Propaganda: Second World War Approach

Wartime propaganda was not a 20th century invention. It has been around for many centuries in different formats. It was the advent of cheaper and quicker printing methods that made it possible to mass produce posters at the time of the Second World War. From recruitment, security and secrecy to patriotism, frugality and investments, there were posters created for every subject.

Recruitment posters, which until this point had been aimed solely at men, started to show signs of change as the war progressed. Although still often portrayed as fragile, women were becoming more and more important to the war effort. The pressure was on to enlist more men and women and the posters made it clear there was no excuse not to join.

A colour poster showing a lion and beaver wielding swords and advancing menacingly.

War propaganda campaign: the beaver and the lion united against the enemy (MIKAN 2834354)

Another new element to propaganda during the Second World War was the concern about security and secrecy. There were growing fears that spies were always listening to conversations and that a small detail could lead to a big disaster for the troops. The posters started off fairly simple but as time progressed, they became more dramatic, often portraying a sinister-looking man in the background with large ears and a group of civilians or army men in the forefront having what seems like an innocuous conversation. The colours and graphics for these particular posters were often quite bold.

A colour poster showing two photographs overlaid with text. The top photo shows a café with people talking and a bystander listening to their conversation. The photo below shows a boat sinking.

“She Sails at Midnight…” Careless talk costs lives: propaganda for the security of Canada’s army (MIKAN 2834362)

The next phase was to target the men and women who were not able to enlist, to have them play a part in the war in a different way. They were called upon to work harder and produce more for the war effort. And when that was no longer enough, they were strongly encouraged to buy Victory Bonds to help fund the war. The tone of these posters evolved from the earlier tone of fear to something more hopeful—that by purchasing Victory Bonds, Canadians were ensuring a safe and happy future for their country.

A colour poster with a black-and-white photograph of a woman holding a bomb in her hands with the caption: “I’m making bombs and buying bonds!” Underneath the photograph in white letters on a red banner: “Buy Victory Bonds.”

Victory loan drive: “I’m Making Bombs and Buying Bonds!” (MIKAN 2846935)

Although there is no sure way of gauging the effectiveness of any of these campaigns, they remain an important piece of our history and a socio-economic, political look into the past.

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