Museum Exhibition Proposal: The Representation of War in Print Media
This museum exhibition will explore how war has been represented in print media from the start on World War I up until the Vietnam War. The exhibition will show examples of items published in newspapers, magazines, and videos or on posters from the different wars that were published around the war, in order to show the distinct differences between how these wars were represented by the various countries involved. The idea of war propaganda is one that has clearly shifted throughout history. In the wars that occurred in the first half of the 20th century, propaganda was used in the United States to encourage Americans to help out in any way possible.
War propaganda comes in many forms and also has many purposes. According to Chambers during World War One, “The function of posters was to inform, instruct, or suggest new ways of looking at the war. Their central ideas had either to correspond to the mentality and ideas of the viewer or had to manipulate his ideas in a positive or negative manner.” (Chambers, 1983). Since the United States was not directly involved at the beginning of the war, one can potentially say that war propaganda from other countries did not affect America. Since the United States was “the greatest neutral” in the war, they had to maintain a balance between what sides they were supporting. In Europe, the Germans created flyers that made it look as though the French were blaming the war on the British. One flyer that the Germans published that has a dying soldier on it, stated “…c’est la faute aux Auglais!” which means it is the fault of the English (Lavine and Wechsler, 1972). After the sinking of the Lusitania and the U.S. entering World War One, the propaganda that was created by United States’ Department of State, was to show that the war was “to make the world safe for democracy, self-determination, peace without victory – all were concepts indigenous to America. Only the United States went to war against Germany for them” (Lavine and Wechsler, 1972).
A fair amount of war propaganda that was created by the U.S. Department of State during World War One and World War Two was to convince citizens to buy bonds in order to aid to military financially. The illustrations on the posters were often related to the patriotism of Americans, like one that uses the Statue of Liberty to sell war bonds (Foner, 2016). This type of propaganda was unique to the United States because other countries, especially Germany tried to show off their power in their posters. One World War One German poster entitled “We Are Barbarians,” shows that Germany is more distinguished than England and France in Nobel Prizes, provision for the elderly, book publication, education, and literacy (Foner, 2016). Once World War Two came around in 1939, Germany took to targeting leaders in their propaganda. News articles tried to establish all the things that Hitler was doing right while simultaneously bashing the moves of the Allies. In an article written by Kari Alenius, there are many examples of German propaganda used in Estonia, in an attempt to successfully make Estonians cooperate with Germany and show that the reason for Estonia’s liberation from the Soviets was solely because of the German forces. The front page of an Estonian newspaper, the Estonian Daily Postimees, published August 7th, 1941 announced that nearly 900,000 Soviet soldiers had been taken to prisoner of war camps by the Germans (Alenius, 2012). The posters the Germans created included those that either praised Hitler or called out leaders like Churchill. A poster that was published In Estonia by the Germans simply said, “Hitler the Savior,” in order to remind the Estonians that Hitler and his forces had everything to do with the state of Estonia (Alenius 55). On the U.S. side, propaganda did not try to go after other countries, but rather attempted to gain participation from the American citizens, primarily by trying to get citizens to but war bonds.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States entered WWII while in the midst of extreme racial segregation. The Bracero Program (1942) was agreed upon by the Mexican and American governments, which allowed tens of thousands of laborers to cross into America to compensate for the wartime labor shortage. This program-initiated propaganda styles that promoted Mexicans in the U.S. as being very loyal to the United States despite their ethnic heritage (Foner, 2016). During this time, the NAACP was fighting for an end to segregation, which would have also increased African Americans participation in war efforts. Propaganda that the U.S. Department of State was publishing was mainly targeted at working-class white families, even though there were other groups of people willing to put forth an effort to defend the country.
Various types of propaganda were used during the Cold War and the Vietnam War. Instead of trying to trigger the patriotism in people, propaganda was clearly opposing the idea of communism in America and other countries. The concept of communism overtaking the United States was very real in the 1950’s. This issue got so big that there were anticommunist movies being produced in Hollywood, in order to make American citizens aware that communism could destroy the freedoms of America (Foner, 2016). While this scare was one that everyone had to deal with, during the Vietnam war the U.S. propaganda plan for propaganda tried to use communism to its advantage. Aware of the issues in Vietnam the U.S. wanted to evoke a strong feeling of nationalism in its citizens, while also having the citizens believe that their role in Vietnam was justified and that they need to combat the Viet Cong. By creating an image that showed that a victory for South Vietnam was the only option and creating an anti-communist image, the United States took great efforts to justify their involvement in Vietnam (Chandler, 1981). The American people were not fully behind the U.S. engagement in Vietnam, and many protests broke out, which led the American government to attempt to justify their decision to deploy troops and fight a war that they did not have to get involved in.
Whether or not propaganda is a positive or negative part of war is not something this exhibition will look at, but rather it will show that based on the war that is being fought, countries’ propaganda campaigns will change in order to get support from their citizens. A very important aspect of war is a country’s ability to gain support and participation from its citizens, and through the way war is represented in propaganda can have a major impact on the citizens’ contributions to the war.