Homogenizing a Pluralistic Nation: Propaganda During World War 1

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About this sample


Words: 1299 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: May 19, 2020

Words: 1299|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: May 19, 2020

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Analysis of the Main Themes in WWI Propaganda
  3. Military recruitment
    War bond purchases
    The unification of a multiethnic society
  4. Conclusion
  5. References


During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson established the Committee on Public Information in an effort to rally the diverse American population behind the nation's war endeavor. The committee employed a wide array of media, including posters and films, to convey messages, inspire, and persuade civilians. Achieving these objectives required the effective application of persuasive techniques. This analysis will delve into three primary propaganda themes: military recruitment, war bond purchases, and the unification of a multiethnic society. We will explore the methods employed by these propaganda initiatives to galvanize civilian support for the war effort.

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Analysis of the Main Themes in WWI Propaganda

Military recruitment

Recruitment and enlistment emerged as a prominent propaganda theme. Two notable examples are source 1, "Over There," a spirited song by George M. Cohan, and source 6, a poster portraying Germans as menacing beasts. Source 1, "Over There," ranks among the most famous songs of World War I. It served as a motivational anthem, encouraging young men to volunteer for military service. The song's lyrics, including phrases like "make your daddy glad" and urging sweethearts to take pride in their boys in line, conveyed the idea that joining the military brought honor and pride to families and loved ones. With its lively and enthusiastic lyrics, the song generated a sense of excitement and eagerness. Beyond its recruitment purpose, the song counteracted apprehension and negative sentiments among loved ones while castigating those who obstructed men from joining the battle.

Source 6, a recruitment poster, depicted Germans as fierce, gorilla-like monsters. This poster aimed to evoke patriotic fervor while simultaneously instilling terror, fear, and animosity toward the enemy. The image of the menacing creature carrying a woman in its arms appealed to traditional gender roles, urging men to protect the nation and its vulnerable citizens by enlisting in the army. By dehumanizing Germans and cultivating a false image of the enemy, this poster contributed to the persecution and lynching of German-Americans by vigilante groups. It also fostered mutual suspicion among Americans, who lived in fear of being labeled spies or becoming victims of violence.

War bond purchases

Apart from recruitment, propaganda urged those who did not enlist, particularly women, to contribute to the war effort by purchasing war bonds. Posters 8 and 9 targeted women, albeit with different approaches to encourage their financial support for the war. Poster 8, titled "Women of America, Save Your Country," featured an image of Joan of Arc, an iconic patriot, wearing armor and brandishing a sword. Joan epitomized a celebrated figure who led France in its struggle against the English. Despite her martial appearance, Joan retained her beauty and femininity, with the sword symbolizing a means to protect the nation. Figuratively, women's consumerism served as a weapon to fund the war effort. The War Savings Stamps program did not require women to take up arms but instead to buy saving stamps and fulfill their prescribed gender roles. While poster 8 encouraged women to purchase war stamps, poster 9 urged them to spend their Christmas shopping dollars, contributing to sales taxes that supported the war. In poster 9, a woman wielded both a sword and an American flag, portraying an active, heroic, and powerful image that emphasized their significance and role in saving America. These posters empowered women in 1917, depicting them as instrumental in America's salvation, albeit within the framework of traditional roles as homemakers and consumers. From a contemporary perspective, one might consider this portrayal as sexist, as it confines women to the role of consumers and implies that their primary contribution to the war effort lies in being good housewives who spend money on war bonds.

The unification of a multiethnic society

In addition to the themes of recruitment and war bond purchases, an important propaganda theme centered on uniting a multiethnic, pluralistic society in support of the war. This was a significant concern for the government and the driving force behind President Wilson's formation of the Committee on Public Information. Posters 11, 12, and 13 will be examined to delve into this theme further. Poster 11, with its slogan "Help us to help the boys," targeted Catholics, encouraging them to donate to the National Catholic Council to support Catholic soldiers. Poster 12 prominently featured the Jewish symbol, with a soldier standing amidst a pile of skeletons, appealing for assistance. Similar to poster 11, this poster called on the Jewish community to unite and aid Jewish soldiers in the U.S. military by contributing to the Jewish Welfare Board.

Poster 13 featured an African American soldier dressed in a well-maintained uniform, holding hands with his sweetheart, while an army marched in the background under the American flag. This poster aimed to encourage African Americans to enlist in the armed services. At the bottom of the poster, a bold statement read, "colored man is no slacker." Joining the army was portrayed as a masculine duty, with soldiers seen as protectors of the home front. The poster sought to persuade African Americans that military service would earn them respect and demonstrate their deserving of full civil rights.

Posters 11 through 13 specifically targeted Catholics, Jewish individuals, and African Americans, as these groups had faced discrimination, violence, and mistreatment in the 1880s. During that period, American citizens harbored strong anti-immigrant sentiments. However, as the nation entered the war, it needed the support of all its citizens to secure victory. To achieve this, the government sought to include all Americans, regardless of their race or gender, and make them feel equally important in the war effort. These posters successfully fostered a sense of nationalism, unity, and solidarity among the diverse American population. Nevertheless, they also engendered false hope among immigrants and Americans of foreign descent that they would be treated equally if they demonstrated their loyalty to the nation by enlisting in the war. Sadly, they would still encounter segregation and discrimination even after the war's conclusion.

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The utilization of propaganda proved highly effective in eliciting patriotism and motivating all Americans to contribute to the war effort. To sway civilians in support of the war, the government appealed to both their emotions and logic, manipulating them to adopt specific perspectives. For these propaganda campaigns to succeed, a sense of urgency had to be created, the enemy had to be dehumanized, and civilians needed to feel valued, empowered, and inspired to enlist in the military. President Wilson's objective of uniting a diverse nation in preparation for war through the Committee on Public Information was a success. However, alongside the positive outcomes, negative consequences followed. Propaganda generated mass hysteria with dire repercussions. The exaggerated, inaccurate portrayal of enemies put many Americans in danger and made them targets of abuse and violence. It also sowed fear and suspicion among the populace. Criticizing the war effort, failing to report suspicious activities, or not purchasing war bonds led to persecution and imprisonment. While the use of propaganda was necessary to mobilize civilians for the war, it exploited stereotypes, dehumanized individuals, and employed falsehoods and half-truths to manipulate public sentiment. Undoubtedly, the Committee achieved its goal of fostering patriotism and rallying a diverse American public behind the war effort. However, it could be argued that this mobilization went too far, resulting in significant negative consequences.


  1. Balfour, M. (2015). Propaganda in War, 1939–1945: Organisations, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany. Routledge.
  2. Ribeiro, A., & Heine, C. (2014). Rhetoric and Propaganda: Political Advertising in Brazil's 2006 Presidential Election. In "Political Campaigning in Referendums" (pp. 211-228). Springer.
  3. Welch, D. (2013). Propaganda and the German cinema, 1933–1945. I.B.Tauris.
  4. Bond, B. (2017). The Unquiet Western Front: Britain's Role in Literature and History. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  5. Zeman, Z. A. B., & Scharf, A. J. (2007). The Anti-Semitic Moment: A Tour of France in 1898. Hill and Wang.
  6. Kitchen, M. (2017). Barbed wire diplomacy: Britain, Germany, and the politics of prisoners of war, 1939-1945. Routledge.
  7. Cook, A. (2015). Propaganda and Persuasion. SAGE Publications.
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Homogenizing A Pluralistic Nation: Propaganda During World War 1. (2020, May 19). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from
“Homogenizing A Pluralistic Nation: Propaganda During World War 1.” GradesFixer, 19 May 2020,
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