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Selling “the Good War” with Posters Presented by Abraham J. Shragge, Ph.D. Early in World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Office of War Information by executive order. The purpose of the OWI was to inform Americans and others “of the status and progress of the war effort and of the war policies, activities, and aims of the Government.” Certainly, one of the main aims of the government was to forge a strong consensus among the American people—the sense that we were all in this together. And that indeed is one of our most cherished cultural memories of the World War II era: that the nation had pulled together as never before to defeat its enemies. One of OWI’s major efforts entailed the production of thousands of posters, among which several themes occur on a regular basis: •Demonization of the enemy •Appeals to personal probity, competence, good behavior, consensus, and generosity •American superiority •Sex The combined thematic messages in these two posters urge hard work and safe driving in order to defeat the vicious and degenerate Japanese enemy. Germans, most often represented by Hitler, were rarely given the same demonizing treatment as the Japanese…. ….although in some instances Germans and Japanese received equal treatment. Below is an OWI poster painted by leading American artist Thomas Hart Benton entitled “Sowing the Seeds.” OWI posters promoted such personal virtues as careful, ethical behavior and unrelenting hard work…. ….health, hygiene and nutrition…… ….volunteerism and thrift. Bottom line: OWI posters actively recruited women into the war effort in many different varieties of civilian occupations…. ….and into all branches of military service as well. Note the promise on the Navy poster: “Same Grades—Same Pay—As For Men.” Even so, gender roles remained unequal, as these posters suggest. The Navy was looking for educated, capable, virtuous, and feminine women. WAVES appear as both glamorous and serious, possessing a conventional feminine appearance, wearing Women who enlisted in the Navy also blush, lipstick and nail polish, suffered from the stereotype that even as they performed they were overly masculine, or at the manicure-marring work: rigging other extreme, government- parachutes and operating radios. sanctioned prostitutes. This Obviously, many WAVES did not produced a public relations resemble the young, Caucasian, challenge for the Navy. perfectly-proportioned poster gals. OWI posters offered lessons on the value of acceptance of ethnic diversity and the totality of the war effort, at least up to a point…. There was such a creature as a “good Asian.” Compare the representation of the visages of the Chinese at left to the Japanese below. Consensus was an important component of the push for the Big V, even in the contentious arena of labor-management relations. OWI frequently used sex to sell the war! Join the Navy, get the girl. Those were the days! Sex sold, even down in Dogpatch! The most important message of all, though, was affirmation of who and what we were!
"Selling Total War with Posters"