LOOSE LIPS Sink Ships: American Propaganda in WWII

By Riley, Sue Anne | Sea Classics, September 2012 | Go to article overview

LOOSE LIPS Sink Ships: American Propaganda in WWII


Riley, Sue Anne, Sea Classics


Although some considered it deceitful, American propaganda played a special role in WWII / PART ONE / BY SUE ANNE BILEY

Long viewed as a tool primarily used by totalitarian dictatorships, Americans had a tendency to think of propaganda as something distasteful and dishonest, a distortion of facts and simple truths. Furthermore, many still resented the hostility and fervor of World War I propaganda efforts, which some saw as violations of basic rights as well as conveying misinformation. Therefore the US government was at first somewhat reluctant to engage in propaganda campaigns. But America's professional opinion makers well knew the necessity of shaping citizens minds through the use of a multitude of media ranging from the printed word, to radio broadcasts, films, message-sending posters, and political oratory. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt considered himself a master communicator and was quick to join the chorus of businessmen, manufacturers, and advertisers eager to persuade the government to take an active role in a new type of very effective all-out warfare - propaganda. Even as the debate raged, the government insisted its actions were not propaganda, but strictly a means of providing honest information. Slowly and haphazardly, these efforts formed into a more unified information effort, although one that never quite assumed the level of WWTs viciousness.

By 1942, the United States found itself deeply immersed in not just one, but two global wars. Realizing the need to direct and coordinate America's multi-faceted information needs, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Office of War Information (OWI) as a mid-level agency combining the efforts of a host of other wartime agencies. These included the War and State Departments in the dissemination of war information. Officials at OWI took the opportunity to use numerous sophisticated tools to communicate to the American public. These included Hollywood movie studios, radio stations, and printing facilities. In addition, the Writers' War Board (WWB) was privately organized for the purposes of generating propaganda and often acted as liaison between the government and the writers. Many of the WWB's writers regarded their efforts as superior to governmental propaganda, that their material was bolder and more responsive than governmental efforts. In 1944, prominent US policy makers launched a concerted domestic propaganda campaign aimed at convincing the US public to accept a harsh unconditional surrender peace policy for the German people. This primary aim of the campaign was an attempt to remove the commonly held view that the German people and the Nazi party were separate entities. A key participant in this campaign was the WWB, which was closely associated with the Roosevelt administration.

The US used posters more than any other type of propaganda media, and produced more propaganda posters than any other country fighting in World War ?. Almost 200,000 different designs were printed during the war.

These posters employed a number of themes to encourage support for the war, including patriotism, conservation, production, recruiting, home efforts, and secrecy. Usually placed in areas without paid advertisements, the most common areas of poster display were post offices, railroad stations, schools, restaurants, and retail stores. Smaller posters were printed for the windows of private homes, telephone poles, and apartment buildings; places where other propaganda media could not be used.

The Office of War Information (OWI) Bureau of Graphics was the government agency that oversaw the producing and distributing of propaganda posters. The main distinction between United States poster propaganda and that of British and other Allied propaganda was that the US posters generally reflected mostly positive attitudes in their messages; focusing on duty, patriotism, and tradition, whereas those of other countries generally focused on fostering the people's hatred for the enemy. …

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