In World War II, more than tanks and bombs were deployed to defeat the Axis powers. The Office of War Information, created in 1942 to coordinate American military propaganda, commissioned leading creative professionals to create posters, films and radio programs promoting the Allied cause. Walt Disney, creator of characters, such as Mickey Mouse, that symbolized America and freedom, produced five times more films in 1942 and 1943 in support of the American war effort.
Letters From the Sky
Some B-17s flying high over enemy territory dropped information rather than explosives on the towns and cities below. U.S. Captain James Monroe developed a cylinder that could be filled with leaflets and set to explode in the air, gently papering the ground below. Lower altitude planes dropped cardboard boxes that would break apart and spread the fliers, but the "Monroe bomb" assisted WWII pilots who had to maintain a higher altitude to avoid enemy fire. For example, in 1945 American pilots dropped fliers over Japanese cities after the bombing of Hiroshima. These pieces of propaganda urged evacuation and warned that unless Japan surrendered, more atomic bombs would be dropped and more cities would be destroyed.
Protection From Infection
American troops faced danger from more than enemy fire while fighting abroad. Women in war-torn countries may have provided solace to lonely soldiers, but unprotected liaisons resulted in an outbreak of syphilis and gonorrhea within the first few months of WWII. American military posters warned that unprotected intercourse would lead to venereal disease, and included images such as that of a buxom lady in a red dress with the caption "booby trap." In the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters, malaria caused the hospitalization of nearly half a million soldiers. In addition to aggressive action from the Army Medical Department, proactive propaganda warned troops of the threat of this potentially devastating mosquito-borne illness.
Preparation and Education
The American government used propaganda to train and educate civilians and military alike in wartime conduct. Posters displayed in public places and in schools with slogans like "loose lips sink ships" warned Americans on the home front about the dangers of spies who could overhear their conversations and convey potentially destructive information to the enemy. The Navy commissioned Walt Disney's animators to create films to train sailors for duty. Other Disney movies, such as "Education for Death: The Making of a Nazi" provided citizens with a better understanding of the political and sociological ideals of the German regime. The film's serious tone followed the life of a young German boy named Hans, brought up in an environment of hate and taught his only purpose was to die for the Nazi cause.
On the Home Front
Aside from education, home front propaganda focused on ensuring the American people supported the war effort with their hearts, minds and pocket books. Many WWII propaganda posters urged citizens to conserve resources, work in military supply factories and help finance the government by buying war bonds and paying taxes. Disney assisted in this effort as well, using Donald Duck to encourage American citizens to save money so they could pay their taxes in full and on time. An estimated 26 million Americans saw the film "Spirit of '43," and more than a third of them were motivated to start saving up as a result.
- Business Insider: WW2 Military Propaganda Posters Against STDs
- The National WWII Museum: WWII at a Glance -- Propaganda Posters of WWII
- Mother Jones: America's War on Mosquitoes
- Spiegel Online: Donald Versus Hitler -- Walt Disney and the Art of WWII Propaganda
- Slate: The Secrets of Airborne Propaganda Distribution
- PBS: WGBH American Experience: Truman -- Leaflets Warning Japanese of Atomic Bomb, 1945
- Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images