Examples of 20th-century Cold War Propaganda

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Following World War II, the United States and the former Soviet Union entered into the tense period known as the Cold War, when politics and cultures clashed into a stalemate lasting from the last 1940s until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Americans largely feared the communist threat, and the political message against it seeped into nearly every facet of popular culture, from books and movies to the news itself. These techniques, used to spread the political and social cause, are classic examples of propaganda.

1 Propaganda Machine Gears Up

Anti-Soviet and anti-communist propaganda entered the American cultural landscape after World War II and hit its stride in the 1950s and 1960s. Early on, overt political statements appeared in posters, films and other media but the message eventually evolved into more subtle references and themes. The propaganda was designed to ramp up support of traditional U.S. social values and capitalism while stirring up dislike for communism and the threat it posed. The government produced the first Cold War propaganda, including the short films “Make Mine Freedom” and “Meet King Joe,” but some artists, writers, filmmakers and television producers later followed suit.

2 The Message Takes Motion

Many movies from the Cold War period provided seemingly endless messages about American life and the need to defeat communism. The government released movies painting a frightening picture of what life would be like if communists took over the United States, notably “Red Nightmare,” first produced to train the military then released to television. Countless films featured an anti-Soviet theme, including “Big Jim McLain,” starring John Wayne, and the 1980s hit “Rocky IV.” Even science-fiction films such as “The Blob” hinted that some unseen force was at work trying to undermine free society.

3 TV Takes on the Soviets

Cold War-era television programs took on the anti-communism message in comedy, parodying the fight against the Soviets, and in dramas and situation comedies showing idyllic American life. Examples include spy-themed programs such as “The Man from U.NC.L.E.” and “Get Smart,” and iconic family shows including “Leave It to Beaver” an “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriett.” The kids didn’t escape the message either, with villainous cartoon characters such as those in “Rocky and Bullwinkle” supposedly taking after Soviet spies and leaders.

4 Writing Delivers the Message

The classic example of anti-communism literature is George Orwell’s late-1940s novel, “1984,” which depicts a sinister society under the heel of an oppressive government, but even children’s books and comic books depicted an anti-communist message. News magazines, notably “Time,” “Life” and “Look,” provided a steady flow of pro-U.S., Cold War messages, from famous covers to hundreds of stories. Themes ranged from the political -- a look at Josef Stalin’s life -- to social, including a look at “unfriendly” Soviet citizens.

Since 1988, Mary Thomsen has been working on the "Valders Journal," a Wisconsin weekly newspaper. Thomsen has won several awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. She studied print journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.