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During wartime, either side of conflict utilizes propaganda to shape international opinion and respective public outlook. Governments devote considerable resources and efforts on a global scale to produce material to influence attitudes to encourage involvement and action. The declaration of total war and subsequent campaigns across different forms of media conscripted propaganda as fundamental aims in order to mobilize hatred for the enemy; promote justification for the cause; garner support for allies and cooperation of impartial countries; and surge ideals from the result of war. A more dualistic approach was common during total war, presenting a struggle of good vs. evil conveying a conspicuous nature for the United States’ enemies. Creating messaging around polarizing concepts were a key strategy to push certain ideals in order to ensure maximum exposure amongst an international stage.
Two primary examples of effective propaganda campaigns are ‘I Want You For the U.S. Army’ and ‘Rose the Riveter’, that both played a prominent role in spotlighting awareness for particular messages and movements. These portraits inspire collective action for their demographics, but do so with different methods of persuasion. Following the United States declaration of total war in 1917, magazine illustrator James Montgomery Flagg composed an illustration for the United States army recruitment featuring a gaunt faced Uncle Same sporting a stern expression pointing at the viewer with the caption. “I Want You For the U.S. Army” in bold italicized. The discernable demeanor of Uncle Sam transformed into a powerful and robust figure, proved effective as millions of copies were distributed across the country. Notations of patriotic pride and an inherent sense of American duty were the outcomes of the poster, a feeling shared for the American population at large.
The mobilization of armed forces during World War II created a dire need for workers in the industrial labor force to supply the United States efforts in the war. The role of women dramatically shifted in order to compensate for the lack of male workers, which in turn ignited the charge of the feminist movement. The term “Rosie the Riveter” was coveted as a metaphorical representation of women who took action in the wartime industry. The most common physical depiction of Rosie the Riveter was by American illustrator J. Howard Miller created in 1943. This poster entitled, “We Can Do it!” featured a female factory worker dressed in a blue jumpsuit with a red bandana while flexing and exhibiting a poised expression. The iconic image of Rosie became the embodiment for American women’s emergence for social and economical change. These renditions of propaganda demonstrate that publicized causes rooted in relevant themes significantly altered the state of the American people during total war conflicts.
Propaganda like ‘I Want You For the U.S. Army’ and ‘Rose the Riveter’ played a role in a wider political context with the influence of media to change the consensus within the domestic population particularly in the United States. Before entering the First World War, the U.S. declared a state of neutrality and needed media to gather support. The ‘I Want You’ poster was a clear foreshadow for the declaration of war from the U.S. towards Germany the following year. The approach of the poster is noteworthy, presenting that joining the army as a moral responsibility of the public to address the call to action. In comparison, the ‘We Can Do it!’ poster wasn’t as popular during initial release, but the depiction of Rose would gradually become an icon for the feminist movement. However, both posters had in common that the goal of each was to unify the nation for a plea of patriotic duty. The contrasting language of each poster points to a different take, the Rosie poster uses more inclusive language with “We can do it”, an invitation to work together. While Uncle Sam is much more direct by conveying not a request, but an order to join the efforts. It could be argued that Rosie and Sam present a counterpoint to one another, with similar messages to different demographics each give light to the contextual setting of the United States during wartime. Even with the shift of the 20th century, both forms of media are still present in a fashion; the image of Uncle Sam’s persona has been utilized to represent federal government at large, while women to this day identify with Rosie and continue to emulate her passionate scribe to female empowerment. Creating symbols to comprise to translate the sentiment of the American people is found in both propaganda mediums. Thus people can look to either to gather how Americans approached the ramification to a deposition of total war.
The American take on wartime propaganda remains distinctive tactic to public diplomacy, an effort to unite the country with polarizing methods. Patriotism remained a consistent theme in the push of media to influence the domestic consensus of war in general. Much would consider propaganda as a dirty word, more in lines with manipulation rather than inspiration, as hidden agenda lay beneath the surface. The modern day outlook regarding propaganda as a synonym of mistrust, as oppose as reinforcement to the American Dream as it once was herald.
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