Wednesday, October 21, 2020

World War II Posters - David Pollack

Summary: This is a visual survey of posters printed by the United States, the Allies, and the Axis, and offers an overview of the various categories of propaganda posters created in support of the war effort: recruiting, conservation, careless talk/anti-espionage, bond/fundraising, morale, and more.  With posters from all combatants, here is a look at propaganda used as a tool by all parties in the conflict and how similar themes crossed national borders. (Summary from book - Image from amazon.com - Book given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

My Review:  I am not an expert on World War II.  I know some of the basic history and I loved Band of Brothers, but I'm not an aficionado.  I did marry one, though, and his eyes lit up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree when he saw this book.  He's a man of few words, but they were:  That is a cool book!

World War II Posters is a curated collection of WWII wartime propaganda employed by both sides of the fight.  While it would be impossible for this book to contain all the WWII posters in existence, it is a massive compendium that covers many different aspects of the war, like recruitment, health and hygiene, fundraising efforts, production, espionage, and even those those facets less talked about, like women and minorities.

World War II Posters is a significant collection of visual history and I learned a great deal while perusing its pages.  Of course, I am familiar with a few iconic war posters -- namely, "Uncle Sam Wants You," (which originated in WWI) and Rosie the Riveter's "You Can Do It! -- but was not even remotely prepared for the rest.  I had no idea there were so many different organization, societies, and branches of, within, and outside of the military involved in the war effort.   Nor was I aware of the depth and breadth of the war-time propaganda machine during that time.


The propaganda used by the US, its Allies, and the Axis was all designed to motivate, persuade, and inform the public in an effort to advance the war effort.    It was a lot easier to see the psychology behind the narrative when I examined them collectively.  Taken altogether an in a historical context, it was fascinating to see how the posters, like modern-day advertisements, were designed to encourage or discourage certain behaviors and targeted different kinds of people by playing on their fears and desires.  I was surprised by how much the public was asked to sacrifice in order to supply the troops.  My favorite posters were the ones that encouraged civilians to grow gardens, learn to can, and conserve everyday items like scrap metal, rubber, tin, gas, tires, and waste fats in order to further the cause.


There were a few aspects of the book that I found irksome (but important).  When viewed through modern eyes, some of the posters perpetuated sexist or racist themes.  As the author states, "propaganda is a tool used by all sides" and each side of the war produced posters that depicted the other side (especially the Japanese and African Americans) in a grotesquely exaggerated and dehumanizing light.  It was also frustrating to see posters that encouraged women into the workforce, knowing that only a few years later they would be asked to step aside for the men coming home.  However infuriating, I believe that these kinds of posters were included because they showed the uglier side of wartime propaganda and leaving them out would have rendered the collection cursory and inaccurate.  In short, while I don't agree with the message of certain posters, they have unmistakable value when examined through a historical lens.

Ultimately, I think this book would make a wonderful conversation piece or coffee table book and a fantastic gift for the avid collector or your favorite WWII buff.  Personally, it served as a reminder of a time when unity, dedication, and sacrifice were more important to the community at large than ego and creature comforts, and I hope to carry that message with me.  World War II Posters has my wholehearted stamp of approval and I am thrilled to add it to my personal library.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Likely fine for the adult reader.  A few Biblical swear words (like H*ll and G*d).  One poster shows three men showering al fresco, with one backside visible (meant to encourage cleanliness).  Some posters, though considered acceptable at the time, would likely be seen as sexist or racist through more modern eyes, including some with racist terminology (e.g. "J*ps").  A few VD posters talk about prophylactics and/or have mild innuendo.

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