Feb 20, 2016

General Whitman and his Cold War Boyfriend

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my parents hated books.  Comic books were suspect enough -- but full-sized books would brainwash me into believing atheism and evil-lution, keep me away from healthy masculine activities like sports, and "strain my brain"!  Maybe they were worried that reading would make me want to escape the future of factory job, house, wife, and kids they had mapped out for me.

So I could only get away with reading only if I could convince them that it was required for school.  That made General Whitman's Adventures ideal.

They were brief, 15-page storybooks, accompanied by "adventure maps,"  written by George S. Elrick (who also wrote tie-in books for tv series like Flipper, Batman, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.).  They were published by comic book company Whitman (talk about product placement!).

General Whitman's Adventures in Intriguing Europe
General Whtiman's Adventures in Exotic Asia
General Whitman's Adventures in Exciting Africa

After that they ran out of adjectives, and just had him traveling to Australia, North America, South America, the United States, and Around the World.

General Whitman,  a "global troubleshooter for the armed forces," was a thin, middle aged white guy carrying a globe.

In each story, he traveled across the designated continent with his assistant, Lieutenant Scott, on on a top secret assignment.  In South America, for instance, he was assigned to inspect rivers that might provide "juice for mission control centers, "and to select likely sites for camouflaged missile silos."

This was during the Cold War, after all.

Meanwhile he pontificated about the continent's history and geography -- with what today seems a very paternistic, Orientalist superiority complex:  "Before this continent was discovered, the poor savages were uncivilized."

And Lieutenant Scott expressed constant disgust or amazement over local customs. In Tibet, he exclaimed: "That lady's making a sandwich out of her face!"

"Butter is often used as a beauty aid here," the General explains.  "The Tibetans are too primitive to have our modern scientific cosmetics."

Still, it beat National Geographic, with its boring "This country is a study in contrasts, embracing its rich traditions and looking toward the future."

And I could claim "research for my geography class."

And neither General Whitman nor Lieutenant Scott mentioned wives or girlfriends back home.  I was pretty sure that they were best men (my childhood term for gay partners).