History World War II

“Keep ’em coming”?

Longtime readers know that I’m a bit of a World War II buff. In fact, that’s how I ended up developing such a profound interest in Holocaust denial, to the point where I used to write about it rather frequently. I don’t write about it as often these days, not so much because I’m not still interested in countering it but rather because I don’t routinely come across it in the news as often as I used to.

Be that as it may, I happen to love WWII propaganda posters. American, British, Russian, German, I collect digital images of them all, and although my collection is only a couple of hundred images thus far, there are some rather fascinating examples there. Perhaps one day I’ll do a post with a careful selection of some of my favorites. Popular messages, in America at least, seemed to be that being too free talking about troops and ships would lead to the deaths of our brave soldiers, admonishments to stay within rations and not to buy stuff on the black market, and exhortations to buy war bonds and increase war production. In fact, I was just mulling over such a post yesterday, perusing my library of poster images, when I came across this:


One wonders if the connotation behind the above poster was inadvertent or intentional.

Fortunately, though, I have yet to come across anything in American war propaganda to match this sort of over-the-top religious imagery:


Fellow, WWII buffs, what are your favorite propaganda posters? Where are good online sources for such posters? I am aware of the excellent Calvin College archive of German propaganda and the resources linked to from there.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

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54 replies on ““Keep ’em coming”?”

maybe i’m being over-sensitive, but it feels like the last part of the post is saying, “haha! american war posters could be pretty gay! isn’t that wacky? at least we weren’t as gay as the germans, though”. removing the ‘fortunately’ from the the line before the german poster might help get rid of the anti-gay connotation somewhat.

Yes, not exactly a realistic picture of the Fuehrer.

There is a good selection of British ones, and links to more, here. Personally I like the “Dig For Victory” and “Make Do and Mend” campaigns, which of course have quite a bit of contemporary resonance. The Dig for Victory one with the bloke with the pipe returning from his allotment with his garden fork and his carrots is my favourite, and reminds me distinctly of my grandparents’ generation.

The “No loose talk” theme was a common one in British war art too – the main slogan the Brits used was “Careless talk costs lives”. There is a good one of these on the site linked above, with Hitler with a giant ear “listening in”

John Kelsey,
maybe I’m being overly insensitive, but I don’t connote anything “anti-gay” about this post. Note that after the term “fortunately”, Orac explicitly describes the silly/outrageous element of the featured poster as “over the top religious imagery”. Which, I hope you will agree, is difficult to conflate with “gayness”.

I’m sure there are a lot of ways to interpret the dudes in the ‘keep ’em coming’ poster, but ftr I didn’t find anything “gay” (or “anti-gay”) about it.

Actually, I took out a part where I referred to the Allies having nothing over the Nazis when it came to homoerotic imagery, at least in this case. Although I think John’s criticism was indeed a bit too sensitive, I didn’t think it was entirely without merit, either.

The Soviet campaigns were interesting, too. The propagandists had a knack for recycling images that worked in the past, like the one where the worker points at the viewer and asks, “Have you volunteered?” in the early 1920s and its WWII descendant, with a soldier encouraging the viewer to volunteer for the front. My personal favorite is a poster with a farmer in traditional garb and a soldier holding his rifle. They are embracing and kissing each other on the mouth. The poster is meant to celebrate the contributions each profession has made to victory, but the expressions on the kisser’s faces are strange. It’s almost as if the soldier is coldly, methodically sucking the life out of the farmer, whose eyes appear to be rolling back into his head. Or perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

Some time ago, WFMU blogged a whole bunch of Nazi propaganda music recorded by Charlie [Karl Schwedler] and His Orchestra. Amazingly, the download links are still live and you can download them here and here.

There’s more info at WFMU and Wikipedia, but the short story is that Goebbels had outlawed jazz and swing some years prior to the war, so when Hitler ordered him to assemble a propaganda swing band, he had to raid the prisons and concentration camps to assemble a crew of thieves, drug addicts, gypsies, homosexuals, and in at least one case, a Jew. And amazingly, the band is perhaps the tightest, hardest swinging, most musical of the European bands during the war years, all wedded to some of the most heinous propaganda lyrics you’ve ever heard. According to reports, Winston Churchill was a huge fan. Well worth a listen for WWII propaganda buffs, but you might not want to have to explain your interest to a casual listener.

Heh. I’d hate to be the model on that poster, particular 65 or 70 years ago, when being associated with VD actually had a lot more of a stigma than it does today.


I can’t see any of those pictures. You must not be one of my Facebook friends.

Shows how much I actually know what I’m doing on Facebook…the pictures should be visible to everyone now.

A favorite WWII poster (possibly illustrating one of Len Deighton’s books on aircraft) shows a couple of Britons gossiping in a cafe. Hitler is literally under the table, soaking in all the carelessly revealed knowledge.

