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Art and Propaganda

Art with an Agenda: Metin Parlak – ICD Program Director

Propaganda is an efficient tool in wartime; its uses include mobilising popular support for recruitment or public morale, demonising the enemy and championing distant allies. Evidence of all three can be found in countless wars but I will focus on the Second World War which also tells the story of the first as the techniques used in both bare resemblance.

The delivery of propaganda was evident across the spectrum of arts; it was common practice in Britain and the U.S. to sit through a short propaganda film presented in news form showing the heroic adventures of the ‘boys at the front’ before you could enjoy watching some Charlie Chaplin. Frank Capra’s explanatory “Why We Fight” series was in the U.S. with intentions of rallying popular support and encouraging recruitment.

What I find particularly fascinating is the use of propaganda posters; the use of a short message and crafty imagery makes them both powerful and memorable. For example, their themes could appeal to certain aspects of daily life in order to transform the population’s mentality into one largely of ‘total war’. Each nation’s resources, production rates and lifestyles should be oriented around the war effort.

Posters produced during WW2 have become iconic images today. The most famous, J.M. Flagg’s Uncle Sam poster with its renowned “I Want You For U.S. Army” caption, was used in the First and Second World War. It is easy to imagine the stern old man with his pointed finger and piercing stare compelling young men to enlist. Brave American lads submitted to the systematic campaign of recruitment from above in the thousands, in a manifestation of the pressures forced upon them by society.

Propaganda posters were also used to celebrate alliances that had been brokered by the ruling elites. In the U.S, a poster of a Russian soldier captioned “This Man is Your Friend, He Fights for Freedom” was distributed. Of course, the leadership of the U.S. and Britain (Churchill in particular) did not believe the Russians fought for freedom and were very cynical about the USSR; the circumstances however, called for a “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” approach. The use of posters containing these political messages then served the purpose of portraying a distant alien population as a brother-in-arms and in so doing, glosses over the elitist realm of foreign policy and real politik, reducing it to a simplistic picture of good vs evil. The picture of the Russian soldier could easily have been replaced by a Hungarian revolutionary in 1956, a militant of the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet invasion and a member of the Polish Solidarity Movement in the 1980s.


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We are the Blogsphere Team of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. We are the interactive part of the web resources of ICD. We spread culture and mutual understanding among cultures through blogs.


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The London Art as Cultural Diplomacy ConferenceAugust 21st, 2013


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