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The Use of Propaganda During World War Ii

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The use of propaganda has been around pretty much since people were able to publicly voice opinions. That is precisely what it is for- to persuade anyone who sees it to believe its message and agree with the opinion it symbolized. Propaganda was especially abundant during the 1940’s, during World War II. During that period, it was widespread all over the world to make all citizens see how cruel and corrupt the rest of the world had become, and to increase patriotism for their own country. Several articles were able to go in depth on the positive and negative effects of propaganda in the United States in that era.

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Kathleen M. Ryan wrote an article in Visual Studies called, “‘Don’t miss your great opportunity’: patriotism and propaganda in Second World War recruitment.” The article outlines the effect that propaganda had on people living in the United States during World War II. Many campaigns were specifically targeted at women, encouraging them to enter the civilian and military workforce. Her article analyses the female recruitment poster campaigns of the Navy and Coast Guard. It argues that the posters successfully used specific visuals to counteract rumours about the character of military women, instilling the pin-up girls as ideal models to create an image of women which both appealed to the women being recruited and gave their families a worry-free, pleasant image to think of as opposed to the once looked down upon female career choice. By employing and redirecting traditional notions of femininity, the U.S military was able to convince so many typical 1940s women to serve their country in a way no one had been able to do before. The article describes the several ways, women in war being a prime example, of how propaganda can not only inspire specific desired behavior, but also redefine societal norms. This is a positive use of posters, but it did distract the women and their families from realizing that what they were entering was not just some all-American benefit, it was also full gruesome tragedies and their lives would be at stake every day. I think that is the argument that this specific article lacks, the truth behind what the propaganda had these women signing up for.

Propaganda would not only be used to promote the positive aspects of war, such as women getting involved in the previously discussed article, but it would also promote certain negative behavior. As Nancy Brcak and John Pavia explain in their article, “Racism in Japanese and U.S. Wartime Propaganda,” racism was being heavily pumped into the minds of citizens. They share the ways that racist propaganda actually had a huge impact on the way other races would be viewed. In the article, they state, “Race was an integral component of propaganda for both sides. For years East Asians referred to Westerners as ‘long-nosed, red-skinned barbarians.” then use examples of Japanese phrases used to describe Americans and vice versa. The article continues, “For the United States, race played an equally important role. This suggestion raises the hackles of many participants and contemporaries. After all, Americans saw themselves as the ‘good guys.’ The Nazis were racists, and the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, mistreated prisoners, and committed atrocities. Yet racism was dearly part of U.S. propaganda.” Racism even today in the U.S. is an issue so it is strange to think of how far they went to stand against it in battle, yet accepted and implicated it into the lives of its own citizens. To backup this point the article gives proof that, “in 1941 it was still tacitly understood that blacks and Asians in the segregated armed services would not be allowed to man the weapons for which they had been trained, and segregation and Jim Crow laws were still in effect. Racial hysteria lay at the heart of the forced internment of Japanese Americans.”

What was very interesting about this article was the way it compared the racism used in the propaganda that was, by most, seen as innocent persuasion, to mirroring the racism that became the whole heart and cause of the war itself. The racism and cruelty and anti semitic attitudes of the Nazis was rubbing off as a means of defense of other countries, who, as the authors point out, claim to be the “good guys” throughout the war.This article picks up on the negative effects of propaganda that might not have been thought of after only seeing the upside described in Kathleen Ryan’s priorly analyzed one.

Keeping that information in mind, it is important to take a step back and see the perspective of those during this period. An article in American History called, “Changing Sensibilities” takes a closer look by relating to a time when propaganda was the natural thing to do. The author explains, “This aspect of the World War II home front must be understood in the context of the times. The U.S. of the 1940s was a more openly racist society. Government-sanctioned racism existed in the form of white-only facilities and nonintegrated military units, to name two examples, and legislative protection for minority ethnic groups was rare. Such a climate made it easier to accept the propaganda that most Americans today find offensive. And Americans were fighting back at aggressors who had shown no mercy, and were doing so at the cost of thousands of lives. Mercilessness breeds mercilessness.” This unknown author makes a strong point in realizing that as the country has grown and changed, so have our opinions. Where things seem wrong now, they were once the only way to do things. He or she approaches the matter by saying that the things we no longer see as a joke, were once both humorous and justified. This third article can somewhat tie together the first two in the sense that it captures the negative aspects we realize, as well as the advantages of these tactics that were seen during World War II.

These three articles summarize a few different perspectives on propaganda used in the United States during World War II. They are credible in the sense that they were all published by people with historically educated backgrounds, and from what I could tell, there seemed to be no dramatic errors. The first two seemed a bit biased, each taking an opposite side in the true effects of propaganda, and the third seemed to explain why each side may make those points. Propaganda is a controversial topic as it can easily be argued by either side, but I believe these articles could sufficiently back up a variety of points on the topic.


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