Source: German Propaganda Archive, Calvin University
This poster translates: "Unshakable, determined to fight, certain of victory! "(German Propaganda Archive). Typical themes in German Propaganda posters were anti-Semitism, a call to the labor force, support and loyalty for Hitler, paper and clothing drives, as well as special programs, such as programs to send children to the countryside for safety.
Many of the themes overlapped with American messages. However, as one examines the collection of war posters as a whole, it becomes apparent that both sides had entirely different agendas and different techniques for getting the message across. American posters were more personal and used imagery that captured the audience and pulled at their heartstrings. German posters were often unrealistic in their presentation.
The Office of War Information
There were several forms of media available during World War II. However, there were several reasons for the choice to use posters as the medium of choice for the war campaign. The first was that they were inexpensive and could be produced rapidly. There was a need to bring the urgency of the war to the home front. In 1942 the Office of War Information (OWI) launched a sophisticated distribution campaign for getting the posters where they were needed (Ellis). They became the primary center for government poster design and production. However, the demand for war posters was too high and they soon had to rely on the military, individual branches of the government and large corporations such as General Electric to help produce and distribute posters (Ellis). The Boy Scouts of America was instrumental in placing the posters on a local level (Ellis).
Eventually, the demand for posters was so high that the OWI turned to Madison Avenue advertisers and commercial illustrators to create ad campaigns. This shift changed the design and graphics of the posters, but the content remained the same (Ellis). The posters elicited emotions in the American people and sent the message that actions the behavior of every individual on the home front would have an impact on the battlefront. They could easily be printed in newspapers and magazines for mass distribution.
Freedom of Press
There is not doubt that the United States Government used the media in all forms to control the population for their own benefit. Raw news from the battlefront had to pass through many filters, in the name of security, before it could be distributed to the masses (Herman and Chomsky). This was necessary in order to launch the coordinated media blitz that sparked the American citizen into action. There are some that speculate that the outcome of the war would have been different if the media campaign were not a success (Herman and Chomsky).
World War II changed the way Americans viewed the media and the relationship between the government and the media. The American public became more tolerant of biased media because they saw that the need for victory as a higher priority than individual freedoms at that time. However, it can be argued that this set the stage for a permanent change in the role of the media that still continues today. Production of war poster, news articles and other forms of print media at the direction of the U.S. government and large corporations changed these relationships. Where they were once considered to be disconnected, the relationship had changed and it was now acceptable for them to work together for the common good.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, a principle that was established with the primary goal of giving the people a voice to control their own destiny. However, in World War II, the people were willing to compromise this mechanism. It can be argued that they never gained back control of the press and that the media then became a tool for controlling American thought and American destiny.
The war poster campaign of World War II was funded by the government. After World War II, financing fell into the hands of the advertisers. The media cannot print something that goes against the hand that feeds. This new attitude quickly moved from popular magazines to the new media, television. Advertisers seek programs that will get the audience in the mood to buy (Herman and Chomsky). The content is no longer meant to convey the raw truth, but rather to get the customer in the right mood so that the message can be delivered with the greatest impact.
Corporate sponsorship or programming, newspaper and magazine content are evidence of this trend that started with the war poster program. The war poster program taught big business how to control Americans to get the desired effect. They learned to fine-tune their messages to achieve the maximum effect. These techniques form the backbone of advertising today. The ability to get the audience to identify with the model is a key concept that came from the war poster program. The messages were direct and to the point. Advertisers now know that this is the best way to present any message that they wish to convey.
American war posters were necessary in order to provide the government with the materials and labor force that was needed to win. The American propaganda campaign may have been one of the most successful in history. However, the German campaign, even though it took a different approach could be considered to be equally successful. Both propaganda campaigns had the effect of rallying the public for the cause. Never before in history has print media been used to change the attitudes and perceptions of society to the extreme that it was in World War II.
Both sides depended on print media as a part of the effort to gain support for their vision and cause. They developed many techniques that are still used extensively in all types of media today. Americans learned how to make an audience identify with a model and how to engage the audience in a way that made them take action. They portrayed pictures that were of the typical American next door. They were painted in a way that they seemed to leap off of the page and speak to the viewer. They made the war every American's problem and called every one to take action that would help the war effort.
The necessities of World War II changed America's relationship with its journalists and correspondents. Their role changed from that of an unbiased reporter to a tool that could be used to control public thought and opinion. World War II necessitated censorship for the protection of troops and the success of the war effort. This concept is still being challenged by many in the media today. When one examines the evidence, there us an overwhelming support for the hypothesis that World War II taught the American government how to use print media to influence public opinion, and that they still use this tool today.
Ellis, R. Getting the Message Out: The Poster Boys of World War II, Part 2. Government Archives. Summer 2005, Vol. 37, No. 2. http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/summer/posters-2.html
Floyd McKay, www.commondreams.orgThe Seattle Times, February 19, 2006.
Herman, E. And Chomsky, N. Manufacturing Consent. Pantheon Books, 1988.
Keppler, V. Wanted! For Murder. NARA Still Picture Branch. (NWDNS-208-PMP-91). 1944. Nat'l Archives and Records Administration (NARA) (2007). Powers of Persuasion. Retrieved November 27, 2007 at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/hes_watching_you/images_html/wanted_for_murder.html
Martin, D. Above and Beyond the Call of Duty. Printed by the Government
Printing Office for the Office of War Information. NARA Still Picture Branch
Miller, J. We Can Do it!. Produced by Westinghouse for the War Production Co-Coordinating Committee NARA Still Picture Branch (NWDNS-179-WP-1563). www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/its_a_womans_war_too/images_html/we_can_do_it.html
Nat'l Archives and Records Administration (NARA) (2007). Powers of Persuasion. Retrieved November 27, 2007 at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/powers_of_persuasion/hes_watching_you/images_html/wanted_for_murder.html