Comic books in our country are responsible for an increase in juvenile criminality by inducing boys to play rather funny games of beating, throwing and maltreating each other, kidnapping girls with more or less sexual intentions and stealing money to buy comic books."
In England importation of American comic books is restricted. Many are published in England from plates or blocks fabricated in this country. They are often called "Yank magazines." From articles published in England, from correspondence, from American travelers to England and British travelers here, I have learned that very many people who have directly to do with children are greatly worried about them. "The volume of public protests is growing," writes one of my British correspondents.
People are more concerned about the subtle distortion of children's minds than by cases of violent forms of delinquency and murder, although there were enough of those comic-book delinquencies, too. One of these was seriously commented upon and featured in headlines as "The Boy Who Thought Crime Could Pay." This teen-ager burglarized jewel shops and pubs, tried to stab a policeman and finally shot one. Those who knew him best, his father, mother and. some neighbors, described as his outstanding characteristic his reading of comic books. "Always reading that Yank stuff with gangsters and gun molls," said his father. A neighbor described how the boy had lent him crime comic books and how he had taken from them the role of a gangster: "He looked like a gangster. He talked on the side of his mouth like a gangster." He used comic book vocabulary:
[BRI NOTES: Skeptic that I am, I don't believe this bit about the comic being on his person.]
British children have also been playing the type of game directly taken out of comic books. One little boy, for instance, was tied to a tree and left to roast beside a bonfire, a typical comic-book performance.
The current agitation in England against American and American-style comics is toned down a little because there are interests which spread the idea in Great Britain that to be against comic books shows anti-American sentiment. It is certainly an important fact that among wide sections of the population of the British Commonwealth crime comics can be identified with American civilization. In my correspondence with British people I have done my best to explain that in my opinion American mothers are just as anxious to free their children from the stifling encroachment of comic books as are the mothers of any other nation.
Many British organizations devoted to child welfare have come out strongly against comic books and asked that the government do something about them. The National Federation of Women's Institutes says of the effects of comic books on "young growing minds": "[They] terrify, stimulate morbid excitement and encourage racial prejudice and glorification of violence, brutal and criminal behaviour."
The Glasgow Association of the Educational Institute of Scotland asked for a government ban: "An unhealthy and distorted view of life is presented in these comic books. Crime and law breaking are considered as the normal state of affairs." The Association condemns the Superman type of comic books with their implication of the extermination of inferior races and points out that power and riches are described as "the most desirable things in life," while honesty and hard work find no place.
The National Union of Teachers called American comic books "lurid, debasing, sadistic and immoral" and asked that the government ban their import and printing in Britain. A resolution by schoolteachers asked the executive committee of the Association of Assistant Mistresses in Secondary Schools to take steps against United States comic books. The resolution speaks of "these pernicious and degrading publications" which are "calculated to have damaging effect upon young people, both morally and culturally."
The issue of comic books was also raised in the British House of Commons several times. In answer to a question about the harm comic books do to children, a government representative said that he would certainly consult the Home Secretary and the Minister of Education on the subject. On another occasion the member for Coventry displayed comic books and read from them and said that the most sinister thing about these publications was that they introduce an element of pleasure into violence and encourage sadism in connection with unhealthy sexual stimulation. He pointed out that magistrates have found that certain juvenile delinquents who engaged in violent acts used this type of so-called comics as their favorite reading matter. He added: "One of the most alarming facts of this particular situation is the tremendous amount of profit which exists in their sale . . ." and demanded: "Children should be protected from the insidious and pernicious effect of this type of reading."
Following this debate (and on other occasions) letters against comic books were published in newspapers. A typical one to the London Times says: "This [better education] is being jeopardized by those comics which are of a particularly vicious kind with the nastiest sort of appeal to the changing instincts of adolescents . . . the onus is on officialdom to show at least that these comics are not a contributing factor [to juvenile crime]. Since these publications are universally recognized as pernicious what objection can there be to their prohibition? . . . It is, I know, a matter of grave concern to many headmasters in areas where these comics are being distributed and local education authorities are of course helpless in the matter. In an age of uncertain values and deficient faith the least that society can do is to extirpate obvious evils." (Neville Sandelson, Lincoln's Inn.)
