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Propaganda and Psychological Warfare Lessons from World War I A. Atrocity Propaganda B. “War to End All Wars”? C. Postwar Dislocation and Disillusionment FDR Determined to Avoid these Pitfalls A. OWI and the “Strategy of Truth”

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Propaganda and Psychological Warfare

  • Lessons from World War I
  • A. Atrocity Propaganda
  • B. “War to End All Wars”?
  • C. Postwar Dislocation and Disillusionment
  • FDR Determined to Avoid these Pitfalls
  • A. OWI and the “Strategy of Truth”
  • B. Postwar Vision of Internationalism
  • C. Anticipate Postwar Transformation
  • 1. GI Bill
  • 2. Rosies
  • 3. Prosperity at Home
  • 4. World Leader Abroad
  • World War II Propaganda: Homefront
  • A. Mobilization of Workforce & Armed Forces
  • 1. Themes: Unity, Patriotic Service, “Good vs. Evil”
  • 2. Methods: Film, News, Posters, Ad Men
  • B. Censorship
  • 1. Domestic: Race, Labor, Internment
  • 2. War Coverage
  • a. Phase I: Suppress Reality for fear civilians will reject war effort
  • b. Phase II: Reveal Horrors of war for fear civilians will otherwise become complacent
  • C. Prepare for Demobilization – Postwar Vision
  • 1. GI Bill (Servicemen’s Readjustment Act)
  • 2. Whatever Happens to the Rosies?
  • 3. US as Leader of United Nations
  • 4. Life is Good in Suburban America
Why Teach Military History?Because “War is too important to be left to the generals,” Georges Clemenceau, French Prime Minister
  • It’s important
  • War transforms people, nations, and the global balance of power
  • Students like it
  • It’s wonderfully interdisciplinary,


-politics & international affairs

-economics (mobilization, finance)

-science (advances in medicine, technological innovation)

-social & cultural developments (labor relations, issues of race, class & gender)


-literature (biography, memoir, fiction)

-film studies


What do you teach students about WWII?

What should students know about WWII and why?

How do we accomplish these objectives?

On the Teaching Military History“War is an instrument of politics by other means,” Karl von Clausewitz
  • National military establishments are part of the larger society from which they are drawn & embody that society’s values
  • Define the political objectives first, then assess the military strategy designed to achieve those objectives

-- Cannot isolate the battlefield from the larger political context

-- Cannot isolate foreign policy from domestic issues

-- War does not take place in a political, social, economic vacuum

  • Focus on the big picture: war’s causes, objectives, significance

-- Specific battles are useful as case studies but avoid the minutia of military operations

-- Always use good maps – military history an excellent way to increase students’ geographic awareness

-- Discuss the war’s meaning and significance for the people and societies engaged in it or victimized by it.

world war ii the anomaly in american military history
World War II: The Anomaly in American Military History
  • Unequivocably a “good war” -- Allies occupy high moral ground, righteous cause
  • Unified homefront in support of war effort
  • Virtually no opposition to the war itself, or conscription
  • Veterans welcomed as liberators overseas and as victors upon return home
  • Full-bore coalition warfare, unprecedented international cooperation to defeat forces of fascism and militarism
  • Comparatively, very minimal loss of life
  • Continental US escapes devastation of total war – landscape emerges literally unscathed
  • Wartime production as “Arsenal of Democracy” pulls US out of Depression and into huge economic resurgence
  • Postwar economic boom ensues
  • US emerges as military superpower, economic powerhouse, and defender of the free world
  • With perhaps dangerous results . . .
but how was it perceived elsewhere
But how was it perceived elsewhere?

By the victors, the vanquished, or the victims?

  • What if you’re French? Or British?
  • Japanese? German? Or a German Jew? Or Polish?
  • Do the Chinese, Koreans, or Vietnamese see a “good war”?
  • The Russian people?

Western Europe in ruins

Eastern Europe in ruins & occupied by the Red Army

Soviet Russia is devastated and determined to prevent aggression from the west from recurring

Southeast Asia peoples struggling to attain independence

How do COMBATANTS of every nationality remember the “good war”?

