World War II and Propaganda
The year was 1939; the Nazi party, led by Adolf Hitler, was in power and Europe was in a state of distress and soon the whole world would be involved in a war that would devastate mankind for generations to come. World War II involved many great nations of the world, such as the Axis Powers: Germany, Italy, and Japan; and the Allied Powers: France, Britain, and Russia. On December 7, 1941, America would join the Allies after Japan attacked Hawaii’s coast at Pearl Harbor, Oahu. The war was a terrible fight; however, the fight wasn’t just fought on land, air, or water. There was a more subtle fight being fought by the Axis and Allied government’s movie makers and poster designers. These men and women played an important role in drawing up certain beliefs about their enemies and the war by spreading these types of thoughts to their fellow citizens to bring some type of unity for their nation. These psychological soldiers tried to promote a love for their country through the power of propaganda.
Propaganda is defined as, “ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). During World War II, Propaganda was a driving force that kept the battles heated and each nation’s population united for a common cause. When we look back at World War II and the times we were in, how effective was propaganda though? How was it represented, and what images would persuade the people of each country to fight in the war? Both countries, Germany and the United States, created vast promotions during the war that were degrading to their opposing sides. A great sense of nationalism was building up and these propagandists did anything to keep their country on top no matter how degrading and deceiving we could possibly be. They stereotyped and lied about their opponents just to heighten patriotism through posters and film and the images used in these types of propaganda by both governments took every flaw of our enemies and blew them out of proportion. While the United States promoted production and Germany uplifted xenophobic thoughts, both countries created a sense of nationalism and brought their countries together under fraudulent thoughts of their enemies.
One of the main reasons why World War II had a huge impact on the world was from propaganda because it promoted a great deal of industry and economic stability. When one thinks of how many people participated in the war, they probably only think of how many soldiers fought in the war and how many casualties there were. Due to the art of propaganda, most of the citizens from each country during World War II were acting participants because it lit a fire in everyone’s stomachs to help their country’s cause in whatever way possible. A teaching fellow at the Alabama Department of Archives and History wrote, “During World War II, the government undertook unprecedented campaigns to engage Americans in the war effort. Private business followed suit, often attempting to link their products with appeals to patriotism. Propaganda and advertisement sometimes became inextricably entwined in the process (AL Archives).” From gas to bail bonds, many companies used this advertising effect to lure consumers to buy their product, but promote patriotism at the same time. Poster designers created posters that promoted the building of tanks and other war materials to help the country and a good example of this is shown in the figure, “United We Win” (page 13). This poster of two young men working on an engine promotes the citizens of America to work harder so the army has more materials, implying that even normal citizens can take part in the war even if they are not fighting. Another good example of this is this next poster, “Production” (page 13). “Production” shows what Americans’ attitudes were and what we were aiming for to win the war. This poster is bold and it shows that if the people of the United States give a strong helping hand, they will win the war. Most posters like these ones were successful during this time because fighting wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea so this gave people a chance to help in more subtle ways.
Germany used similar tactics; however, they didn’t promote production as much as the United States did. Their propaganda campaign dealt with the promotion of nationalism and the Nazi party. Michael Balfour quoted Adolf Hitler’s words, “‘Propaganda, propaganda, propaganda. All that matters is propaganda’” (Balfour, pg. 11). Hitler was huge advocate of propaganda and so was Joseph Goebbels, his right hand man. Robert Edwin Herzstein, a scholar from New York University wrote, “Goebbels shared Hitler’s contempt for the masses as a herd that needed to be molded and that could be shaped and inspired. Propaganda was for these masses” (Hitler Won, pg. 223). He was the National Propaganda Leader of the NSDAP and the head of the propaganda campaign for the Nazi party as he helped set the attitude for Nazi Germany.
“The hostility to the intellect of the ‘little doctor,’ his contempt for the human race in general and the Jews in particular, and his complete cynicism were an expression of his own intellectual self-hatred and inferiority complexes, his overwhelming need to destroy everything sacred and ignite the same feelings of rage, despair and hatred in his listeners” (us-israel.org).
He spoke out to the people of Germany and they listened; he promoted Hitler and the hatred of the Jews and they followed. Goebbels promoted the views that all of Germany should be Aryan (blonde hair, blue eyes, etc.) and this lead to a lot of propagandist posters that aimed at recruits for the Nazi party an also the disgust of others who didn’t fall under these characteristics.
As Germany and its army aimed for the Jewish nation, they used posters to portray Jewish people as non-humans with deformities. Due to Hitler’s and Goebbel’s beliefs, the Nazi party aimed to destroy Jews, people with abnormalities, their enemies, and anyone who didn’t fall under the criteria of the perfect race, the Aryan race. Jay W. Baird, a professor for 20th Century Germany writes, “The Jew was a parasite. Not only did he differ from the Aryan race in body, but more significantly in soul, for the Jew had no soul” (Nazi Prop pg.6). The propaganda tactic that best showed this type of stereotypical view were the pictures of Jewish people and how different they were compared to Nazi soldiers. As shown in the poster on page 13 of the Jewish man, the Jews are depicted with big noses and are very ugly with hunched backs. The propagandists tried to disgust people to bring out their inner hate for Jews. As seen in the poster of the young Nazi man on page 13, this soldier is portrayed in perfect health and looks like a model. Of course he has blue eyes, blonde hair, and great bone structure and on most of the posters it says that all Nazi’s should kill people that look like the Jews. These posters were also successful because they helped the Nazi party grow and fulfill its goals of destroying the Jewish nation.
