Background

This site intends to establish the reasons for the use of propaganda during war time. Propaganda typically is a form of artwork that intends to persuade its audience towards a certain point of view. In America during World War II, the government was a propaganda machine attempting to sway Americans to help join the war effort. This site is dedicated to showing various types of propaganda used to incite Americans to action. The positive and negative ramifications of the use of wartime propaganda will be evaluated.

Further questions to consider while you are exploring this site are the following: Why do governments use propaganda? What is the most effective method to persuade the American people? How does one know when a source is trustworthy? Is propaganda effective during peacetime?

American Propaganda during World War II

The creation of propaganda was stimulated when the federal government created the Office of War Information. The Office of War Information produced a wide array of propaganda from posters, movies, newsreels, and radio shows. An example of propaganda in the form of a short film that would play before movies in America is the Paratroopers’ video. The Office of War short-film would ensnare young men’s imaginations, and entice them to enlist to become one of these paratroopers. Overall, the intent of the Office of War Information was to persuade American citizens to join the fight the war on the “Homefront”.

One of the most effective tactics was the propaganda posters. Propaganda posters encouraged volunteerism. One form of volunteerism would come in the form of citizens buying War Bonds. During World War II, 185 billion dollars was raised by American citizens through War Bond sales (Jarrett). There are a vast array of propaganda posters that were used to entice citizens to invest their money in the war; accordingly, different emotional appeals were used in the posters. For instance in War Bond Poster One, the audience sees a young soldier waving goodbye to his loved ones from a ship. The words “So we’ll meet again” are added on to the top of the poster, and a bold print tells the viewer to “Buy More WAR BONDS.” This emotional appeal would draw in those who had close relatives and friends fighting in the war to donate their money to the American cause. In War Bond Poster Two, a different emotion is elicited by the War Bond poster. The viewer would see a racially exaggerated drawing of  Japanese man holding a white American woman hostage. The poster is using fear of the Japanese enemy to create a sense of urgency for American citizens to donate money to the war effort to keep American women safe from the enemy. The poster not only is using racism to stimulate a paranoia about the Japanese, but it is also playing into the literary trope  of a damsel in distress.

Propaganda Posters specifically targeted the Japanese, and by extension Japanese Americans in an explicitly racist way. A caricature that became a common feature in propaganda poster was called the “Tokio Kid.” As the reader can see, there are racial stereotypes of the Japanese exaggerated in the Tokio Kid propaganda poster. The figure has sharpened teeth, squinted eyes, and pointed ears. Next to him there is writing in broken English. This further distances the Japanese man as “the other” because he cannot speak American English. Lastly, the very name “Tokio Kid” is an incorrect spelling of the Japanese city of Tokyo.

The treatment of the Japanese in these posters would stimulate a underlying current of suspicion and perhaps even hatred toward Japanese Americans. This would lead to Executive Order  9066, which established internment camps. Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes and move to internment camps where they were trapped by barbed wire fences and guarded by sentries in guard towers around the clock. They were also forced to take Americanization classes, regardless of how long their family had been in America or if they were American citizens. George Takei shares his experience at an internment camp here.

Though negative propaganda posters exist that promote racism towards the Japanese American minority, other propaganda posters came into being that inspired better treatment of other minority groups in American society.

War requires soldiers. In the 1930s and 40s, only men were allowed to fight. War also requires weapons, vehicles, machines, equipment and other supplies. In the 1930s and 40s, men held most of the jobs manufacturing goods like these. When the men went to fight in World War II, millions of women took their places in the factories, providing necessary assistance to the war effort.

Women were seen as an asset to the American workforce. Perhaps the most famous World War II propaganda figure, Rosie the Riveter, came into being to promote a positive view of women in the workforce. African Americans were another minority shown in a positive light in propaganda posters during World War II which can be seen in, Defend American Freedom propaganda poster.

Wartime propoganda in 1940s America certainly had an influence on Americans and persuaded them in positive and negative ways. Posters, songs and films led to increase in enlistment, the sale of war bonds and the increase of women in the workforce, in many cases taking the jobs of men who had gone to war. But propaganda also triggered racism on a national level, which was even institutionalized in the form on internment camps for Japanese-Americans, German-Americans and other descendants of immigrants.

As you explore the artifacts thing about these questions:

Does the good of propaganda outweigh the bad?

Was propaganda successful?

Which form of propaganda do you think is most successful? Does it involve fear, duty, compassion or some combination of the three?

Does the government still use propaganda? In what ways can it be seen in the modern nation?

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