Propaganda Americana in the Great War

The word propaganda is considered to be negative: it suggests lying, exaggeration, and manipulation. But if propaganda can be defined as spreading information to support a cause, then it could be a good thing.

Almost every country and organization uses some kind of propaganda. The U.S. began to use domestic propaganda in an organized way during World War One. Generally speaking, the goal was to use patriotism to gain support for the war. More specifically, the government wanted soldiers to enlist, and for the civilian population to conserve food and buy war bonds.

You might recognize this very famous image that was introduced on the July 6, 1916 issue of Leslie’s Weekly, nine months before the United States entered the Great War:

Library of Congress

 

Propaganda in art is typically done to elicit an emotional response, as this poster does:

 

While the image of a motherly woman imploring you to save food does elicit a warm emotion, negative emotions can be useful propaganda, too. This 1918 image features a huge gorilla wading out of the water, onto American shores. In the distance, Europe lies in ruins. The gorilla is wearing a pickelhaube (that’s the spiked helmet Germans wore during World War One). He is carrying an unconscious woman, and carrying a bloody club labelled Kultur.

Library of Congress

This image depicts Liberty as a placid sleeping woman, while a dark shadow is creeping up. A man in a gas mask can be seen rushing forward. This image was designed by James Montgomery Flagg, the same man who designed the first Uncle Sam photo.

 

This one urges children to get involved and help their country with the war effort. I have to admit, I think this one is a little creepy. Does Uncle Sam really need to carry that girl? Maybe this could double as part of a Beware of Strangers campaign.

 

The last poster for this post shows Liberty sewing seeds in a garden. Conserving food was an important theme during the first World War. This poster uses an emotional appeal too, which is that no one wanted to miss being part of a great victory. This message was designed to appeal to Americans to grow their own food, and was designed by the prolific James Montgomery Flagg.

 

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