The Point: The US experience was unique -- Unlike the experience of any other WWII belligerent, and unlike any other US wartime experience


WWII Death Count Per Country:

Death Distribution Of Both World Wars:

potential dangers of american perceptions of the good war
Potential Dangers of American Perceptions of the “Good War”
  • Dangerous lessons: “Appeasement” produces tyrants, fighting is better than talking, military force is best solution to problems in international relations.
  • Wars are good for the economy.
  • Arrogance of Victory: If the US can defeat global forces of evil, it can accomplish virtually anything.
  • Arrogant and erroneous notion that the US won the war. Tendency toward American triumphalism, failure to recognize the great sacrifices of the coalition partners.
  • Arrogance of Power: failure to recognize limits of military power as US becomes defender of the “free world”.
  • Americans yearn for a return to that “Golden Age,” when society was united, the cause was righteous, the world recognized American leadership.
  • Americans expect war to conform to this pattern – are disillusioned when it doesn’t.
  • And seek out that magic formula: fight the good war against the forces of evil, results will be domestic unity, spirit of self sacrifice, economic dominance, military victory, international harmony & respect.
  • Danger of trying to relive something that never really happened, WWII has become heavily mythologized. Tendency to overlook the more disturbing aspects of the war.
  • Imperial overstretch? Failure to recognize limits of military power? Willingness to turn first to use of military force & believe US can accomplish virtually anything, anywhere in the world – the entire world becomes the US sphere of influence.

Lessons from World War I

1. Atrocity Propaganda

2. “War to End All Wars”?

3. Postwar Dislocation and Disillusionment


World War I: “War to End All Wars”?

  • Wilson’s Idealism Shattered
  • horrors of trench warfare
  • 10 M deaths for no tangible benefits
  • idealistic war aims fail to materialize
  • US rejects League of Nations
  • “never again” mentality sets in

League of Nations cartoon from Punch magazine

Cartoon title: "Moral Suasion"

Caption: "The Rabbit. 'My offensive equipment being practically nil, it remains for me to fascinate him with the power of my eye.'"


World War I: Postwar Dislocation and Disillusionment

  • Old Order in Europe Destroyed
  • First Red Scare Ensues
  • Labor Unrest
  • Race Riots
  • Economic Dislocation
  • WWI Veterans Struggle with Reintegration
  • Great Depression


Bonus Army March, 1932

Bonus Marchers’ Camp, Washington, DC. 1932



--what is it?

--what is its function in wartime?

--who is the audience?

--the audience determines the message


“Over There” –

  • Propaganda to Allies
  • Propaganda to Neutrals
  • Propaganda directed to Enemies: Psychological Warfare

“Healthy parents have healthy children.”

"Victory or Bolshevism" proclaims this poster that appeared in February 1943, following the German Army defeat at Stalingrad. The contrast is clear -- the Soviet Communists must be defeated or the German way of life is finished.



We will ruthlessly defeat and destroy the enemy!

The paper

Nonaggression Treaty Between the USSR and Germany

The sons of all the peoples of the Soviet Union are going into battle for their Soviet fatherland. Long live the Red Army – the army of the brotherhood and friendship of the peoples of the USSR!


Office of War Information (est. June 1942)

  • Elmer Davis
  • Coordinates U.S. Government’s Information Activities
  • Mission: To inform American people (and others) of America’s purpose in fighting and progress of the war
  • Relies on a “Strategy of Truth”
  • Methods: posters, film, radio, advertising

FDR’s Four Freedoms:

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Worship

Freedom from Want

Freedom from Fear


Propaganda Messages to the Homefront:

  • Unity: At home & within United Nations
  • Patriotism: Do your part to support the cause
  • Sacrifice
  • Nobility of cause: good vs. evil motif
  • Defend traditional American values
  • Postwar prosperity & security
selling the war
“Selling the War”
  • How was the population recruited and for what tasks?
  • Nature, purpose & impact of government propaganda efforts

After 1940 the Selective Service under Lewis Hershey registered 43 million men ages 18-65, but the army sought only the 30 million under 45. Selective Service was administered by 6443 local draft boards. The Tydings Amendment in November 1942 exempted all agricultural workers and essential occupations. Married men were exempt until 1944, then 1 million fathers were drafted. By the end of the war, Hershey drafted 7.5m into army, 2.8m into navy. A total of 16m men and women served in uniform.


