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WWII Propaganda in the United States from 1941-1945.

Despite only entering the war at the end of 1941, and despite not using propaganda as much as, say, Nazi Germany, the U.S. still did its fair share of propagandizing during the Second World War. During World War II, the United States government sometimes adopted policies that curtailed liberties and the flow of information–– and frequently supported such policies with the use of wartime propaganda. In the interests of morale and security, the Office of War Information and Office of Censorship used domestic propaganda and censorship to promote positive images of the United States and to restrict sensitive information. In the most egregious violation of civil liberties, thousands of Japanese Americans removed from their homes and incarcerated in bleak, isolated relocation centers for the duration of the war.

Today, Americans might World War II as a time of national unity, when all Americans worked together in harmony to defeat fascism–– but this is a heavily idealized version that is both historically inaccurate and fanciful. The conflicts and tensions present in American society before the war did not disappear and goals that seemed important before December 7, 1941 (the date of Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor), continued to be fought for afterwards. Labor leaders served on government planning agencies and helped mobilize the industrial manpower necessary for production, but also sought to protect, and even extend, the political gains the unions had made during the 1930s. They took advantage of the growing labor shortages of the defense period to force hitherto recalcitrant employers to recognize unions. Once the war began, they fought over government wage and price controls, which they saw as allowing inflation to erode wage gains. In 1943, John L. Lewis’ United Mine Workers closed down the coal mines four times over that issue. Union members worked many hours of overtime, increasing both output and quality, but also continued to fight to keep the shop-floor “industrial democracy” promised by the labor legislation of the 1930s. In spite of the opposition of union leaders, who had pledged not to strike for the duration of the war, many workers walked off the job in brief “wildcat” strikes triggered by continuing, day-to-day conflicts with management over production standards, grievances, and discipline. Although wartime strikes had little effect on production, they unleashed a storm of public criticism and led to the passage of the first anti-labor legislation since the early 1930s. In response, government media issued many posters encouraging women in the workplace (most famously, through the character who came to be known as Rosie the Riveter–– “We Can Do It!”) to take up the jobs and duties left by working men who were conscripted into the U.S. Armed Forces. Not only did this all but make labor issues play ‘second fiddle’ (at least for the moment) to issues of ‘national pride’ and unity, but it also effectively painted those who focused on said labor issues more than the war itself as ‘unpatriotic’ dissenters and Axis sympathizers. Furthermore, important training films, including Frank Capra’s Why We Fight and propaganda films like Seeds of Destiny, an Academy Award winning movie depicting Nazi Germany’s efforts to keep control of Europe, were produced during the era to create moralizations for the U.S.’s entry into the conflict.

As for race relations within America, however, the U.S. government’s wartime propaganda notably did very little to focus on the civil rights of neither black Americans nor European Jews (however, the latter was the case because Americans were largely unaware of the existence of Nazi-built concentration camps until near the war’s end), instead choosing to vilify the Nazis, Japanese, and Italians through depicting them simply as “enemies of democracy and freedom.” African Americans in particular saw no inconsistency in their home country’s “Double V” campaign, which sought victory against the Axis abroad and against unfair treatment at home–– yet the latter goal was not to come to fruition until decades after the war concluded. Blacks tried to take advantage of the obvious contradiction between waging a war against fascism and racism outside the United States while practicing segregation at home, of their new importance to industrial production, and of the political power they found as they moved into Northern cities to press for an end to discrimination in communities, in the work place, and in the military–– yet they still faced segregation in all three of these aspects of life.

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