By: Dionne Smith, Free Press Staff
During World War I, participating countries produced a large output of propaganda. America used propaganda to encourage people to do their part in the war, insinuating that they weren’t seen as true American citizens otherwise. Even though it has been a little over a century since the war, there is propaganda still around.
On March 30, the Osher Map Library held the opening reception of a World War I exhibit curated by Cartographic Outreach Coordinator Renee Keul. This exhibit displays many different war maps and propaganda posters from countries that participated in World War I. Keul explained that, based off of what the library had available, they wanted to display items that Americans would have seen that were made by America, or the allies. The exhibit shows the powerful effect of propaganda and how it affected America.
During WWI, propaganda was influential. It was made to encourage citizens to show support for the troops fighting overseas in Europe. At the time, posters were made to promote a political point in the hope of swaying the American people with a misleading perception about the war. Some posters promoted the purchase of Liberty Bonds, while others asked Americans to enlist their canine companions for the cause. Propaganda was also crafted in such a way as to evoke strong emotions. For example, one evocative poster showed a burning, broken, flame-ridden Statue of Liberty with a burning New York City in the background, while another poster encouraged immigrants to fight for their newfound freedom.
Before America joined the war, there were constant updates about the positions of the participating countries’ armies, at that time the British, Germans, French and Belgian armies. One way of keeping up with the war was with a map that came with flags representing each country. The flags were cut out and placed on the map to show each country’s position.
Keul believes that the reason the map was set up to be constantly changed was because it too was a form of propaganda. She states that the way America closely followed the war was almost as if the media knew that America would end up involved in the war.
“[With] any sort of persuasive art, the goal is really to use the emotion illustrated and drain it off into action,” Keul said. “In this case, the goal is to inspire the viewer to buy Liberty Bonds. In other posters, the goal was to get them to enlist.”
Keul believes that effective propaganda takes into account what the viewers would tolerate, instead of question, and does not use something that would cause people to question the propaganda. At the time, the term Hun, which was a derogatory term for Germans, was used frequently because a large amount of people accepted it, just as they also accepted the characterization of a Hun as ae dark-skinned, bloody-fingered man wielding a bloody bayonet.
“We have an oversaturation of propaganda, no matter what political views you have,” said David Neikirk, the Digital Imagining Coordinator for the Osher Map Library. Neikirk donated a large number of World War I propaganda posters that are on display in the exhibit. These posters were acquired by his great uncle Robert Neikirk during the war.
Neikirk believes that there is still a strong presence of propaganda in our current society linking to politics. He believes it’s almost impossible to avoid it. He stated that political propaganda today is being used to split the country, unlike in World War I where is was being used to unite the community against a common enemy.
“It’s the unfortunate ‘us-against-them’ type of mentality,” Neikirk said.
In our current political climate, there is a large amount of propaganda pushed out from both parties trying to discredit the other party and persuade people to choose a side by using stereotypes, much like how in WWI, America pushed to gain support for the war by stereotyping and vilifying the Germans, and inducing fear and hatred towards them.