Poster Art from WW2
Bombs, tanks, and guns were the primary weapons of World War II, but there were other, more elusive, forms of warfare too. Posters, films, and words waged a relentless battle for the hearts and minds of the American people just as clearly as military weapons engaged the enemy. Persuading the American public became a wartime industry, almost as important as the manufacturing of bullets and planes. The Government launched an antagonistic propaganda campaign to galvanize public support, and some of the nation’s foremost intellectuals, artists, and filmmakers became warriors on that front.
These posters motivate the observer by instilling confidence, patriotism, and a positive outlook. Patriotic shades of red, white, and blue prevail. Pictures of fists, muscles, weapons, and artillery convey American might. American heroes and well-known national symbols appeal to patriotism.
- Four Freedoms
- Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, Or Do Without
- It’s a Woman’s War Too!
- Man the Guns!
- United We Win
These posters catapult the viewer out of their complacency with grim, unromantic visions of war. Depictions of the human cost of war, confronting the viewer with corpses, bloodshed, and gravestones dominate this group. These images appeal to darker impulses, fostering feelings of suspicion, fear, and even hate.
- Warning! Our Homes Are in Danger Now
- This is Nazi Brutality
- He’s Watching You
- He Knew the Meaning of Sacrifice
- Stamp ’em Out!
President Roosevelt was a talented communicator. On January 6, 1941, he addressed Congress, giving the historical “Four Freedoms” speech. At a time when Western Europe lay under Nazi domination, Roosevelt presented a vision where the American ideals of individual freedoms were expanded around the planet. Alarming Congress as well as the state of the requirement of war, Roosevelt stated the ideological purposes of the struggle. Eloquently, he appealed to Americans’ most deep beliefs about independence.
The address is so inspired illustrator Norman Rockwell that he created a string of paintings on the “Four Freedoms” topic. In the set, he interpreted subjective notions of liberty into four scenes of everyday American life. Even though the Government initially rejected Rockwell’s offer to make paintings on the “Four Freedoms” subject, the pictures were freely circulated when The Saturday Evening Post, among the country’s most popular magazines, commissioned and copied the paintings. After gaining public acceptance, the paintings served as the centerpiece of a massive U.S. war bond drive and were put into service to help clarify the war’s purposes.
Man the Guns!
Manly strength proved to be a common visual theme in patriotic posters. Images of strong men and minimums machines illustrated America’s skill to channel its formidable strength into the war effort. American strength was presented in a proud show of national self-assurance.
It’s a Woman’s War Too!
In the face of acute wartime labor shortages, girls were wanted in the defense sectors, the civilian service, and yet the Armed Forces. Even with the continuing 20th-century tendency of women going into the work force, marketing efforts were aimed at those girls who’d never before held occupations. Poster and movie pictures glorified and glamorized the jobs of working girls and indicated that a girl’s femininity do not need to be given. Whether executing their responsibility in the house, factory, office, or military, women were depicted as appealing assured and purposed to do their part of winning the war.
Of all pictures of working women during the Second World War, the picture of women in factories predominates. Rosie the Riveter–the powerful, capable woman dressed in overalls and bandanna–was introduced as a sign of patriotic womanhood. The accouterments of war work–uniforms, tools, and lunch pails–were integrated into the revised picture of the female ideal.
United We Win
In spite of obvious racial discrimination and segregation in the military and civilian life, the overwhelming majority of black Americans participated wholeheartedly in the struggle against the Axis powers. They did so, nevertheless, with an eye towards accommodating American ideals of equality with American practices of discrimination. This goal was expressed in the call, originated in the black press, for the “Double ‘V’”–success through fascism abroad and through racism at home.
The Government was well aware of the demoralizing effects of racial bias on the African American people. In its marketing efforts, the Government presented an idealized view of race relations in The United States. Racial tensions vanished in descriptions of black Americans as full and equal participants in American society. The pictures of racial harmony belied the deep feelings of unrest that, on occasion, erupted into episodes of ethnic violence during the war years.
Warning! Our Homes are in Danger Now!
Poster makers used anxiety to assemble the people. In the lack of any immediate physical risk, American propagandists exaggerated the physical closeness of enemy forces. Though divided by the real war by vast spaces, Americans seemed within arm’s reach of the enemy. They were revealed to be in certain risk–their backs against the wall and living in the shadow of Axis domination.
This is Nazi Brutality
Most of the anxiety-inspiring posters depicted Nazi acts of atrocity. Although brutality is consistently part of war, the atrocities of World War II were so dreadful, and of such magnitude, as to engender a brand new type of offense–crimes against humanity. The pictures here were composed to cultivate anxiety. Implied in these posters is the notion that what happened there could happen here.
Lidice was a Czech mining hamlet which was obliterated by the Nazis in retaliation for the 1942 shooting of a Nazi official by two Czechs. All men of the village were killed in a 10-hour massacre; the girls and children were sent to concentration camps. The destruction of Lidice became a symbol for the brutality of Nazi occupation during the Second World War.
He’s Watching You
Interests about national security intensify in wartime. During the Second World War, the Authorities alarmed citizens to the existence of enemy spies and saboteurs lurking just below the facade of American society. In an effort that appeared to encourage a moderate paranoia, “careless chat” posters warned folks that little fragments of information regarding troop movements or alternative logistical aspects would be helpful to the enemy. Well, meaning citizens could easily endanger national security and soldiers’ safety with thoughtless conversation.
A girl–someone who could resemble the audience’s neighbor, sister, wife, or daughter–was revealed on a “desired” poster as an unwitting murderess. The audience was to reason this girl’s thoughtless conversation resulted in the departure of American soldiers.
A minimum of one audience expressed objection to the selection of a female model. A letter from a resident of Hawaii to the Office of War Information reads, in part, “American girls that are knitting, rolling bandages, working long hours at war occupations and then carrying on with ‘girls’s work’ at home–in short, taking through the innumerable drab obligations to which no wages and no glory are attached, resent these unwarranted and presumptuous accusations that don’t have any basis in fact, but from the time-worn gags of paper amusing guys.”