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"Americans Will Always Fight for Liberty"

Americans will always fight for liberty
US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of David and Zelda Silberman
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tags: propaganda US armed forces visual art

type: Poster

Beginning during the First World War (WWI), large color posters became essential weapons in the propaganda arsenal of all the warring powers. Once used to market and advertise products, posters began to serve in support of the war effort. The public was encouraged to donate funds for war bonds or join the armed forces, conserve resources, and hate the enemy. Posters also helped to express and popularize each nation's war aims.

During World War II, propaganda agencies recruited artists, both from the fine arts and from the more popular illustrated journals, to design posters. As one American propaganda official, George Creel, explained: "It was not only that America needed posters, but it needed the best posters ever drawn."1 To reach the millions of immigrants in the United States, Creel's agency—the Committee on Public Information (CPI)—produced in many different languages, including German, Norwegian, Ukrainian, and Russian. 

Creel and the CPI had learned to appreciate the powerful appeal of the poster. Describing his work during WWI, he remarked: "What we wanted—what we had to have—was posters that represented the best work of the best artists—posters into which the masters of the pen and brush had poured heart and soul as well as genius."2

More than two decades after WWI, American propaganda officials contacted the country's artists and advertisers to shape messaging for the fight against the Axis. Francis E. Brennan, the art director at Fortune magazine, was selected to lead the Office of War Information’s Division of Graphics. Brennan sent an urgent plea to American artists:

....the essence of art is freedom. Without it the world of art could not exist. We know that the enemy is trying to destroy freedom—that he has long since chained together his men of talent. We know the total pattern of his wretchedness—we saw it first when he destroyed the works and lives of those whose art was a threat to his evil purposes....We saw, in short, an unprincipled plan to degenerate and possess men’s minds.3

Although Brennan made no mention of Adolf Hitler or Nazi Germany, many understood his statements as referring to Nazi book burnings and the Party's attacks on modern art.

Graphic artists like Bernard Perlin4 answered Brennan's call. To lend their works greater power and spark patriotic feeling, Perlin and others often rooted them in dramatic scenes from American history.5 In the poster presented here, Perlin places Americans fighting the Axis powers in line with the struggle of soldiers in the Revolutionary War.6 How might such a comparison have motivated Americans to fight?

George Creel served as head of the Committee on Public Information (CPI), established by President Woodrow Wilson in April 1917. Creel and the CPI were tasked with "building morale, arousing the spiritual forces of the Nation, and stimulating the war will of the people." George Creel, Complete Report of the Chairman of the Committee on Public Information (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1920), 40.

George Creel, How We Advertised America: The First Telling of the Amazing Story of the Committee on Public Information that Carried the Gospel of Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1920), 133-134.

See Brennan's "Note to American Artists," Archives of American Art, Ben Shahn papers, 1879-1990, bulk 1933-1970, Series 2, Letters, 1929-1990, US Office of War Information, 1942-1943.

 

Bernard Perlin (1918–2014) was born in Richmond, Virginia. The son of Russian Jewish immigrant parents, he received his training in art at the New York School of Design, the National Academy of Design, and the Art Students League in the 1930s. Shortly after the United States entered World War II, Perlin joined the OWI, America’s official propaganda agency. From 1942 to 1943, he designed and laid out posters supporting the war effort, including "Let 'Em Have It: Buy Extra Bonds."

Several of these posters echoed President Roosevelt's January 1942 "Four Freedoms" speech, in which the President emphasized that World War II was one of liberty versus tyranny. For another example, see this Norman Rockwell poster from 1943.

In another poster promoting war bonds, the artist invoked the image of a Revolutionary War militia man.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of David and Zelda Silberman
Accession Number 1988.42.46
Date Created
1943
Publisher
Office of War Information
Language(s)
English
Location
Washington, DC, USA
Document Type Poster
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