World War Two: American propaganda posters.
Propaganda is a tool used by governments to sway the public’s opinion about an event. These posters were particularly prevalent during World War Two to endear the public to the war effort. As World War Two began in Europe, the American public were keen to stay out of the fighting as they had suffered great losses of life and finances in World War One, and were only just beginning to recover. However, the American government decided that their influence would help the European allied forces; they decided to get involved. To change public opinion, they launched a heavy propaganda poster campaign featuring persuasive slogans. In the course of this essay, I will examine some examples of these while discussing their desired effect and the emotional implications they would have held for the American public.
For a lot of propaganda posters, the drive was to encourage the public to emotionally engage with the war in Europe: it was on such distant shores that for the vast majority of people, it seemed like a problem that would not affect them or their families. This sort of poster was designed to unify the American public and encourage them to think of the war as a united front against fascism. This particular poster (on the left) is quite direct and is addressing every member of the public and including them in the war effort: it is designed to rally the public into supporting the war and attempts to make anyone who criticizes the war, to feel guilty as a result.
This poster (on the right), is a blatant use of statistics to drum up support for the war. Not every Japanese person would have killed an American during World War Two but by saying “5200 Yank Prisoners Killed” it is designed to evoke anger in the American public. The pointed question at the top: “What are YOU going to do about it?” is asking each person who sees the poster a question and by presenting them with the terrible facts, they are more or less forced to respond. Again, it is unifying America against its enemies. This sort of poster would have been used to drum up more soldier recruitment: the underlying message being, ‘we need more men to counteract the Japanese machine.’ It would cause anger at the idea of young, American soldiers dying at the hands of the enemy and in such a horrible way (torture). It uses emotive language such as “Jap Torture” and “Cruel ‘March of Death’” to evoke a reaction.
Posters such as this one (on the left) were common across the countries involved in World War Two. The implication is that a man is dying because “someone talked!” and this was in relation to the idea that enemy spies were everywhere. They bred a feeling of paranoia and fear on the understanding that over-protecting state secrets was better than the alternative. Its dark, subversive features are scary and would definitely have made a civilian think twice about discussing the war with anyone less than a trusted family member and even then, they may have thought twice: the idea of being responsible for a death would be enough to scare everyone. These posters with their succinct, direct message would establish the stark reality of the war to the people who saw it. It again implies that everyone needs to stand together and be wary of strangers who could be spies.
This propaganda poster is designed to encourage Americans to use less gasoline and car-share is an extreme form of propaganda that would have alarmed people into reacting. The suggestion that “When your ride ALONE you ride with Hitler!” is suggesting that if you do not do you part in conserving gasoline and its costs, you might as well be supporting Hitler and the Nazis. The ghostly image of Adolf Hitler sat in the passenger seat has an exaggerated moustache and iron cross designed to poke fun at the German leader of the Third-Reich, and would have again re-iterated the fact that a Nazi win was a potential and would have an effect on the American way of life. The inferred meaning of this poster is that everyone needs to do their bit in the war effort and that even by simply sharing a car, you would be helping the American troops.
Propaganda posters were regularly used to invoke a feeling of support for the war effort in Europe: they were designed to make the viewer feel scared or wary and many bred a feeling of paranoia, such as the “Someone talked!” poster (above). This was deliberately done to gain momentum for the war effort in the form of recruitment, efforts at home and the attitude towards the war universally. Hitler and America’s other enemies are routinely presented as having an almost supernatural quality which suggests they are unbeatable and breeds more support for the brave troops abroad, fighting this huge fascist machine.
1. Think Quest. (2011). American Propaganda. Retrieved from http://library.thinkquest.org/C0111500/ww2/american/amerprop.htm
2. Wikipedia (2011). American Propaganda During World War Two. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_propaganda_during_World_War_II
3. Wikipedia. (2011). United States Home Front During World War Two. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_home_front_during_World_War_II