WWII Propaganda Posters From Office of War Information Term Paper

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World War II Propaganda Posters

WWII Propaganda Posters: Soldiers without Guns

During World War II, branches of the U.S. government commissioned propaganda posters, which were illustrated for the Office of War Information; patriotic in nature, these illustrations were intended to stir up pro-American feelings, and help mobilize citizens to support the War movement. This paper examines the prime motivating factors for wartime propaganda, national pride and fear, and reveals how those two motivators are used in a few examples of wartime propaganda posters. The paper also examines how those same posters use traditional propaganda devices to spread a pro-war message, at a time when many Americans were reluctant to enter into another European war. Finally, the paper discusses the propaganda poster as an art form, and looks into the lasting popularity of these propaganda pieces.

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Term Paper on WWII Propaganda Posters From Office of War Information Assignment

Branches of the U.S. government commissioned propaganda posters during WWII, which were illustrated for the Office of War Information; patriotic in nature, these illustrations were intended to stir up pro-American feelings, and help mobilize citizens to support the War movement. Some of these posters have become iconic; for example, the picture of "Rosie the Riveter" not only helped move women into wartime manufacturing positions, but also helped usher in the era of the working women. Other posters are clearly dated by their time and purpose, and seem extremely racist and even vaguely un-American. However, it is not fair to view the posters from such a modern perspective, because that perspective ignores some of the harsh realities facing Americans during World War II. Following World War I, many Americans felt an isolationist reluctance to get involved in world affairs. This isolationism meant that, even had Americans been faced with the truths about Germany, genocide, and the likely impact that German aggression would have on the rest of Europe, they may still have been reluctant to enter into a war. Propaganda was used to help convince Americans that it was necessary to enter into World War II, to keep up morale surrounding the war effort, to convince people to sacrifice for the war, and to encourage women to make changes necessitated by the fact that so many men were in the armed forces.


Wartime propaganda during the Second World War was escalated to perhaps the greatest heights in history. As the Allies and the Axis both prepared for war, it was necessary for both sides to motivate their population and increase production." (Thinkquest). While Nazi propaganda has been well-studied, and led to the deaths of over 6 million non-combatant Jews, as well as other members of German and Eastern European society that were deemed unworthy by Hitler, the Axis powers were not the only ones to successfully use propaganda. In fact, propaganda may have been used more effectively immediately preceding and during World War II, than in any other time during American history. Americans were reluctant to get involved in another war, and propaganda was necessary to convince them to do so:

America, just coming out of the depression, stuck to its isolationist policy. Most citizens, especially those who remembered World War I, thought that getting involved in a costly and expensive war was not a good decision for America. The majority of people thought that the war beginning in Europe and Asia was far removed from them and their lives in America. Most believed that America's resources should be spent rebuilding the country in the aftermath of the depression, and not fighting a war overseas about causes that didn't concern them. The United States government recognized that sooner or later America would become involved, if not in Europe than in eastern Asia and the surrounding islands. (Thinkquest).

However, in order to be successful in any upcoming war, the government had to convince the American people to support the war. As a result, the government began a propaganda campaign.

Propaganda seems to go hand-in-hand with war. "At times of war, or build up for war, messages of extremities and hate, combined with emotions of honor and righteousness interplay to provide powerful propaganda for a cause." (Shah). In fact, propaganda is also used to prepare a country for war, often by showing the inevitability of war. "Yet, in many cases, war itself is not inevitable, and propaganda is often employed to go closer to war, if that is the preferred foreign policy option." (Shah).

Furthermore, propaganda works; it does help convince people to do and think certain things. It seems to do so by playing to some basic human hopes and fears. As described by Shah:

Propaganda seems to work because of a number of reasons, including: people wish to believe the best about themselves and their country; fear-mongering, especially about the threat to cherished values such as freedom and justice; presenting fears and claims that appear logical and factual; media management and public relations is very professional; [and] managing thoughts by narrowing ranges of debate, thus minimizing widely discussed thoughts that deviate from the main agendas. (Shah).

A large percentage of wartime propaganda focuses on national pride. This is especially true in democracies, where people have a degree of personal responsibility for the actions of their government, while it might be less of an issue in dictatorships or other totalitarian forms of government:

In democracies, people like to believe that they and their countries are generally good, for if it was any other way then it brings into moral question all they know and hold dear. The histories of some nations may have involved overcoming adversaries for legitimate reasons (e.g. The American war to gain its independence and freedom from the British Empire was one based on strong moral grounds of freedom from imperial rule). Such important history is often recounted and remembered as part of the collective culture of the country and those same values are projected into modern times. Propaganda sometimes works by creating the fear of losing such cherished values. (Shah).

The government's use of propaganda just prior to and during World War II was not unanticipated. In an article written by them in anticipation of U.S. involvement in World War II, Miller and Minsky discussed how U.S. involvement in the war would lead to a dramatic increase in propaganda. They suggested that observers had to be aware of propaganda and ask themselves the following questions: "What propagandists seek to influence us, and to what end? How do they operate? What are their methods and their motives?" (Miller and Minsky). Furthermore, they suggested that the propagandists would operate in a predictable manner, by using seven common devices: (1) name calling; (2) glittering generalities; (3) the device of transfer; (4) the device of the testimonial; (5) the device of plain folk; (6) card stacking; and (7) the band wagon device. (Miller and Minsky).

The first device, name calling, is the most obvious form of propaganda. Names can be inherently bad, or they can be deemed bad because of times and circumstances. The concept of name calling is demonstrated very well in the WWII propaganda poster that has been captioned "Murdering Jap" in This paper. That piece of propaganda uses name calling in two ways. First, it refers to a nationality by a slang term, which, by that time, had acquired a very negative denotation. Next, it associated the slang term "Jap" with being a murderer. Moreover, it failed to distinguish between Japanese civilians and Japanese soldiers. Instead, all Japanese were lumped into the same group of people - murderers. Furthermore, the poster did not stop at lumping all Japanese into the category of murderers; it also featured what appeared to be an expert from a newspaper, discussing the torture of "Yank" soldiers by "Japs." Therefore, the poster's message made it clear that Japs were not only murderers, but also torturers.

When examining the name-calling facet of propaganda, it is important to do several things. First, one needs to define what the pejorative term actually means. For example, the term Jap clearly refers to the Japanese. However, it is a broad term that was meant to apply to all of the Japanese. While the terms "murderer" and "torture" are clearly defined, their use in the poster with the broader-based term "Jap" is misleading; it sought to equate being Japanese with being a murderer or torturer. Next, one must look at who applies the term and the motives and interests in doing so? For World War II propaganda, it was generally the government who applied the term. Government motives had multiple layers. The first and most obvious government motive was to garner public support for the war. In order to get the country behind the idea of killing Japanese, especially the use of atomic weapons on two largely-civilian targets, the government had to take steps to dehumanize the Japanese. Making the leap from Japanese soldiers to Japanese civilians, and calling them all murderers and torturers, helped justify those actions and make them more acceptable to the American population.

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