Depicting the Enemy: Stereotype Imagery in World War II

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Introduction

War posters were a key element in the U.S. propaganda effort to mobilize the homefront during World War II. Wartime posters reinforced positive images of traditional middle class values such as family, patriotism, and free enterprise.

War posters often included stereotyped and exaggerated imagery of physical features culturally associated with the enemy. The enemy was not only a foe on the battlefield, but was associated with all that was evil, including disease, anti-Christian sentiment, selfishness, and any behavior that may endanger Allied troops. A selection of war posters illustrating that imagery is shown here. 

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

STANDARD 3 The causes and course of World War II, the character of the war at home and abroad, and its reshaping of the U.S. role in world affairs.

Standard 3B: The student understands World War II and how the Allies prevailed. 

7-12: Describe military experiences and explain how they fostered American identity and interactions among people of diverse backgrounds. [Utilize literary sources including oral testimony] 

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION: You help the enemy : if you buy : black market gas : always : use legal ration coupons : pay no more than the legal price
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1945  
    SOURCE: "A Summons to Comradeship" World War I and II Posters
    REPOSITORY: Minneapolis Public Library

  2. DESCRIPTION: Open your : yap : and you'll help the : Jap : don't be guilty of : blabotage
    SOURCE: "A Summons to Comradeship" World War I and II Posters
    REPOSITORY: Minneapolis Public Library

  3. DESCRIPTION: Marching in the ranks of the enemy! : venereal disease has gone to war! : prophylaxis prevents venereal disease
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1944
    SOURCE: "A Summons to Comradeship" World War I and II Posters
    REPOSITORY: Minneapolis Public Library

  4. DESCRIPTION: Danke Schön! : "thanks : for the tip-off"
    SOURCE: "A Summons to Comradeship" World War I and II Posters
    REPOSITORY: Minneapolis Public Library

  5. DESCRIPTION: He's watching : you
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1942
    SOURCE: "A Summons to Comradeship" World War I and II Posters
    REPOSITORY: Minneapolis Public Library

  6. DESCRIPTION: Salvage scrap to blast the jap
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: [Washington : WPA Art Project, 1940 or 1941]
    SOURCE: By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

  7. DESCRIPTION: Alaska - death-trap for the Jap
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Washington : WPA Art Project, [between 1941 and 1943]
    SOURCE: By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

  8. DESCRIPTION: WARNING! Our Homes Are in Danger Now!
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Produced by the General Motors Corporation, 1942
    SOURCE: Powers of Persuasion: Poster War from World War II
    REPOSITORY: NARA Still Picture Branch (NWDNS-44-PA-2314)

Additional Media Resources

Powers of Persuasion: Poster War from World War II

"A Summons to Comradeship" World War I and II Posters

Posters of the Second World War in the Kittleson Collection at the Minneapolis Public Library

University of Washington Libraries War Poster Collection

Ohio Historical Society War Posters

War Posters Collection State Library Resource Center

By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943

The Art of War: World War II Posters from the Government Documents Collection

PRODUCE FOR VICTORY: Posters on the American Home Front (1941-45)

Additional Instructional Resources 

Resources on Incorporating Primary Sources and Historic Sites in Classroom Instruction

Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan: Powers of Persuasion - Poster Art of World War II

Secondary Resources

Russell, Edmund P. "'Speaking of Annihilation': Mobilizing for War Against Human and Insect Enemies, 1914-1945" The Journal of American History, Vol. 82, No. 4. (Mar., 1996), pp. 1505-1529.

Password Access to Journal Articles

Some journal articles linked to this site require password access due to copyright and other restrictions. Teachers participating in the Teaching American History in Maryland program with a valid University of Maryland (UMBC) Library card can access these materials through ResearchPort.

Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

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© Copyright, Maryland State Archives, June 23, 2004