Digital History>Topics>Propaganda Posters

Overview

Digital History TOPIC ID 58

Loose Lips Sink Ships Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without. She Has a War Job - Have You? Can All You Can

These posters were intended to rouse the nation’s spirit and convey a sense of common purpose. They promoted patriotism, productivity, and sacrifice. They helped convince Americans during World War II to put up with shortages, obey rationing rules, and maintain wartime secrecy.

To help unify the nation and encourage a sense of purpose and determination, the federal government information services and established the Office of War Information in 1942.

Posters that announced ‘V for Victory’ helped overcome self-doubts and unite a disparate nation, bridging divisions of class, ethnicity, and region.

They also explained why the United States was at war. A series of posters created by Norman Rockwell for The Saturday Evening Post illustrated President Franklin D. Roosevelt's contention that the United States was fighting to preserve four essential freedoms both at home and abroad: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. To demonstrate that this was a peoples’ war, a democratic war, many posters focused on an ordinary man or woman.

Hatred and bigotry were used much less in the posters of World War II than in World War I. Archibald MacLeish, a poet and assistant director of the OWI said:

I hate Nazism and Fascism and all their works. But the campaigns of personal hatreds, of hatred for whole nations of human beings, are disgusting to me. There is a clear difference between the hatred of persons and the hatred of evil.

Still, some posters demonized our enemies, depicting the Japanese as bucktoothed monsters in thick glasses and Italians as buffoons. One showed a Nazi sowing a field of skulls.

Racial prejudice was a particularly contentious point during the war. African American men had to put up with segregation and confinement primarily to menial jobs. But the government was eager to contrast fascism and Nazism with American ideals of freedom and democracy. To persuade women to advance the war effort by working in factories and offices, some posters emphasized the importance of ‘woman power.’ One powerful image depicted Rosie the Riveter, a strong, competent factory worker in overalls and bandanna.

To see the posters, click on:

The Powers of Persuasion: Poster Art from World War II http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/powers_of_persuasion/powers_of_persuasion_home.html

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