Poor Adolf tended to get too personally involved in fighting the war.

I like the WWI propaganda posters, unfortunately, I don’t know of an on-line repository for them.

There’s actually a German collection of similar posters that I’ve come across that show various Germans carelessly chatting away with a shadow of a man in a trenchoat wearing a wide-brimmed hat falling over them.

John: “maybe i’m being over-sensitive, but it feels like the last part of the post is saying, “haha! american war posters could be pretty gay! isn’t that wacky? at least we weren’t as gay as the germans, though”.”

Hum. Just “maybe”?

I did read Orac’s original version of his post, but I took it as saying that it was the unintentional homoerotic flavor of that war poster that made it look funny. Obviously, the period was so strait-laced that the implications of that poster’s imagery passed undetected.

Obviously, the period was so strait-laced that the implications of that poster’s imagery passed undetected.

And one only had to wait until 1947 for Kenneth Anger to make “Fireworks.”

Oh, please. You really think that comes close to “Man the Guns!” in homoerotic imagery. The men are not only holding long shafts; they’re shirtless, sweaty, and firing off their cannons.

I know it made an impression on me from my history textbook.

Hm.. for Allied posters, the coolest might be the clearly dead sailor, reaching up out of his watery grave, with the caption “somebody talked!” under it. Hm. I can’t find it now.

@26: Sadly, a still relevant anti-war ad.

Hitler looks like a demented Boy Scout in Orac’s poster.

The thing I find the most disturbing about the American poster is not the implications of the large phallic object, but the way the men are drawn: All are identical large male Aryan types. The Nazi ideal, really. As though the war had turned us all into what we fought. Wars have a tendency to do that.

It’s sad that the British convoy codes were insecure, so the “loose lips sink ships” campaign was a red herring. Blaming the public instead of being careful yourselves has a long and horrific history.

Amy Alkon,

I thought you were specifically referring to Charlie Chaplin’s role in his own movie, “The great dictator.” After rereading your post I apologize if that’s not exactly what you meant.

Heroic male imagery was rampant in the ’30s and ’40s, probably influenced by Socialist Realism. I think we’re looking at those images with the eyes of people considerably more comfortable — and hence more likely to see it — with homoeroticism than was the case almost seven decades ago.

One of the originators of the graphic novel form was the American artist Lynd Ward; I remember being introduced to his work in the early ’70s and seeing what seemed to be a strong homoerotic vibe, though he was apparently a 20th-century straight guy who married right after college and stayed married all his life. Allen Ginsberg’s epic “Howl” is said to have been heavily influenced by Ward’s first graphic novel God’s Man, which was in his parents’ library, so maybe I’m not the only one.

The National Library of Australia in Canberra had an exhibition of such things a year or two back.

The most remarkable one, I thought, was a poster of Stalin flanked by Churchill and Roosevelt, with admiring expressions on their faces. The poster was entitled “Curl the Mo, Uncle Joe”, and there was even a song of the same name.

I love propaganda posters. This would have to be my favorite:

It’s funny how moralising Soviet propaganda was. I’ve got a reproduction hanging in my daughter’s bedroom that has a very cartoonish head, basically a square, with a zipper as a mouth. You’d think it’d be along the lines of ‘loose lips sink ships’ but it’s actually about the evils of gossip. There are also some quite a few posters about not sleeping around – things like an image of a wilted, dying flower, etc.

The pride of my collection (well, it’s my only original, apart from a greeting card with Lenin on it) is a Cultural Revolution-era poster of a happy, smiling Mao over a sea of peasants all weilding the Little Red Book. When I took it in to have it framed the person complained that the paper was so thin it was hard to get it mounted properly. They weren’t meant to last.

“Let’s Give Him Enough and On Time” by Norman Rockwell has to be one of my favorite WWII posters of all time. Simple in message and visuals, it really hit home the impact of buying war bonds and supporting the war effort.

As Orac mentioned above, the Germans had their own anti-loose-talk propaganda. The slogan was ‘Feind hoert mit!’ (‘The enemy is listening in!’)

@ 32: Sadly, the indiscriminate chracter of strategic bombing makes the poster with the dead child and the USAF bomber in the background a fairly truthful picture of the war. It could probably have been recycled many times in many other wars.

Holocaust denial was (and is) impossible in Sweden, since Bernadotte’s “white buses” brought so many concentration camp prisoners to Sweden just before the end of the war. Although they did not include prisoners who had worked at the crematoria, the moribund physical condition of the prisoners spoke volumes of the conditions in the camps.

The most famous Swedish poster of the era is on the theme of “loose lips sink ships” and is a wordplay using the Swedish word for “is silent” which is “tiger”. The poster shows an impressive-looking tiger and the text
“En svensk tiger”.

@Birger Johansson:

Denial is never, ever, ever impossible… Ever!

