Propaganda has always been a powerful tool in the hands of any government, especially during wars. In her article The American Wartime Propaganda during World War II, Mia Sostaric discusses how the United States used a rather unusual appeal to promote the war to Americans: the comic books. Using the examples of the two most popular comic characters of the wartime – Marvel’s Captain America and DC’s Wonder Woman – the author shows how the States’ propaganda worked through them.
First, Sostaric delves into the premises of such unexpected approach, explaining how the American society was divided on the question of participating in the war before the events of Pearl Harbour. The political stage was split to fit various activist groups, each of which had their own demands in regards to entering the fight. Most were rightfully doubtful of it after the World War I and the consequences it brought, while their opposers claimed that it could be the States’ chance at becoming the world leader. Sostaric offers a telling perspective into the America’s behavior during the beginning of the World War II, explaining the country’s reluctance to actually participate in it and not just gain monetary profits from selling arms.
The United States government decided to “sell” the war to its citizens by employing huge propaganda campaigns. Appeal to protecting family and duty to the county arose in media of all sorts, which become the main channels of spreading it to population. Governmental and non-governmental propaganda attempted to ease racial and gender tensions caused by the social changes that war mobilization brought about. The author states that racial stereotypes were especially promoted in the portrayals of the Axis, and the comics supported them. Both Captain America and Wonder Woman drew on the political duties of the American citizens, encouraging them to show their patriotism by fighting for America.
Delving into the story of Captain America’s creation, Sostaric specifically emphasizes that this character was made to be an embodiment of patriotism and willingness to uphold democratic values. The author discusses how every detail of the Captain America’s comics underlined these goals – from a American flag-like costume to villains like Hitler, Gestapo, and Red Skull. It was rather new approach to propaganda, as it was direct and demanding instead of “gentle urging to fight for one’s family” appeal of the past. However, it worked indisputably well, especially with children, who were exposed to patriotic values from the young age through entertaining ways of comics. Using “good guys” and “bad guys” to define the political struggle of the wartime, Captain America turned the attention away from the ethical and economic consequences of the United States entering the war.
As opposed to Captain America, Wonder Woman was created from very different premises, states author, although for the same goal of promoting participation in the war. In the propaganda posters of military time, women were represented more as symbols of liberty, painted in a feminine light, according to the gender stereotypes of women being lesser than men. Rather than calling into action as an example, American propaganda mostly depicted women as White, middle-class caretakers, drawn into the labor by patriotic impulses. They awaited their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons from war, and provided for the victory not on the front, but in the rear. Sostaric argues that Wonder Woman’s motivation to fight differs entirely from Captain America’s – where the latter enters the war due to patriotism and duty, the former tries to eradicate evil and bring love to conquer it. Marston tapped into the heighten patriotism on the home front and women’s changing social role, while building on that momentum with familiar patriotic appeals and messages to the readers. Sostaric also emphasizes that, despite Wonder Woman’s own jumbled origins, the comic still employed racial stereotypes and the “good guy versus bad guy” narrative.
I have found author’s argumentation quite persuasive, as Sostaric outlines a variety of aspects related to each comic hero peculiar role in the overall war propaganda. The author provides a comprehensive analysis of both characters: their origins, evolution, as well as how exactly did they influence they society, and what motivations exploited. Sostaric’s arguments ae clear and well-defined, and she uses evidence from other sources to support her claims, which makes her research reliable and valid. She skillfully ties each character’s special features and personal traits to the political and social situation of the wartime, showing various perspectives from which they were viewed.
Propaganda is an issue that have persisted from a long time, and it is important to study not only the well-known and employed approaches, but also try and dissect more specific and culture-based ones. It is clear that Sostaric wanted to show how a state can “sell” anything to its citizens by choosing and implementing quaint strategies that would be especially effective in the long run. This article provides a definitive and evidence-supported example on how pop culture can not only influence society in general, but be used as means to enforce and support a state’s ambitions.
Sostaric, Mia. “The American Wartime Propaganda During World War II: How Comic Books Sold the War.” Australasian Journal of American Studies 38, no. 1 (2019): 17–44. Web.