Powers of Persuasion: Poster Art from World War II
By Julie Carleton
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) serves as the national repository for all federal records and documents. In addition, NARA provides exhibitions of materials related to its holdings. NARA’s website has several (12) interesting extracts from past exhibits, including Powers of Persuasion: Poster Art from World War II, currently available on their web site at: (http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/powers_of_persuasion/powers_of_persuasion_intro.html). This online exhibit is an abridged version of an earlier physical exhibit that was on display in their Washington D.C. branch exhibit halls in 1995. The exhibit comprises a collection of propaganda posters from the World War II era. Although a shortened version of the original display, Powers of Persuasion: Poster Art from World War II is certainly comprehensive in its coverage. In it the viewer gets a glimpse of how this media was used to sway various segments of the American public to support the war effort. The materials displayed in Powers of Persuasion: Poster Art from World War II are representative of those images of that era that are pressed into the memories of many Americans.
During World War II, all nations in conflict utilized propaganda to influence their citizens. Propaganda took many forms including radio, film, popular songs, newspapers and posters. Professional artists and filmmakers were specifically employed to create such forms of propaganda. The United States Government even created an agency specifically designed to produce propaganda, the Office of War Information.
Powers of Persuasion… is divided in two main parts. Part One covers World War II propaganda subject matters that are of a lighter nature, designed to inspire and motivate Americans to support the war effort. Part Two delves into the darker side of war. Themes include the threat of Nazi Germany, espionage and Russian totalitarianism. In addition to the poster images, the exhibit uses audio sound bites (such as a Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms Speech to Congress) to provide extra depth to the experience.
The first page of the exhibit shows the famous “I Want You” by James Montgomery Flagg. This poster is perhaps the quintessential wartime propaganda image that has lasted through time. Produced by the United States Army Recruiting Bureau, this poster was used to inspire young men to join the army.
Part One has five separate segments which address various propaganda themes: “Man the Guns”, “It’s a Woman’s War Too”, “United We Win”, “Use it Up, Wear it Out” and “Four Freedoms”. Each of these segments shows how propaganda posters were used to appeal to different segments of the population, such as the potential working woman, the African American military man, and the white male.