During another debate on comic books in the House of Commons a woman physician and member said it was quite impossible for parents to exercise control over the reading matter of adolescents and asked the Home Secretary to look into it again.
In 1953 in the House of Commons immediately after prayers a member presented a petition signed by thousands of people. It asked Parliament to take steps to ban the production, import and distribution of American and American-style comic books. It said that the "so-called comics which have as their theme horror, crime, violence and sex, which are exposed for sale or for view throughout the country" are "dangerous and unsuitable for children."
The Hampstead Borough Council of London debated a proposal to ask the London County Council to look into the effects of comic books on the minds of children. The National Association of School Masters carried a resolution, by an overwhelming majority, against the published and imported comic books as a menace to the mental health of youth": "What we are against is that type of children's book in which there are constant references to people being beaten up, in which cruelty is looked upon as strength and terror is regarded as an every-day emotion."
At a conference of educational associations at King's College, the Warden of Bembridge School, Isle of Wight, showed some typical comic books "illustrated with half-naked women" and the text in "balloons with handles." He said: "None of these is worthy of a place higher than the gutter. Their contents are contemptible. I do not know how to express my indignation at the fact that this stuff should be allowed to come into this country."
At the annual conference of the British Federation of Psychologists at Bournemouth, a resolution was passed favoring restrictive legislation against comic books which "glorify crime, brutality and lust." At a meeting of teachers and mothers in London, American comic books were taken up and it was pointed out that "most of the comics our children read are brutal and sadistic. Ninety-nine out of a hundred covers particularly are sexy and show scenes of violence."
A new society, the Company of New Elizabethans, has been founded by Miss Noel Streatfeild, author of many books for girls, to combat the "vicious, degrading contents of modern so-called comics." She believes that too many parents are unaware of the real character of comics, which show acts of cruelty and sadism in revolting detail. The Plumcroft Parent-Teacher Association expressed itself as "extremely alarmed at the increased number of these comics in circulation."
The chairman of the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals put some of the blame for increase of cruelty by children on American comic books: "We do not want to prosecute children, but certainly cases during the last year were so bad we had no alternative but to bring them before the juvenile courts." The Association of Optical Practitioners issued a report on the bad effects of comics on children's vision. And so on and on.
France has been swamped with comic books imported or published there, with French legends, from American sources. It took some time for the public to realize what was happening. Then a resistance movement set in on the part of writers, teachers, child psychologists and experts on juvenile delinquency. Helene Scheu-Riesz, a pioneer in good children's literature, wrote about the first Treasure Chest sent by children of the United States to the children of France: "It contained so many comics that the French teachers, in dismay, begged us to desist from sending such books, for French children began to picture America as a country of gangsters and robbers where shooting, killing and torturing were everyday occurrences." Newspapers printed illustrations from crime comic books showing deeply décolleté girls hanged in a setting of lascivious sadism and other brutalities. "With such methods," wrote one paper, "hardly different from those used by the Nazi regime, were S.S. men made."
Dr. Henri Wallon, leading French child psychologist, enumerated "the sad characteristics" of the comics: "the false science which is used only for murder, sexuality linked to cruelty, the pin-up girl with the knife [la pin-up au couteau], bestiality, race hatred, libidinous and perverse monsters, the Fascist notion of the superman, solitary avenger." Evidently the French doctors cannot understand that some of our child experts recommend all this for children.
A series of instances of juvenile delinquency "where children had aped episodes and techniques of violence shown in comic books" helped to crystallize public opinion. The government appointed a commission to protect children against harmful publications. The law was clearly aimed at American and Amer ican-style crime comic books. The commission includes two juvenile-court judges, representatives of the ministries of edu cation, public health and justice, delegates of authors, illustrators and youth organizations. (What! no crime-comic-book publishers?) According to the new law, unanimously accepted by the National Assembly, this commission is to supervise comic books sold to children and adolescents. It provides penalties up to one year in prison and 500,000 francs fine. The commission forthwith instructed twenty-five concerns to modify their children's comic-book publications and to stop the sale of the issues then current. According to this law, publishers who intend to bring out publications for children or adolescents must submit the titles and lists of their directors - before publication.
It is interesting that in a bill so near to censorship (although of course it deals only with the protection of children) the extreme Right, the extreme Left and the Middle found themselves in complete agreement.