Women in the Nation’s Armed Forces:

  • Permanent, regular status, not auxiliaries
  • 300,000 serve
  • 75,000 serve as nurses
the womanpower campaign
The Womanpower Campaign
  • US government collaborates with national advertisers and magazine editors via OWI’s Magazine Bureau and War Advertising Council
  • Two objectives:
    • Convince women to take traditionally male jobs
    • Convince American society to accept this as essential to the war effort

The National Advertising Council promised that stories and advertisements for consumer products would promote enlistment in the military and volunteerism at home. Note that the “idealized” America that was depicted by public relations firms and the media reflected a segregated society.


With the help of women workers, industrial production doubled between 1939-1945. The military production was astounding: 300,000 aircraft, 12,000 ships, 86,000 tanks, and 64,000 landing craft, in addition to millions of artillery pieces and small weapons.


WAC Officer: “I have precious little time to fuss with my face these days. Yet I know my skin has never been lovelier.”


“Beautiful and brave . . . doing the difficult jobs gallantly . . . that is America’s women. “

“Your men admire the magnificent job you are doing . . . And the dream of coming back to a You as beautiful as ever. Adopt this effective one-cream treatment . . . “


A riveting machine operator at the Douglas Aircraft Company plant joins sections of wing ribs to reinforce the inner wing assemblies of B-17F heavy bombers in Long Beach, CA.

nature of the message
Nature of the Message?
  • Times require radical behavior to ensure the survival of traditional American society (juxtapose extreme action with conservative values)
  • Adopt unconventional lifestyle temporarily in order to ensure the existence of traditional American society in perpetuity

To help overcome opposition to women in "men's" jobs, campaigns to recruit women workers stressed that production work called for domestic skills. If a woman could sew, she could rivet.  If she could put together a pie, she could work on assembly line. Public relations campaigns emphasized patriotism, encouraging women to enter the workforce so their husbands, brothers, sons, and fathers could return home sooner.

women war work
Women & War Work
  • The experience of women war workers

--the hardships of the dual career life

--the exhilaration of independence

  • Changing Demographic of Women in the Labor Force

--married, older, with children

--nature of their work

summer 1944
Summer 1944
  • D-Day, Normandy. 6 June 1944
  • Seizure of the Marianas in the Pacific War, June 1944
  • Light at the end of the tunnel: The nation begins to think deeply about the postwar world

-- fears, concerns, ambitions of




-- remember the Great War?

Allied ground forces begin landing in Normandy, France.

initiatives to fend off economic dislocation unemployment social upheaval
Initiatives to fend off Economic Dislocation, Unemployment, Social Upheaval
  • How to manage the transition from war economy to peacetime consumer economy --
  • How to demobilize 16 million GIs
  • How to get women back in the kitchen
servicemen s readjustment act the gi bill of rights
Servicemen’s Readjustment Act : The “GI Bill of Rights”

“Veterans must not be demobilized into an environment of inflation and unemployment, to a place on a bread line or on a corner selling apples. We must this time have plans ready.”

-FDR, 1943

FDR signs the “GI Bill of Rights,” 1944

objectives of the gi bill
Objectives of the GI Bill
  • Historical Context: Veterans of the Great War

-$60 and a train ticket

-Bonus Act, 1924; Bonus Army, 1932

  • Objectives of Servicemen’s Readjustment Act
  • Expectations in 1944: 8-12% GIs to enroll full-time
  • Benefits provided under terms of legislation

-education benefits: tuition, fees, books up to $500/year, plus a living allowance ($60 then $90/mo if married) up to 48 months. College costs rarely exceeded $300/yr even at the most expensive universities

-low-interest guaranteed home, business & farm loans

-unemployment insurance: “52/20 Club”

consequences of the gi bill of rights
Consequences of the GI Bill of Rights
  • Veteran participation:

-2.4 million home loans for vets (1944-52)

-1945-48, 140,000 business & farm loans

-education & training: 7.8 million of nearly 16 million WWII vets (1944-1956) = 51% of all who served in armed forces

-2.2 mil college/university

-5.6 mil vocational or other training

-less than 20% of unemployment funds used

  • Impact on veteran’s lives:
    • 5 of 6 student-veterans were the first in their families to attend college
    • Made college accessible to working and middle class Americans: As many as 54% of vets said they would not have attended college without it
    • 77% who received vocational training said they would not have had the opportunity otherwise

Students temporarily quartered in Indiana University’s Board of Regents’ board room.

gi bill and american higher education
GI Bill and American Higher Education
  • The GI Bulge: peak year 1947, 49% of all college admissions were veterans

--Syracuse, 1946-8 vets comprise >70% of male students and >50% of entire student body

--NC State College: 1940--2,500. 1947--5,328 students (4,030 vets).

