Propaganda is the use of information to sway the public’s opinion on a current political topic. Propaganda is biased and used to mislead the viewer to accept a one-sided point of view. Although propaganda was nothing new, World War I was the first time the organized dissemination of information was used on a large scale to influence the opinion and actions of American citizens on the home front. Due in large part to the advancements in print and film, America was able to widely spread the message that supporting the war effort was vital.
Prior to the Great War, governments did not have mass media means, such as the press and film, to strategically market the war to its citizens. America used several forms of propaganda to gain support for the war, influence enlistment, and request the help of non-deployable citizens such as women and children. The allied forces, especially Britain and the U.S., produced and distributed tremendous amounts of propaganda during WWI. Their joint efforts, alone, were so successful that even Adolf Hitler praised them in his book, Mein Kampf.
WWI propaganda was remarkably useful because of its simple concept. A good piece of propaganda only required three things: a colorful background, a powerful image, and a bold statement. In fact, the most recognized piece of U.S. propaganda is an image of Uncle Sam with this one simple quote, “I want YOU for U.S. Army.”
Since WWI, historians have been able to categorize propaganda into two major forms, atrocity propaganda and patriotic propaganda. Each type served its own unique purpose. Atrocity propaganda includes images and messages focused on major war crimes and atrocities being committed by the opposition. The goal of atrocity propaganda was to justify and gain support for the war effort. Some examples of atrocity propaganda show the opposition burning homes, attacking children, and dominating the world.
Patriotic propaganda exploited images of patriotism and nationalism to not only convince men to join the war effort, but tarnish the image of any man unwilling to fight for his country. This type of propaganda was government-organized emotional blackmail and was extremely effective. Examples of this type of propaganda urged men to join their friends and often featured women draped in the American flag.
Other forms of propaganda were aimed at non-deployable citizens such as women and children. This form of propaganda was used to influence women and children back home to help in any way possible. Examples of this type of propaganda included pieces requesting that citizens ration food, purchase war bonds, and donate books to be sent to the troops.
Although propaganda was extremely useful during the Great War, it faced intense backlash in the years following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. This caused the United States to rethink its propaganda initiative and use less of it in the wars following WWI. Although propaganda has been employed in every war, it has never been used on this scale since.