Propaganda is material in any form, whether it be print or a broadcast that is intended to persuade people to believe something. It is used to change the opinions of masses of people living in an area and is generally produced by the government or another high-ranking institution. Propaganda was a major source for motivation and sentiment during the Cold War. The rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union was everywhere during this time, from film and television to the radio and even in sporting events. Both the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in the use of war propaganda aimed to turn the citizens of their country against the other. The Soviet Union attempted to convince its people that Americans were loud, rude, and selfish, while the United States played upon the communist fear to convince its people to join the army.
Soviet propaganda was used by the government to convince its citizens that the United States was a horrible place. For example, in the propaganda piece “Johnny Lives in New York,” children of the United States are portrayed as violent and reckless, interested only in sports and killing, as the author states that all American youth act like Johnny (Strelnikov 13). At the end of the piece, Johnny is overly excited about watching the death of a boxer on television from a deadly boxing match, and skips out on a knowledgeable conversation to go home and watch (Strelnikov 13). This concept of running away from an intelligent conversation in order to go watch a bloody sport turn to death makes it seem like the United States only cares about ignorant things. This is also an example of how the Soviet Union at this time played on the things that American citizens loved, such as baseball. This occurs in the propaganda piece “Gloves or Handcuffs” from 1952. In the text it clearly states that the rowdy American crowds at baseball games lack human dignity (Kostin and Baratov 36). There are other trigger words in this text, including calling baseball players “contemporary gladiators” and claiming the United States forces its athletes to live a “low standard of living” (Kostin and Baratov 36). In addition, the article claims that the United States stole the concept of baseball from a Russian sport, adding fuel to the anti-American fire (Kostin and Baratov 36). In “Murders on 14th Street” claims are made that Washington, D.C. is a terrible place to live and is full of racism and corrupt cops (Soldatov 3). In the Soviet cartoon “Arm of the Law,” more cops are shown being unfair and unjust to citizens, telling people they are going to fine them if they do not move their car (Ball 256). Another point that Soviet propaganda used as the concept that the United States was trying to westernize the rest of the world, as shown through the cartoon “Hollywood Boa Constrictor.” This cartoon depicts the American film industry taking over and forcing Italian companies to close their doors due to bankruptcy (Ball 255).
These claims against the United States were exaggerated. There was truth to the fact that American people did love baseball, as they still do. However, the United States did not steal the idea for their beloved sport from Russian games. Baseball originated from England and through various games that the English used to play. Another point with a faction of truth is the claim that the United States wanted to westernize the rest of the world. Many countries in Europe were adopting western policies and tactics that had been implemented in North America. Some countries did not agree with this practice, such as the Soviet Union, and they wanted to remain true to their own policies. This was a factor in the creation of communism and the implementation of this government in the country.
United States propaganda aimed to convince Americans that the Soviet Union was evil. It played on the communist fears of the time that were seen as a big threat among the country’s people. In an American educational propaganda film from 1962, “Red Nightmare,” claims are made that the Soviet communists are going to take over the United States and take away their “capitalist freedoms” (Waggner “Red Nightmare”). It shows what life would be like if the communists came to the United States and took over, including portrayals of Americans with no rights and freedoms. In “Make Mine Freedom” this concept is also showcased. This film uses cartoons to get its message across in a way that would appeal to more audiences. A common theme, shown in this film, was that the American life would be turned upside down and everything Americans enjoyed would be taken away. The film explains rights such as the right to vote and freedom of religion, which are at the core of the United States Constitution, and claims the communists want to take them away (Sutherland “Make Mine Freedom”). The film shows people signing away their freedoms and giving up everything to the government, a common image of communism at the time. In a 1952 film, “Communism,” blame is placed on the communist leaders in the Soviet Union (“Communism”). This film uses footage of Soviet tanks, weapons and military actions to show the American audiences how much they should fear the communists (“Communism”). It also provides a background of the origins of communism in order to show Americans that all they wanted was world domination. This film also plays on the elimination of rights from Americans, stating that the communists did not hold true their claims about giving more rights to the worker, and that all of the land was in control of the government (“Communism”). Playing on the sentiment of Americans and their pride was an important part for the American government to take advantage of. United States propaganda also served to instill patriotism in the people and convince them to join the fight against the Soviet Union.
The United States also made exaggerated claims in their propaganda. There were some truth to these aspects, as the red threat was a common fear at this time. Americans were very patriotic about their freedom and were terrified that the communists would invade and take it away, which was one of the main reasons that the Cold War happened. The Red Threat was a very real concept that happened in the United States, and people were already scared by the end of World War II. The aims of communism were to take land from the elite and give it to the working class, as the American propaganda states. However, through the Russian Revolutions and the other various conflict that occurred because of this, it was not instated the way that the Russians believed it would be. It was also true that the Soviet Union had weapons they were preparing to use against the United States, and the country was attempting to keep up with this threat.
Both countries aimed to turn their citizens against the other by instilling fear and patriotism in the masses. Propaganda was used by the Soviet Union in order to convince its people that Americans were loud, rude, and did not care about the rest of the world. The United States used propaganda to convince Americans that the Soviets were communist terrorists. Propaganda was used by both sides in order to rally their people and make sure that they believed how evil the other country was. This was at a time when both world wars had been fought and people had seen the horrors of war, not wanting to begin another one, especially now with the advent of the atomic bomb. In order to keep sentiment high, governments and institutions used propaganda to create this false sentiment.
Arm of the Law. In (Ball, Alan. Liberty’s Tears: Soviet Portraits of the ‘American Way of Life’
During the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
B. Strelnikov. “Dzhoni zhivet v N’iu Iorke.” Rabotnitsa. May 1962. 13.
Hollywood Boa Constructor. In (Ball, Alan. Liberty’s Tears: Soviet Portraits of the ‘American
Way of Life’ During the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).
Sutherland, John. “Make Mine Freedom.” Harding College. 1948. YouTube. 14 July 2015.
P. Kostin and N. Baratov. “Perchatki ili naruchniki?” Fizkul’tura i sport. April 1952. 36-37.
Waggner, George. “Red Nightmare.” Warner Bros Pictures Inc. 1962. YouTube. 14 July 2015.
V. Soldatov. “Ubiistva na 14-i ulitse.” Sel’skaia zhizn’. 20 Nov. 1968. 3.