On the other hand, Germany wasn’t the only country that used dehumanizing views against their enemies. During the war, American propagandist and political cartoonist portrayed the Japanese as foolish and depraved, or as animals or monsters. During World War II, according to Paul Fussel, “Americans detested the Japanese the most, for only they had had the effrontery to attack the United States directly, sinking ships, killing sailors, and embarrassing American pretenses to alertness and combat adequacy” (Typecasting pg. 116). Most of the American propaganda posters, which portrayed the enemy as animals were aimed toward the Japanese, rendering their figures so they would be more sinister, animalistic, and savage. As seen in the “Take Day Off” poster on page 13, the Japanese man is buck toothed and his eyes have an evil glare. He is portrayed wanting the American people to lay back and not help so they can get the upper hand and attack us when our backs are turned. American poster makers portrayed the Japanese the same way as soldiers viewed them. Fussel also wrote, “Among the Allies the Japanese were also known as ‘jackals’ or ‘monkey-men’ or ‘sub-humans’……Personnel of the United States Marine Corps sought to popularize the term Japes (Japs + apes)” (Typecasting pg. 117). Many posters that were made by the Americans toward the Japanese showed them as animals and not humans and assisted in spreading these hateful attitudes all over the nation the American public.
Both countries did not just use posters to influence their nations; they needed a piece of advertisement that could reach everyone and fast. It had to be something that everyone would see on a regular bases and also be effective in installing propagandist thoughts. Both Germany and The United States used the art of film to persuade their countries to participate in the war and movie makers played a big part in making films that fulfilled these acts of propaganda.
For Germany, Joseph Goebbels was the man who came up with this brilliant idea. Goebbels task was to create propaganda, so he took his love for film and intertwined it with propaganda to make films that boggled peoples minds and some might say, “brain washed” the Germans. He believed the best way to reach the mass population of Germany would be through movies and newsreels. Herzstein also wrote,
“Goebbels played a major role in choosing subjects, editing, and distributing the ‘German Weekly Newsreel,’ the Deutsche Wochenschau (DW). This series, which reached great heights of technical and commercial success between 1940 and 1944, was the most effective Nazi medium of wartime propaganda” (Hitler Won, pg. 224).
People all over Germany would go to the theatre to see the newsreels and see what the war was like on the western front. These movies were perfect for the purpose of the Nazi party because they only showed select things to help their casue. Herzstein wrote, “The lifelike pictures, the powerful marches, the songs, the music, and the language are the expression of a new age which was molded by the boundless will to life of a nation united in National Socialism” (Hitler Won, pg. 225). Once Germans saw these films they would go and join the army to fight in the war because these films touched their patriotism and persuaded them into the Nazi party too help aid their country.
The United States also used the power of film development to promote Nationalistic views within Americans. Before movies in the theatres, newsreels were shown and most of these reels, during the war, persuaded people to help in the war attempt. The figure of Pearl Harbor is a picture of the Newsreel named Avenge December 7 (page 13). This is a piece of propaganda that tells people to take vengeance on the Japanese for their terrible attack on Pearl Harbor and it was broadcasted about one year after the attack. Avenge December 7 promotes people to buy bonds and stamps, so Americans can give their part to help gain a victory. The narrator of the film says, “Avenge December Seventh on to victory. Everyone in this theatre can know the personal pride and joy in taking part too. Sure you bought bonds and stamps, but when you buy this week, mark in you memory they’re bonds of vengeance. When you leave this theatre stop and remember that pearl morning just a year ago” (Avenge December 7). The film makers reach out to the American public and hit them in a sensitive spot. It was like they were digging the knife deeper into the American citizens back just to get them to buy bail bonds. Their reasoning behind this add was for the public to buy these stamps not only for themselves, but the brave soldiers who were at Pearl Harbor on December seventh. Companies used the power of propaganda to advertise their products and to promote a sense of nationalism and they were victorious on all fronts because again, Americans wanted to help out in every way and advertisers gave them these chances through the sale of petty products.
During time of war, the governments of the battling nations need their country men behind them and the use of propaganda to persuade the public to help in the war is one of the biggest weapons used. How effective was America and Germany and who had the biggest effect on their countries? Both Germany and America did a very good job in the sense that they accomplished their goals that they were aiming for with the use of propaganda. Germany implanted dehumanizing thoughts against the Jewish nation and also created a strong sense of nationalism. Nazi Germany built up one of the most powerful armies the world has ever seen, however they weren’t strong enough to withstand the powers of the United States. On the other side of the coin, The United States was more successful with their campaign of propaganda. Through propaganda, Americans promoted production so the American army would be supplied sufficiently and also the American people would have jobs. In the end, The United States and the Allied Powers won the war, so this shows that they were more effective in their attempt. They built a stronger feeling of nationalism within the American people which led to a greater will to win. The American public would go to the ends of the earth to win this war and this is the reason that The United States was more effective than Germany. Propaganda played a huge part in World War II for Germany and The United States and the power to control such a great tool was the greatest weapon both countries could have ever used.
http://www.archives.state.al.us/teacher/ww2/lesson2/ (AL Archives)
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Oxford University Press, 1974
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Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. 1979
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Logman Canada Limited. 1978
Paul Fussel. Typecasting
Allan M. Winkler. The Politics of Propaganda
Yale University Press. 1978
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Chelsea House Publishers. 1976