How Disney’s 1964 Robotic President Lincoln Ended Up Training U.S. Military Today

This is an old obscure story but, with all the talk lately about robots manufactured by and for militant racists (e.g. Tesla), I thought it would be worth revisiting.

Disney made a robotic President Lincoln in 1964, which lectured audiences for dramatic effect. It since has been used as a model to train U.S. troops.

Having watched the facial animation progression from Wathel’s first efforts in 1955, thru Jack Gladish’s first Chinaman, then the 1964 Lincoln [through today]… We first implemented this sort of work in our projects for the US Marines in the Infantry Immersion Trainer at Camp Pendleton. We created a series of animatronic townspeople to populate the immersive training environment—some of them were slated to be hostile combatants.

Did I just read that a fake Lincoln was staged as a hostile combatant for Marines to train against?


Allegedly the justification for turning Disney’s Lincoln into enemy combatant was that animatronics were easier to build than using human actors. Does this mean no actors were willing to play Lincoln as an enemy of the Marines for some particular reason?

I mean the underlying theme of this story reminds me of…

…Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California was a hotbed of KKK activity–an open secret that was tolerated or aided by Marine Corps brass… white marine Klansmen openly distributed racist literature on the base, pasted KKK stickers on barracks doors and hid illicit weapons in their quarters…

Camp Pendleton, racist hotbed of the KKK, trained Marines with an animatronic staged as their enemy combatant… based on President Lincoln? What would President Lincoln say about that?

Oh no! Not the KKK again!

Were they training Marines on assassinating him? Here’s a 1977 interview of a Marine about their environment.

Q. Do you think the Klan has been rooted out of Pendleton?

A. Definitely not. Definitely no. It’s still here and they’re still organizing here. They might have calmed down a little bit; kept their stuff under cover a little bit more, but as far as being rooted out–no.

Lincoln blithely portrayed as the basis for enemy combatants seems to fit a sad narrative. Misuse of technology easily can poison human U.S. troops against democracy.

Robots manufactured by and for militant racists is a fascinating chapter of disinformation tools in American history, no?

Who regulates robotic “moments” for safety and integrity such as authenticity, and under what authority? Historians always want to know.

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