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Historical Image AnalysisResearch Paper

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Propaganda posters provided a direct means of influencing public opinion and swaying American social norms in support of the First and Second World Wars. Imagery in propaganda posters targeted specific demographic groups, using shared principles and ideals including moral duty. Using a juxtaposition of religious and military imagery, war propaganda posters framed participation in the war effort as not only a civic duty but also a spiritual one.

Most propaganda posters "inspired patriotism while urging citizens to make sacrifices for their national cause," The posters that best represent inspired patriotism include the Uncle Sam "I Want You for the U.S. Army, Enlist Now" poster, and the "You Buy a Liberty Bond Lest I Perish" poster. These two posters rely on the same imagery and motif of pointing directly at the viewer and using the second person singular pronoun as an imperative statement. Yet there is more than patriotic pride in these two posters; there is also the suggestion of moral duty. The "lest I perish" poster uses guilt as a powerful motivator for viewers. The implication is that if a citizen does not purchase a Liberty Bond, then liberty herself will perish. The very essence of the United States will die, the principles upon which the nation was founded. In the image, the Statue of Liberty looks angry, as she scowls while pointing at the viewer. It is fear inspiring as well as inspiring of patriotism. [1: Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. Retrieved online: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/museum/posters/]

Propaganda posters helped to provide a sense of unity among the American public that was critical to the war effort. The most important means by which to achieve social unity was to ensure that all males would enlist in the United States Army and be willing to die for the country, even African-Americans. African-Americans were still being lynched in the South, but they were being simultaneously told that they were a part of the multicultural fabric of the country. In "Colored Man is No Slacker," the artist renders an African-American couple in the foreground, with a black regimen marching proudly behind them. One of the soldiers carries a huge American flag, showing that African-Americans are integral to the nation and its war effort. This poster is the black counterpart of the Uncle Sam "I Want You," poster. Whereas a black male might not want to listen to a white man pointing his finger at him, the black male might actually respond to a poster that includes him as part of the nation. It would not have mattered that the poster was playing on a stereotype that black men were "slackers," because the overarching message is that patriotism is the loftiest ethical goal any man of any race can have.

Women were of course systematically excluded from combat, but were also expected to pay their role in World War One. The means by which women were cajoled into joining the war effort was to appeal to prevailing gender norms about the role of women in society. Women were to be ideal wives and mothers, supportive of their sons and husbands. It was their political, social, and religious duty to do whatever was in the best interests of the patriarchal culture in which they lived. In "The Greatest Mother in the World," the artist draws upon several concurrent themes including the cult of domesticity. The poster is an advertisement for the Red Cross, and the symbol of the organization appears in the upper left of the poster. Beside the red cross is a statue of the Virgin Mary holding an injured soldier as if the soldier was Jesus. The religious iconography is not subtle; it is overt. The Red Cross uses a cross in its logo, and the poster uses an image of Mary and Jesus. The slogan reads, "The Greatest Mother in the World" to underscore the fact that the imagery is of Mary. The suggestion is that women who want to be virtuous wives and mothers need to join the Red Cross. Whereas men who do not join the army are simply not patriotic, women who do not join the Red Cross are not being moral, just, righteous women in the eyes of God.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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