WW2 is notable for its exploitation of mass communication formats (newspapers, movies, radio, posters etc.) to arouse the popular imagination of the belligerent nations.
Mass communication formats were exploited to unite a country against its enemies – whether the enemies were perceived as foreign or domestic. More specifically, popular mobilisation exploited a number of themes, including:
- Demonization of an external enemy;
- Demonization of an internal enemy – often this enemy was depicted as close at hand, but unseen;
- Celebration of that country’s national virtues, history and culture; and
- Heroism in the face of adversity.
Each belligerent nation experienced widely varying fortunes as the war raged across many theatres of operations around the world. Strings of victories could be followed by strings of defeats, or vice versa. Such widely shifting fortunes required propaganda machines capable of rapidly responding to changing events in order to maintain the will to fight in the minds of a war-weary population. War-time populations had to be kept informed of the progress of the war. Victories were fairly simple to report; in contrast, defeats were either played down or depicted as merely set-backs on the road to ultimate victory.
Early Years (1939 to 1942) – The Allies in Retreat
In contrast to the popular enthusiasm that had characterised the commencement of WW1, Allied nations entered WW2 with extreme reluctance. Political leaders and their peoples were burdened by the prospect of what was to come: death and destruction.
Middle Years (1941-1943) – The Tide Turns Against the Axis Powers
After several years of successive victories, the military advances of the Axis Powers on all fronts ground gradually to a halt. In contrast to the Allies, the Axis Powers occupied relatively restricted geographical regions – Central Europe in the Western Hemisphere, and Japan and its neighbouring territories in the Eastern Hemisphere. Further, the industrial and scientific capabilities of Germany and the other leading Axis Powers notwithstanding, their populations and natural resources represented only a fraction of that possessed by the widely flung Allied Powers. A short war would almost certainly guarantee an Axis victory; a long war would permit the Allies to retreat (to surrender land in return for time) and gather overwhelming resources to inflict total defeat on the Axis Powers.
Final Chapter (1944-1945) – Allied Road to Victory
During the final years of the war, the Allies became increasingly confident that their victory was simply a matter of time. The enemy had been defeated on all fronts and driven back to their national borders. The focus of propaganda at this time was to maintain national resolve, and to maintain momentum for final victory.
Final Chapter (1944-1945) – Axis Road to Defeat
With defeats and loss of territory, and the arrival of Allied forces on their national frontiers, Axis Powers became increasingly desperate. Calamities and defeats were explained as became opportunities to expound on the nobility of a people’s continual sacrifice on the journey to achieving a greater good.
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|‘You Never Know Who’s Listening – Careless Talk Costs Lives’ Fougasse (artist), Ministry of Information 1942 Imperial War Museum © IWM (Art.IWM PST 0142) This item is available to share and reuse under the terms of the IWM Non Commercial Licence. Web source|