Jeff Chen

War Posters on the Home Front United the U.S.

            During World War II, both the Allied and the Axis powers did everything in their power to support their armies materially and mentally. Although it was only the young men who went off to fight, the people left behind were also required to take part in the war. The “[h]ome [f]ront” is “the informal term for the civilian populace of the nation at war as an active support system of their military” (Thomas 66). On the home front, the media worked as a powerful promotion machine to guide the public. Inexpensive, accessible, and ever-present, war posters became an ideal agent for linking the home front with the military front. War posters on the American home front were effective because they linked nation-related matters with seemingly insignificant personal duties, making victory the personal mission of every citizen.

            The American propaganda stemmed from nongovernmental organizations. In fact, “it would take businesses and media pressuring the United States government into putting out [propaganda] campaigns, for it to actually happen. Even so, the government still viewed it as them simply giving out information, as opposed to propaganda” (Lincoln). So it was the nongovernmental organizations that discovered the importance of propaganda. This fact linked propaganda with a sense of patriotism. The purpose of propaganda was nothing about money or politics. Specifically speaking, “the war posters were not designed by the government, but by artists who received no compensation for their work” (Lincoln). Since all the artists required no payment, they designed the posters just out of a sense of patriotism. Whether how the propaganda worked well or not, the organizations’ and artists’ behaviors were enough to show their love for this country.

            Posters usedvivid and positive images of American soldiers to encourage citizens on the home front to assist in the war effort. In that period, “conservation was the largest theme among posters produced during the war, as one in seven posters carried this theme” (Lincoln). Positive images of soldiers helped to call on everybody to support the soldiers. For example, a famous poster, “Do with less – so they’llhave enough!”, picked up a vivid and positive photograph of an ordinary soldier. This cheery and friendly “GI Joe” drinking coffee strongly appealed to families with boys overseas. A poster with positive images of soldiers also indicates that compared to soldiers’ effort on the war front, what people do on the home front is negligible. It guided citizens to do something to support American soldiers on the war front materially.  So, citizens on the home front tended to follow government’s requests: supporting the rationing, doing recycling, and so on. So, positive images of soldiers successfully reminded people of what their work meant to soldiers, making them feel a sense of responsibility to contribute to this war.

Linking the posters with the war situation made people realize the urgent needs of the country. Some posters were inspired by some photos which showed the actual situation of the army. They led people to think deeper about their country’s situation. For example, “Save Rubber” is a very interesting poster of a jeep full of soldiers designed by Walter Richards. However, the poster is “inspired by photos such as ‘this one showing testing of a Bantam jeep’” (“WW II Poster”). That photo was taken “in 1941 at New River, North Carolina during testing the Bantam BRC-40 jeep, the forerunner of the Willys MB and Ford GPW jeeps that became the World War II standard” (“Testing Bantam Jeep”). The poster reviewed the latest news of the army, which made people pay more attention to the urgent need of raw materials. The news is unquestionable and influential. It directly shows that American army was in urgent need of industrial raw materials. It also indicates current citizens’ efforts are indirectly linked with the country’s current war situation. This is enough to persuade people to do what its slogan requires specifically. Indeed, one photo taken in the same period, “Billy Evans turns in some old rubber” showed that the poster successfully persuaded people to donate old tires to the country. So, associating posters with the war situation made people aware of the value of their actions in solving the country’s current problem, thus pushing them to take action quickly.

            By associating the simple works of citizens with the victory of the war, posters make people feel close to the victory. Once people realize their work is associated with the victory of a world war, they will be aware of the value of their simple works. For example, Charles LathropPack put forward an idea of “Victory Garden” in World War I. A war garden was “a home garden that the average family planted to reduce pressure on the public food supply” (Lisa). During World War II, posters were employed to spread this idea on the home front. Government did what Pack had written before, “new posters were furnished the officials by the Commission to help carry to the railroad men and the public all over the United States the call for continuing and increasing home food production” (Pack 72). In these posters, growing crops is linked with victory. In the poster “Gardening is a dual”, killing the crops harmful insects compares with a battle with insects. And in “For patriotic reasons”, labeling the crops is compared to sticking up the American flag. In this case, people feel that when they are growing crops, they are growing victory! The battle is no longer something far from the home front. Instead, it’s something that happens all around them every day. They consider their works as personal wars which contribute to the victory of America. Thus, people feel glorious and energetic when they are doing these seemingly simple works, fighting for personal victories.

            Posters heightened every citizen’s passion on the home front by showing the important roles they played in the United States. Americans on the home front mostly were children, young women, the middle-aged and the old. By confirming their important roles in this country, posters called them to shoulder more responsibilities for this country. In this period, “women began to appear more and more in posters, sometimes with male counterparts, but frequently as the sole figure in the posters” (Thomas 75). The posters heightened women’s confidence. And it also indicated that young women should start to do men’s jobs. Also, little children, the old, and the middle-aged were all required to do more specific things as important roles in this country. Buy government bonds, work harder to produce more, and so on. Even for little children, they were required to act as “little Americans”, drink milk and leave nothing on the plate. Everyone was treated as an important role in this nation, which mobilized citizens to respond to their status. As a result, they felt a sense of responsibility to sacrifice for America, to act as the owners of the United States.

            In conclusion, by linking simple works with the nation, posters were powerful in pushing American citizens on the home front to support the war efforts in many ways. In fact, “the United States government’s efforts [in propaganda] were a success, and the country saw a lot of growth following the war” (Lincoln). From this point of view, sometimes art can work as another kind of weapon. Propaganda, using different kinds of art, got the public behind the war effort and united the whole country. However, from another point of view, why can’t propaganda be considered another kind of art? It is specially designed and very strong at conveying a message or pushing an ideology, just as appealing as a painting.

Appendix

poster 1“Do with less-so they’ll have enough!”

photo 1″this one showing testing of a Bantam jeep”

photo 2 “Billy Evans turns in some old rubber”

poster 3“Victory Garden”

poster 4“Gardening is a dual”

poster 5“For patriotic reasons”

poster 6、7、8 three posters show people’s roles in America and responsibilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Lincoln Riddle. “American Propaganda Posters in World War” warhistoryonline.com.War

History Online, Jun 13, 2017 Web. 7 Dec. 2017.

Lisa Kivirist. “Victory Garden: A Salute to Self-sufficiency” hobbyfarms.com. Hobby Farms, 24 March 2009 Web.

Pack, Charles L. The War Garden Victorious. Applewood Books, 2009. Print.

“Testing Bantam Jeep with 37mm Antitank Gun” oliver-drab.com.Oliver-Drab, n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2017.

Thomas, Christopher C. A Thousand Words: Themes and Trends in Home Front Poster Propaganda of the Second World War.    Diss. Texas A&M University, 2007. Print.

“WW II ‘They’ve Got More Important Places to Go Than You’ Poster” oliver-drab.com. Oliver-Drab, n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2017.