--Indiana University: 4,498 in 1945, 11,414 in 1947

  • Impact on GIs:

--Produced 450,000 engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists

  • Impact on institutions of Higher Education

--College enrollments double

--Size of classes increase dramatically

--Curricular changes

--Housing shortage

--Required married student housing

for the first time


Registration at Harvard University after increased enrollments due to the GI Bill.


Scores of returning World War II veterans swelled the enrollment figures to an all-time high. The GI Bill, and those vets, were crucial to the development and expansion of the University of Houston in the post-war years.


“Vetville,” NC State College

The first residents moved into their units in November 1946, and the final residents, veterans of Korea, moved out in the late 1950s. Vetville was a progressive community. Rents were scaled to income, residents could take classes on marriage and sex education, and the local branch of the YMCA claimed to be the first coed "Y" in the country.

issues of race and gender
Issues of Race and Gender

Limited access for Black Americans and GI Janes

  • 16 million GI Joes versus 350,000 GI Janes

--35% female veterans made use of education benefits

--GI Bulge results in some schools adopting male-only admissions policies in order to accommodate demand by returning male vets

  • Black Americans somewhat underrepresented in the nation’s armed services (9.5% of MSA, comprised 8.5% mil personnel).

--1 million African Americans served in US Army during WWII

--17% black soldiers had high school education, 41% whites.

--12% black GI Bill users pursued higher education, 28% whites.

--Higher percentage of black vets pursued subcollege educational benefits, many to complete high school education.

--By 1950, 49% black veterans had used education or training benefits, only 43% whites had

  • 65% of all black veterans lived in the American south

--Segregated schools in American south deny black vets admission

--Traditionally black colleges too few to accommodate black veterans

--Encouraged black vets to join “Great Migration” to north to further education

Millie Louise Dunn Veasey, born in Raleigh, NC. Served in WAC, 1942-45. Attended NC State, where In 1946, the male-female ratio was 48 to 1.

other long term consequences
Other Long-Term Consequences
  • Enlarged middle class: 1/3 of Americans move into the ranks of the middle class
  • Suburbia
  • Homeownership –


-doubled ratio of homeownership: 1:3 prewar, 2:3 postwar

  • Tax revenues: for every $ spent on education benefits, the nation received as much as $8 in taxes
  • Inequities – diminished ratio of women to men in higher education
and what about rosie
And what about Rosie?


“I’m not exactly the same girl you left. I’m twice as independent as I used to be and to top it off, I sometimes think I’ve become hard as nails – hardly anyone can evoke any sympathy from me. I’ve been living exactly as I want to live and I do as I damn please. You are not married to a girl that’s interested solely in the home. I shall definitely have to work all my life. I get emotional satisfaction out of working; I don’t doubt that many a night you will cook supper while I’m at a meeting. Also, dearest, I shall never wash and iron -- there are laundries for that!”

-Edith Speert, Cleveland, letter to soldier-husband, 1945.

Murray & Millett, A War to Be Won, 547.

seduced and abandoned postwar demands women return to domestic duties
“Seduced and Abandoned”Postwar Demands: Women Return to Domestic Duties

Women's Postwar Future

This photograph headed a New York Times Magazine article in June 1946. Written by the director of the Women's Division of the Department of Labor, the article discussed the needs of women workers, stressing their right to work and to receive equal pay, but it also assumed that women would all but vanish from heavy manufacturing.


“Some jubilant day mother will stay home again, doing the job she likes best – making a home for you and daddy, when he gets back.

“Meanwhile she’s learning the vital importance of precision in equipment made by ADEL. In her postwar home she’ll want appliances with the same high degree of precision and she will get them . . . “


“When it becomes a souvenir . . .

What then? Stay home . . . Do nothing? You know you won’t! Like our fighting men, you’ve earned the right to choose work you enjoy. An the time to prepare is . . . Now!

A surprising number of war workers are going to learn to type . . . a skill easy for them to acquire.

