During American involvement in World War II from 1941–45, the government used propaganda to increase loyalty to war efforts and commitment to victory. Through a diverse set of posters, propagandists encouraged hatred toward the enemy and support for America’s allies. Some images illustrated over-the-top caricatures against ethnic groups associated with the enemy. These bred distrust and racism against foreigners and fellow Americans alike. Others inspired the civilian U.S. population to contribute to the war through rationing, farming, and joining the work force.
In this blog post, we feature some timeless WW2 propaganda posters with explanation for each. These posters each played a unique role in driving nationwide war efforts and mobilizing an entire country into action.
10 Unforgettable WW2 Propaganda Posters with Explanation
1. Dig On for Victory
A rural backdrop with a farmer proudly carrying out his harvest from the fields. In an effort to decrease reliance on imports and instead boost domestically grown crops, the government encouraged families to grow “Victory Gardens”. Any free plot of land was used to plant vegetables and other crops, even in the concrete jungle of New York City. The poster pictured was released in Britain, but was just one of many variations used in the campaign across the United States, Canada, Australia, and Germany.
2. They Do It…So Can We
Carpooling was another way to minimize domestic resources to redirect them toward the war effort overseas. Just as the troops piled into wagons, civilians could play their part by riding together. Saving fuel from commuting at home met that war vehicles, tanks, ships, submarines, and aircraft had more resources. The hope was that this extra push would help win the war.
3. We Can Do It!
Rosie the Riveter is perhaps the most famous image to come out of the WWII era. Today this icon represents feminism and women’s power, and with good reason. As men were drafted and served on the front line, the women left behind filled in the economic holes. As a result, women took up nontraditional positions in manufacturing munition and in other industries previously dominated by men. To this day, Rosie’s true identity remains largely debated.
4. Do With Less- So They’ll Have Enough!
During the last three years of the war, common household goods like sugar, shoes, dairy, meats, and gas became scarce. Americas were given ration stamps for these kinds of items to limit how much they could consume. This also ensured that enough resources were left to maintain troops abroad, which became a priority. In the final period of the war, the government severely limited rubber and leather shoes. Even rapidly growing children had to make due.
5. Keep ‘Em Firing
As Allied airplanes shoot Hitler from behind, he cries out with surprise. The Nazi military is pictured as tiny toys, unable to react. This kind of aggressive propaganda instilled hatred of the enemy and often depicted the Axis Powers as cartoon-ish. In this image, Nazi Germany’s role as the antagonist and enemy is clear.
6. Loose Talk Can Cost Lives
In war, any slip of information can prove fatal, even in seemingly innocent situations. Here, a disguised Hitler listens in to a conversation between an American serviceman and a woman. The newspaper he’s holding represents the easy transmission of information into the wrong hands. Whether it was domestically or overseas, the United States encouraged its citizens to keep quiet about any information.
7. I’d Join the Navy
Have you ever been told to man up? This poster is tinged with a hint of guilt to push men into doing their “duty as men” and joining the Navy. Featured is a young woman in a Navy uniform, looking proud to be in the role. However, since women were unable to fight in combat during WWII, men were solely responsible for the frontline.
8. I Want YOU For U.S. Army
Who, me? Yes, you. With a stern look and bony finger pointing out, this embodiment of America pushed all young men to enlist for their moral responsibility. Of all WW2 propaganda posters with explanation, Uncle Sam certainly sticks out as one of the most famous. Actually, this “I Want YOU” poster was first published in 1916 for World War 1 recruiting efforts. The poster proved to be so popular, that the U.S. Army revamped it and pushed it out again for the Second World War.
9. Of Course I Can
Canning and preserving perishable foods was also a part of the rationing process in later war years. To prevent spoilage, propaganda posters encouraged women to can food to store it in times of food shortages. This poster features a housewife in an apron with her arms full of jars. To play their role as “patriotic Americans”, women contributed by putting in the extra work at home.
10. Avenge Pearl Harbor
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, this poster brought up a feeling of revenge in Americans. The solution for vengeance? Bullets. With smoke billowing up to the Japanese bombers above, Uncle Sam is shown in the foreground wearing a patriotic shirt. His body language clearly shows his desire for revenge and encourages Americans to engage in war on the Pacific front.
Liked these WW2 propaganda posters with explanation? To learn more about WWII History and Pearl Harbor, visit the Pearl Harbor Warbirds blog. See below for further related reading:
- Pearl Harbor Nurses: The Women Who Cared For The Wounded
- After Pearl Harbor: Battle of Wake Island
- D-Day And Pearl Harbor: What’s The Connection?
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