This museum exhibition will look at the use of propaganda in the media as a persuasion technique to either encourage or discourage the war effort throughout the 20th century. In particular, this project will examine the use of propaganda as persuasion used by the United States and their enemies throughout World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War.
Many people think that when it comes to war the most important aspect is having boots on the ground and the best weaponry, but a very vital tool in the war effort is propaganda. Propaganda is used to inform and persuade the general public into believing the agenda that the government is trying to push. World War I showed a shift in how the way wars were fought, for the first time the men, women, and children at home were involved. World War I began to involve the whole nation, not just the men who were fighting. At the start of World War I the United States was not involved and remained neutral. Due to the fact that the United States remained neutral they were able to trade with all the countries involved, which gave them great economic success. It was not until the sinking of the Lusitania that the United States got involved. Although, the United States did not officially enter World War I until almost two years after the sinking of the Lusitania, it was the start of the United States public opinion to shift their views on the Germans. After the United States joined the war, it was the government’s job to convince the people at home to support the war “Over There”. “The use of propaganda art was essential in galvanizing opinions and reshaping ideas during WWI. Both the Central Powers and Allied Powers used propaganda to encourage citizens to not only join the army, but to also engage in certain desirable social behaviors at home to assist in the war effort such as purchasing war bonds and conserving food and other physical resources” (Kaminsky, 2014). In 1917 President Woodrow Wilson established the Committee on Public Information. He created this to essentially work as a government sanctioned propaganda machine. The United States used the themes of nationalism and patriotism in their propaganda to pull support from the public.
Similar to World War I, World War II propaganda had the theme of always supporting the war effort, with the underlying themes of nationalism and patriotism. There were two main agencies that were in charge of propaganda, the Writers War Board and the United States Office of War Information. Essentially, the Writers War Board were in charge of the creation of propaganda, and the United States Office of War Information (OWI) was in charge of distribution of propaganda. The United States during World War II used propaganda to link the home front to the front lines. “The maintenance of civilian morale during WWII was considered by all the warring nations as a vital part of the war effort, essentially because of its direct bearing on industrial production” (Vallée, 2012). While men were sent overseas to fight, women were encouraged to take up jobs that did not fit the societal gender norms such as riveters, electricians, and welders. The United States released propaganda to promote women in the workforce, this is where the cultural icon “Rosie the Riveter” was created (Welch, 2017). World War II created a new style in United States propaganda themes as the war went on. Instead of having propaganda boosting patriotic feelings, the government created media to instill fear in citizens. “Both in the United States and in Britain, Hitler was represented as a threat to the war effort in all its forms (the battle for production, the fight against loose talk or against waste) and at the same time, as a malignant omnipresence on the look-out for any weakness on the part of the ordinary citizen” (Vallée, 2012).
After World War II the Nazi party was disbanded and the immenent threat of the Germans was gone, but a new threat came to the public eye which was communism. The true threat of communism started when the Soviet Union successfully tested a nuclear bomb and when Mao Zedong’s communist party took over China. Soon the entire United States became afraid of communism and being the victims of a nuclear attack. Due to the constant threat of being nuked the United States citizens needed a way to feel safe. “As the government repeatedly admonished, the public would be largely responsible for defending itself in the event of a nuclear war. ‘Civil defense’ mean precisely that: the defence of the public by the public. The role assigned assigned to the household in Cold War national security planning was a consequence of this fundamental premise…survival would be largely be a do-it-yourself enterprise” (Rawnsley, 1999). The United States government used the citizen’s fear of communism in their propaganda campaign as the central theme. After World War II the OWI was disbanded because there was no need for a distribution of propaganda but, “Cold War tensions revived the need for official propaganda. In August 1953 the United States Information Agency (USIA) was created; it exists to this day in a symbiotic relationship with the State Department” (Culbert, 1990). Communism remained a threat for many decades to the American people. Communism was not just feared during the Cold War it was also the biggest fear during the Vietnam war. The United States was trying to prevent the Domino theory during their involvement in Vietnam. “The ‘Domino theory’ coined by President Eisenhower in 1954 could be seen as the first propaganda effort to justify U.S. assistance for South Vietnamese government. The theory emphasized on the strategic importance of South Vietnam in an effort to prevent the spread of communism throughout the world” (Culbert, 1990). Propaganda used during the Cold War and the Vietnam war were based off of the fear Americans had about communism taking over.
This project will analyze the different themes the United States used in their propaganda and how it has changed depending on the American people’s view on the war. This project will analyze the propaganda used to persuade the public into supporting the war. Due to the different wars the United States has been involved in, the project will look at the specific themes of propaganda at the time.
Beginning with WWI this project will examine the propaganda used to promote patriotism and nationalism within the country. It will then transition to propaganda posters of WWII and how they used similiar nationalistic ideas and promoted conservation in the propaganda. The project will then shift to the Cold War and the Vietnam War and show how propaganda has changed from pushing nationalistic pride to enstilling fear to support the war effort.