For women who want careers, typing is the opening wedge to the world’s most fascinating professions. For women who plan marriage, typing brings contacts with the world outside . . . keeps distant friends in touch, leads to club, business, and social activities that less accomplished women miss.

So do think about learning to type . . . “


During the war, more women in labor force:

  • Between 1940-45, the female labor force grew to 19 million, more than a third of the civilian labor force.
  • More married women worked:
  • Nearly 25% of all married women were in the workforce in 1944.
  • Job categories changed:
  • --women employed in manufacturing grew 140%
  • --women employed in defense industries increased 462%
  • --women employed in clerical position increased 85%
  • Over 37,000 American civilian women were killed and over 210,000 permanently disabled while serving in war-related work
  • After the war, many women lost their jobs in factories to men returning from the war, but many women continued to work outside the home.
  • Permanent changes to women’s labor force:
  • -more married women & women with young children
  • -more women work in factory jobs than before the war
  • -more women work in clerical jobs (from 50% to 70%)
  • -by 1950, women comprised 29 percent of the workforce in the United States.
  • What didn’t change:
  • -still paid less than men (53% of men’s wages)
  • -no increase of numbers of women in professions
  • -more continue to work part-time
  • -expectations regarding domestic work 
  • -traditional roles reinforced by wartime propaganda: primary duty as wife, mother, homemaker, consumer
  • Women Return to Domestic Duties

“To all the valiant young mothers who’ve taken their great adventure alone . . . to all those other mothers who’ve smilingly waved goodbye to soldier sons, and to all women, you who daily make your contribution on the homefront, Eureka pays tribute. Yours is a shining kind of courage . . . Courage, feminine gender . . . As great as any soldier’s on a battlefield.

We have reason to know . . . For more than 70% of Eureka’s employees are women. Many of them leave their work benches at night to carry on with that other vitally important job of making a home for their children, and their hard-working, war-working husbands. We have special reason to know the special kind of courage that belongs to women . . . and how truly wonderful they are.

Today . . . We are readying our plans for the new Eureka vacuum cleaners you may be enjoying sooner than you think. Lighter, more powerful, incredibly efficient, thanks to the new skills, new materials and new facilities developed in war, they will be only one of a group of new household tools to help you take full advantage of the peacetime leisure you have so richly earned.”

censorship the other side of information management
Censorship: The Other Side of “Information Management “

Dead Americans lying on Buna Beach. This picture, published in LIFE magazine, shocked the American public unfamiliar with the cost of war. Photo taken November 16, 1942; published September 1943.


“Look at an infantryman’s eyes and you can tell how much war he has seen.”

--Bill Mauldin, Up Front, 1944

Battle of Tarawa

Marines on Peleliu history/battle_of_tarawa.html


Issues surrounding the experience and return of veterans

"2000 YARD STARE,“ Tom Lea

"Down from Bloody Ridge Too Late. He's Finished - Washed Up - Gone"

"As we passed sick bay, still in the shell hole, it was crowded with wounded, and somehow hushed in the evening light. I noticed a tattered Marine standing quietly by a corpsman, staring stiffly at nothing. His mind had crumbled in battle, his jaw hung, and his eyes were like two black empty holes in his head. Down by the beach again, we walked silently as we passed the long line of dead Marines under the tarpaulins."

combat exhaustion every many has his breaking point
“Combat Exhaustion”: Every Many has his Breaking Point
  • Pre-induction screening: 1.68M of 20M rejected for psychiatric reasons
  • Yet, 50/1000 subsequently discharged from services for psychiatric instability
  • 1/3 (504,000) of all casualties shipped home were psychiatric cases
  • In 1943, the number of psychiatric discharges exceeded the number of new inductees
  • Overall psychiatric casualties (US):

WWI: 9/1000

WWII: 50/1000

Vietnam: 12/1000

  • Primary Causes: length of service and casualties sustained by unit
  • Combatants began to lose effectiveness after 100 days of intermittent exposure.
  • Psychiatric breakdown could be expected after 200 aggregate days in battle.
  • Treatment: Immediacy, proximity, expectancy
  • Conclusion: Every man has his breaking point


70,000 killed immediately. As many as 140,000 people died within the year.

200,000 total estimated deaths caused by the Hiroshima bomb by 1950.