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Selling Total War with Posters


									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
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
….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
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
OWI frequently
used sex to
sell the war!

                 Join the Navy,
                 get the girl.
                 Those were the
Sex sold, even
down in Dogpatch!
The most important message of all, though, was affirmation
of who and what we were!

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