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Guns, tanks, and bombs were the principal weapons of World War II, but there were other, more subtle forms of warfare as well. Words, posters, and films waged a constant battle for the hearts and minds of the American citizenry just as surely 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 aggressive propaganda campaign with clearly articulated goals and strategies to galvanize public support, and it recruited some of the nation's foremost intellectuals, artists, and filmmakers to wage the war on that front. Posters are the focus of this online exhibit, based on a more extensive exhibit that was presented in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, from May 1994 to February 1995. It explores the strategies of persuasion as evidenced in the form and content of World War II posters. Quotes from official manuals and public leaders articulate how the Government sought to rally public opinion in support of the war's aims; quotes from popular songs and sayings attest to the success of the campaign that helped to sustain the war effort throughout the world-shaking events of World War II.




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Masculine strength was a common visual theme in patriotic posters. Pictures of powerful men and mighty machines illustrated America's ability to channel its formidable strength into the war effort. American muscle was presented in a proud display of national confidence.


A study of commercial posters undertaken by the U.S. Government found that images of women and children in danger were effective emotional devices. The Canadian poster at right was part of the study and served as a model for American posters, such as the one below, that adopted a similar visual theme.


Public relations specialists advised the U.S. Government that the most effective war posters were the ones that appealed to the emotions. The posters shown here played on the public's fear of the enemy. The images depict Americans in imminent danger-their backs against the wall, living in the shadow of Axis domination.


Concerns about national security intensify in wartime. During World War II, the Government alerted citizens to the presence of enemy spies and saboteurs lurking just below the surface of American society. "Careless talk" posters warned people that small snippets of information regarding troop movements or other logistical details would be useful to the enemy. Well-meaning citizens could easily compromise national security and soldiers' safety with careless talk.


The Government tried to identify the most effective poster style. One government-commissioned study concluded that the best posters were those that made a direct, emotional appeal and presented realistic pictures in photographic detail. The study found that symbolic or humorous posters attracted less attention, made a less favorable impression, and did not inspire enthusiasm. Nevertheless, many symbolic and humorous posters were judged to be outstanding in national poster competitions during the war.


This online exhibit features 11 posters, 2 audio files and a video from a more extensive exhibition that was on view at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, from May 1994 to February 1995. Like the original, this exhibit is divided into two parts, which represent two psychological approaches used in rallying public support for World War II.


Western fear of Communism had been growing since the Russian revolution, and by the close of World War 2, the uneasy peace between the Western superpowers and the Soviet Union was faltering. The state used propaganda posters as a vehicle to disseminate communist ideology and promote their world view.


Soviet art traded exclusively in the imagery of an imagined future. Vibrant posters with messages of hope, unity and friendship provided encouragement to the everyday worker. Soviet artists had unabridged creative freedom as long as the state was portrayed in a positive light. With their stark simplicity and bold colours, propaganda posters were a part of the texture of everyday life in the Soviet Union, and reflect the officially approved history as it was experienced by its citizens.


Recently, my interest in these posters has been revived and refocused. I was doing a bit of research to find National Archives documents related to the National Park Service for our Wednesday partner program, and I was struck by the frequent use of the Statue of Liberty in these posters.


While that alone might not be so shocking, I was surprised with how flexible she was as a symbol. The Statue of Liberty was used by the government to encourage people to conserve wheat, buy war bonds, and work harder in factories. The colors, slogans, and overall tone of these posters are even more varied. And I immediately thought these posters could be a good basis for an engaging Common Core task for writing an informative/explanatory text.


Several other posters created during both world wars would use the Statue of Liberty. Though they might have different intended audiences, messages, and tones, they all looked her way for inspiration.


That in no way means that we are condoning the racism of these posters. Quite the contrary. We hope that you recognize how racism is used to incite anger and motivate Americans to fight and sacrifice.


These posters were propaganda. The purpose of propaganda, after all, is to manipulate, to shape perceptions and further a cause. These posters were effective at that. All of the Pearl Harbor propaganda posters are meant to further U.S. patriotism. Most were positive, but some are specifically anger inducing.


The ultimate superfluous purchase, a white elephant, reminds citizens to be mindful of extravagance, and to exercise frugal spending habits. In contrast to many later posters, it uses humour to convey its message.


For those fascinated by Soviet graphic design and communist history, posters are an easy way to start a collection. Their topics touch on the environment, health, film and space exploration, as well as classic propaganda, depicting Lenin, Soviet workers and Stalin's five-year plans.


Russian and international collectors are enthralled by the history, subject matter and extraordinary graphic imagery of posters produced from 1917 to 1991. Prices have increased considerably since the Soviet Union broke up. Chisholm Larsson's founder, Robert Chisholm, says that posters bought in 1991 are probably worth three-times the amount today. In some cases they could be worth much more.


Older posters can fetch much higher prices. Pre-Second World War Soviet posters, in particular, are in demand. Though most Soviet posters were produced in print runs of 30,000 to 60,000, they were meant to be posted on walls and then disposed of, so few older examples have survived.


Swann Auction Galleries in New York plans to auction several Klutsis posters in April, including two from 1930 that they expect could sell for as much as much as $15,000 each. A 1923 Rodchenko poster advertising the state airline Dobrolet is estimated to fetch $20,000 to $30,000 at the same sale. Other works by these artists have sold for as much as $50,000.


Original Soviet posters will include the print run, date and often the artist's name. Before they buy, collectors also should factor in gallery and auction house commissions and other costs. Lowry said cheaper posters can just be kept in a poster tube somewhere dry, but Grigorian insures his posters and stores them in a special art storage unit.


Many collectors mount valuable, fragile posters on acid-free paper attached to canvas to protect them and to allow restoration. Collectors should never display valuable posters without a frame with a UV filter, or they can quickly fade in the sun.


Early Canadian Second World War propaganda, produced largely under the auspices of the Bureau of Public Information, was informative, word- rather than image-driven, and often relied on humour to relay its messages. Later, wartime demands led to a change of tactics. More aggressive, design-driven, and often sombre propaganda campaigns focused on building unity, harnessing collective energy, and demonstrating the evils of fascism. They also celebrated Canadian achievements in combat, and inspired people with the promise of a better postwar world. (Canadian War Museum)


Before social media, calling on the phone and meeting at restaurants, bars, theatres, church and shops were important ways to keep informed. Posters like the two above warned Canadians to watch what they said. Spies could be listening to sensitive information like the location and plans of Allied forces. This is summed up in the saying, "loose lips sinks ships" which appeared (along with many variations) in other posters.


When you think of the weapons of WWII, what comes to mind? Planes, tanks, money? Bullets, machine-guns, and grenade launchers? Yes, all of these were important tools in the effort to win the war. But so was information. In this case, government issued information. Over the course of the war the U.S. government waged a constant battle for the hearts and minds of the public. Persuading Americans to support the war effort became a wartime industry, just as important as producing bullets and planes. The U.S. government produced posters, pamphlets, newsreels, radio shows, and movies-all designed to create a public that was 100% behind the war effort. 041b061a72