Here are some indications of what is happening in other countries. In Italy, as reported by Barrett McGurn, American comic books with Italian legends have made great inroads on children. Such words as Crash, Bang or Zip have become a part of their vocabulary. The newspaper L'Osservatore Romano called the children's comic books "sensational, frightening and encouraging to instincts of violence and sensuality." A survey was conducted among 6,219 grammar school boys and girls. Twenty-six per cent liked comics. "in which violence abounds and women appear largely as gun molls and never as normal housewives." Twenty-eight per cent preferred as comics characters "bandits, gangsters, outlaws, millionaires or movie stars." One Italian child commented, "I'd like to be a bandit because they win all the time and then fight until they are killed."
In the Italian Parliament American crime comic books were vehemently denounced in a debate that lasted almost a week. The speakers agreed that American comics familiarize children with violence. Nobody got up to suggest that it was the children who were violent first. They also agreed on the need of defending Italian children against the American comics which "promote violent instincts . . . or foment sentiments of hatred among citizens, people or races.
In Belgium, educators and psychologists are also attempting to stem the tide of comic books. As one school principal said, "We have started to fight to protect our pupils." The reaction in Switzerland is similar, and American bubble-gum pictures - which are just like crime-comics drawings - have been banned as too "bloodthirsty." In Portugal, American crime comic books abounded, until they were banned by a law which forbids them as "exploiting crime, terror and monstrous and licentious subjects.
It is remarkable when one reads the professional and lay literature about child welfare, how many people abroad speak of "the invasion by American comics." In the face of all this, the comic-book publishers reacted just like comic-book publishers. They did everything as before.
According to the published reports, "officials of the United States military government are boiling mad at the insistence of Economic Cooperation Administration officials on bringing American comic books to Western Germany." One official said, "If E.C.A. wants to waste its money on such tripe that is its business, but the taxpayers are certainly being milked."
"Making available American crime comic books to Germans with E.C.A. funds does not seem the soundest way to demonstrate the advantages of our democratic society. . . . They present the worst and most distorted aspect of American life. . . . We casually send along publications that highlight murder, sensuality, crime and superman. Have the Germans not had enough of supermen?" In line with this, the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Dr. Bodet, former Mexican Foreign Minister, criticized the Superman type of crime comic book as 'giving children "false ideas."
In all East European countries, including Russia and Eastern Germany, crime comic books cannot be displayed or sold. West Germany was the recipient of large quantities of American crime comic books. Thoughtful Germans who did not need de-Nazification and were afraid of re-Nazification tried to stop them. In several places large numbers were held up. In Stuttgart, for example, officials of the Red Cross, which had received 20,000 comic books, were afraid that they would "teach violence to the German children." The dilemma of Europeans who would like to believe in true democracy and then encounter it in questionable forms is well symbolized by this episode. The officials did not know what to do. They felt that they could not give the books to the children, they did not want to burn them on account of old associations and they could not send them back. There were also protests in Austria. One magazine had an article against American comic books under the title "Caution Poison!"
In Mexico, writers, parents and teachers have made a large-scale attempt to have the government stop the importation of American crime comics. Here as in other countries this has had a bad effect on importation of other magazines from the United States, the legitimate defense against crime comic books spreading to other publications. Here, too, apologists for comic books have attempted to sell the old story that they are good for reading, with much-resented slurs on the literacy of the Mexican population. At the end of 1953 the sale of American comic books which sow race hatred against Asiatic people was forbidden by law in Mexico. In Australia newspaper articles criticizing comic books have appeared with typical comic-book illustrations. The Australian Journalists Association has asked for a ban on the importation of American comics. In the Union of South Africa their importation has also been prohibited. The law there specifically includes old issues. Voices against comic books have also been raised in Brazil and Egypt, in Indonesia, in India and in South American countries. It is a chorus of dismay.
Newspapers in the Unifed States have reflected very little of this widespread concern abroad and of the many attempts of parents there to protect their children from American and American-style comic books. Lincoln Steffens has shown how newspapers can create a crime wave. I have found that they can make ruffled waters appear calm, too. The more I followed the reactions abroad, the more I realized that, like the export of narcotics, crime comic books have become an international problem.
Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham (Rinehart & Company, Inc. New York, Toronto 1953, 1954)