How WWI US Propaganda Grew Out of a Society of Illustrators
By D.B. Dowd
via the hyperallergic.com web site
Joseph Pennell, “That liberty shall not perish from the earth — Buy liberty bonds Fourth Liberty Loan” (1918), Pennell uses a simple two-color palette and the rhetorical device of hyperbole to capture what might result from a failure to defeat Germany: New York City enveloped in a firestorm, the Statue of Liberty in danger of collapse beneath aerial bombardment. The personification of Lady Liberty, embodied in Bartholdi’s statue (1886), tethered to Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg, packs more punch than “Wake Up, America!”; Jodi and Louis Atkin Family Collection, D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library, Washington University Libraries (photo by the Library of Congress).Until recently, serious thinking about propaganda had seemed like a subject at rest, tidily contained in reflections on the victory over fascism following World War Two. Since 2010, we have witnessed the worldwide resurgence of populism and white nationalism, especially in the United States. Toxic ideologies and rising authoritarianism are now widely understood as serious threats to liberal democracy. If the echoes of fascism have brought the 1930s and ‘40s troublingly to mind, it’s worth recalling that modern propaganda became a global enterprise during the First World War, rather than the second. For the US, that conflict was brief, lasting less than two years. But the ideological output was prodigious.
When the United States Congress declared war on the Imperial German government in April 1917, belatedly entering World War I at Woodrow Wilson’s urging, the nation was flat-footed, unready for conflict. In addition to a lack of military preparedness, a divided citizenry needed rousing to get on a war footing. A propaganda operation would have to be mustered. Soon that job fell to George Creel, a former Rocky Mountain News editor who assumed the chairmanship of the new Committee on Public Information, an independent government agency formed by President Wilson’s executive order on April 13. Over the next two years, the CPI — a de facto department of propaganda — would sprout many “divisions,” or areas of activity, but few would rival what became the poster shop: the Division of Pictorial Publicity.
Creel understood the propaganda role that posters could play, partly because combatant nations had been using them for years, since the outbreak of war in 1914. In the United States, Creel later wrote in How We Advertised America (published in 1920), “The poster must play a great role in the fight for public opinion. The printed word might not be read; people might choose not to attend meetings or to watch motion pictures, but the billboard was something that caught even the most indifferent eye.”
The roots of Great War visual propaganda sprouted in the last decades of the 19th century, specifically in refinements to large format chromolithography and the development of a spot color design aesthetic by fin-de-siècle French poster designers. By “spot color,” I mean the commercial design practice exploited by Jules Chéret and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec of modern color assignations for communicative, rather than illusionist, purposes. An international “poster craze” followed the French example in Europe and America.
Another development contributed to emerging propaganda. During the 1890s, a new generation of American magazine publishers developed an alternative for the dusty old “family house” magazines which published literary and historical subjects. The new breed embraced current topics and sought popular appeal, crucially by lowering prices. Because cheaper issues would have to be underwritten by advertising revenue, magazines like Munsey’s and Cosmopolitan sold rafts of ads to new consumer product manufacturers. Advertisements quickly evolved into a fresh visual medium. In the process, magazine covers and full-page advertisements provided the space and money for illustrators and designers to create a new commercial science of word, image, and letterform. Working with editors, art directors, and ad clients, they honed their skills to stimulate, even implant, consumer desire for new products.
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"Major General John J. Pershing was chosen to lead the American Expeditionary Force (A. E. F.). He was more admired than liked... As it turned out, Black Jack Pershing’s qualities, skills, and traits made him an outstanding leader of the A.E.F."
Remembering World War I
By Ron Montonye - Pierce County Veterans Service Officer
via The Tribune newspaper (Pierce County, ND) web site
Oct 10, 2020 -- As I write this column, I am in the process of reading a book titled “Yanks – The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I.” It was written by John S.D. Eisenhower. As I read this book, it reminded me of many facts that I had either forgotten, or never learned, about World War I. I would like to share a few of these facts, and some thoughts of mine, with you.
World War I was fought from July 28, 1914 to Nov. 11, 1918. The formal state of war between the Allied Forces and Germany officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. Like World War II, the Germans fought the war on two fronts, the Eastern Front against Russia, and the Western Front against mainly Britain, France, and the United States. This global war, also known as the Great War, or “the war to end all wars,” was one of the deadliest conflicts in history. It led to the mobilization of more than 70 million military personnel, with an estimated nine million combatant deaths and 13 million civilian deaths. Of these numbers, the United States mobilized a force of 4,355,000 and suffered 322,000 casualties, including 116,000 killed.
Britain and France fought the Germans on the Western Front for over two years before the United States entered the war. The trench warfare tactics had resulted in very heavy losses and no major victories. They were desperate for the United States to join their efforts to defeat Germany. The use of automatic weapons, machine guns, tanks, early airplanes, and poisonous gases led to horrific casualty rates.
Having led a policy of isolationism during the first two years of the war, the United States military and manufacturing were little prepared for the massive build-up it would take to fight a war of this magnitude. The U.S. officially declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. So, our military involvement in World War I was actually only one-year and seven months.
Once the U.S. declared war, the massive build-up of troops and supplies was almost unbelievable. Major General John J. Pershing was chosen to lead the American Expeditionary Force (A. E. F.). He was more admired than liked. By nature he was strict in manner, attitude, and appearance, and his rigid insistence on military procedures earned him enemies. When he was assigned as a tactical officer at West Point, his obsession with stern discipline made him extremely unpopular with the cadets. Seizing on his previous assignment with the 10th Cavalry, a regiment of African American soldiers, cadets saddled him with the name “Black Jack.” This name stuck with Pershing throughout the rest of his career and long after its origin was forgotten. As it turned out, Black Jack Pershing’s qualities, skills, and traits made him an outstanding leader of the A.E.F.
Read more: Remembering World War I