Holocaust denial was (and is) impossible in Sweden, since Bernadotte’s “white buses” brought so many concentration camp prisoners to Sweden just before the end of the war.

Given that there is Holocaust denial in Germany and Poland (where some of the most notorious concentration camps were located), I’d say this statement takes an overly optimistic view of human nature.

“Given that there is Holocaust denial in Germany and Poland (where some of the most notorious concentration camps were located), I’d say this statement takes an overly optimistic view of human nature.”

Not everywhere in Germany. See, Op-Ed: Saluting a stand against Holocaust denial (July 12, 2010):

“An official Iranian delegation from the city of Shiraz recently visited Weimar, its sister city in Germany. Like Weimar, Shiraz has been a capital of high culture for centuries, and appreciating the arts undoubtedly was high on the itinerary of Mayor Mehran E’temadi and his fellow delegates.

The delegation from Shiraz did not, however, see fit to tour the other, less proud side of Weimar’s history — the concentration camp of Buchenwald, located just four miles from the city, where more than 50,000 Jews and others were killed and made to endure cruel and barbaric treatment. The Iranians were scheduled to visit the concentration camp memorial, but they refused to go, for reasons that are obvious to anyone who has heard the anti-Semitic rants and Holocaust calumnies spewed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

That the Shiraz delegation on their June visit chose to avoid the discomfort and embarrassment of confronting the truth is not surprising. But what might come as a pleasant surprise is the heartening reaction of their German hosts: The Weimar City Council refused to meet their guests from Shiraz.”

[rest of the op-ed at ]

1. Wish that the US press had seen fit to report this; &
2. Wish that our “leaders” would show as much backbone.

What is it that makes any of those posters homoerotic as opposed to just erotic? The presumed Male Gaze?

As for posters, I like the idyllic Women’s Land Army posters linked by Dr Aust, which also seem (to my untrained eye) influenced by Socialist Realism.

I like the Disney cartoons form that period, in particular the one where Donald Duck “becomes” Hitler, works in a war factory, and fights off badly stereotyped “yellow menace” Japanese soldiers.

(Just a note, my great Aunt was a novice nun during the War, and on a visit to a local Army base climbed onto a large artillery array under maintenance and said, “I want to kill a Jap!” She was asked to leave shortly thereafter.)


I like the Disney cartoons form that period, in particular the one where Donald Duck “becomes” Hitler, works in a war factory, and fights off badly stereotyped “yellow menace” Japanese soldiers.

When my kids were little we did not have cable TV, and sometimes they liked to watch cartoons when soap operas were on (and I needed to actually get some chores done). So we had tapes of cartoon collections from Disney, Loony Toons, etc and some were from the WWII era (collections that were being put out in video stores, a Disney one included Ferdinand the Bull and the Singing Whale!).

I learned from my son after he graduated from high school that these cartoons were actually helpful. During his American History classes he was the only one who recognized the racist depictions of Axis powers used in the illustrations of propaganda. All because of Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and friends!

Birger Johansson @40:

That poster did not refer to carpet bombing, but to the alleged dropping by the USAAF of small delayed-explosion devices resembling fountain pens. Children would pick them up, causing detonation.

While I doubt that atrocity ever happened, for sure northern Italy was full of small unexploded bomblets and projectiles; I clearly recall a big illustrated poster – put out by postwar authorities, NOT the Fascists – in my kindergarten, warning all children never to pick up any of a dozen objects. We were supposed to report them to adults, preferably police officers. The year was 1963.

I’ve noted how propaganda posters can give one fasinating insight into the thoughts and emotions in wartime countries.
Canada has always had a volunteer based military, so a lot of the following concern recruiting and enlistment

Canadian Wartime Propaganda Posters

World War One (The Great War)

World War II

Concern that “loose lips sink ships” led to the last witchcraft prosecution in Britain. From the New York Times/Reuters, 31 January 1998:

LONDON, Jan. 31 ’98 (Reuters) — The last woman to be jailed in Britain for witchcraft may be offered a posthumous pardon 40 years after her death, officials said today.

Helen Duncan was jailed for nine months in 1944 under the 1735 witchcraft act for claiming to have conjured up the spirit of a sailor killed on a battleship. The sinking of the ship was a state secret.

British authorities believed she could be a wartime security risk. They feared she might “see” and reveal the sites for D-Day landings in France.

Officials said Interior Minister Jack Straw was now prepared to consider a pardon.

The case set off a security panic after the woman apparently conjured up the spirit of a sailor who said at a séance that his ship, the Barham, had sunk. The British Navy had suppressed all news of the ship’s sinking off Malta.

Here are a few more of my favorite World War II ads:

– Hey Joe, got gum?

– How about the really parochial view?

– This ad would work for our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even if it lays it on a bit thick. Show it to someone who is whining about the Bush tax increases next year.

– This one might be homoerotic. It’s got these guys not wearing shirts, for an obvious reason.

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