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War Effort

The class I took in Canadian Design History earlier this year has already sparked a couple of Speak Up posts, and here, now is the third. I should probably take classes more often. What caught my eye then, and has been nagging at me ever since, was a single poster produced by the Canadian Government during World War II.

To a 21st Century person, that’s a very unusual message, and it says a lot about the mentality of a nation during wartime nearly 100 years ago. For the period covering both World Wars, the concept of war as all-encompassing to every aspect of life was widely promoted, felt and lived. During WWI, the Canada Food Board issued these posters:

Canadians were both encouraged to grow and preserve their own crops, but also threatened with punishment if they “hoarded” food. Seems like a bit of a mixed message, but other posters make it more clear:

The idea being that food resources which could be exported needed to be preserved for the need of soldiers, and that Canadians were to grow their own food as much as possible. The Food Board also produced posters encouraging people to go without, and implemented themed days such as “meatless Fridays,” and encouraged higher consumption of fish.

All of this was in aid of the “war effort.” A term which is familiar to us, while at the same time being conceptually foreign. As I looked at these posters, and thought of the concept of “war effort”—wherein an entire nation is encouraged to sacrifice in aid of a war; where the effects of a war fought overseas are felt very personally at home—I wondered, “was this a Canadian thing?”

It was not. The above two posters are American. Some of the reasons for saving food was a little less … shall we say, savoury:

After you get over your initial reaction of “Ewww…” and “Ha ha,” I want you to consider for a moment the idea of actually saving fat and bones and delivering them to some centralized place where they are collected and then shipped to, presumaby, munitions factories. Now that’s a war effort.

Nor was this conservation movement isolated to food.

The one on the left is Canadian, the one on the right, British. As an interesting side-note, in Alberta, somewhere west of Red Deer, there used to be a farmer who had collected hundreds of old tractors, which he had used to make a miles-long fence. The unsubstantiated story I heard was that since the war he had obsesssively collected metal in the form of tractors, cars and other vehicles so that they could not be used to make bombs—a concept which I thought completely mad at the time, but now understand the source of his logic.

Please note also, the poster references to “local commitees”. The war effort had a strong community base with those unable to actually go and fight pitching in to help the national cause at a local level. This idea that individuals can make a difference was both nurtured and used during the period of the two World Wars.

From the Ohio History website: “Posters, such as these, helped mobilize the nation for World War II. They called for sacrifice and participation. Citizens were asked to contribute time and money, to produce products, to conserve resources, and to contribute to the war effort in personal ways.

This early conservation movement puts the current one to shame, as it covers not only saving and—ahem—recycling, but repair (both of the above are American). The entire industry of Repair seems to have all but dried up and blown away in the 21st Century.

While individuals were asked to conserve, businesses were encouraged to produce.

The poster on the left is Canadian; on the right, American.

Another side note: In a famous wartime advertising campaign Lucky Strike cigarettes changed their packaging from green to white, with the slogan “Lucky Strike Green Has Gone to War”, on the premise that the “copper-based” green ink was needed for the war in use for uniforms and all that green paint, among other things (although it is now known they changed the pack for purely commercial reasons). This is a notion that to us may seem laughable, but was, at that time, completely plausible.

No human aspect went untouched by the war effort; even the brain was called into service.

Another constant message that bombarded the public (both individuals and corporations) during this time was to contribute money by buying war bonds, or, as they were known in Canada—Victory Bonds. In 1915 alone, $100,000,000 worth of bonds were purchased. There was even a campaign of “Thrift Stamps” aimed at children which could be collected, like box tops, until they had enough to exchange for a Victory Bond.

The above is Canadian, from WWI. Interestingly, the Victory Bonds had a renewed campaign just after WWI, with a focus on rehabilitating Canada’s returning soldiers.

As well, in Canada, we had the Canadian Patriotic Fund, which served to provide support to the dependents of soldiers. Community volunteers handled the distribution of funds and management of resources for families. In every aspect, citizens were expected to “Fight or Pay.”

While North Americans were spared the ravages of war on their native soil, I find the depth of awareness very interesting, and the fact that the war affected everyone, not just the soldiers fighting in Europe.

The above two posters are Canadian, from WWII, and show this concept of unity between soldiers and workers or civilians. I do not think the socialist aspect of this is coincidental. This was a time when socialism was a popular political ideal in Canada, and even in the US with the rise of trade unions.

In fact, the entire concept of “war effort” is a socialist concept, in that society as a whole bands together for a common cause, that the social needs outweigh the needs of the individual, that the sacrifice of one is beneficial to the group.

Of course, in hindsight, WWII in particular is seen as a necessary war, but at the time, there was no way that the citizens could have known that. Presumably, it is our current access to a wide range of dissenting information that prevents us from falling so wholeheartedly for a “war effort” … perhaps ever again. And yet, there are aspects of these campaigns that seem strikingly pertinent to today’s situation.

I’m not the only one to have noticed it.

War poster parodies abound, but they are done particularly effectively by Micah Wright in his Propaganda Remix collection (above, and below), where he not only nails the message, but does so with often convincing graphic fidelity.

Much of the conservation messages during the World Wars was brought about by actual need. Those wars devastated trade between western nations, and the need to conserve and to be as self-sufficient as possible was real. Times have changed, and it would take a truly global war to put the pinch on North America’s supply chains in a similar way. However, the parallels with the supply of fuel are obvious, and the lack of a major government-funded conservation movement, curious. Surely it is the most “patriotic” thing to do?

In addition, while Canada is not currently a nation officially at war (although we have troops in Afghanistan), the United States is, and although posters have long passed as the most efficient means of communication, it seems that the current messaging regarding America’s war doesn’t go much further than fear-mongering. I don’t support this current war, nor do I support wars in general, but at the same time I can’t help but notice that missing element of sacrifice on the home front.

Is it simply that after WWII, the nature of wars changed? Or the nature of the dissemination of information? Are the people who live in democracies just too media-savvy to ever be swept up, as a nation, again? Is there a link between the demise of the socialist aspects of the war effort and the rise of McCarthyism in the 1950s?

The wealth of posters from the First and Second World Wars seems to exist as a kind of graphic fossil record. The sudden burgeoning in production of posters around 1914 in aid of government propaganda, followed by the sudden death of same approximatly 30 years later is, to me, slightly mysterious. The “belle epoche” of poster design occurred in the late 1800s, so it is no surprise that the poster was a natural form of communication for governments at the advent of WWI, and as effectiveness in poster design was refined it really got into full swing during WWII. Thousands of poster designs and tens of millions of posters were produced during this period. And then, in 1950, with the advent of the Korean War—only 5 years after the end of WWII—this poster record abruptly vanishes.

A better researcher than I, with a great deal more time, could tell me what the psychological climate was during the Korean War—and we already know what the climate was, certainly during the latter part of the Vietnam War (at which time the role of the poster rose to its position as an effective, or at least popular, method of anti-war protest). This would perhaps provide answers to my questions about the evolution of war propaganda, and to citizens’ attitudes toward war, in general.

But in this century, I think we could take a page, as it were, from the U.S. Office of War Information from 1942.


Many of these posters, and so many more are collected at:

McGill University Libraries Canadian War Poster Collection
The Canadian Government Archives
The Minneapolis Public Library
The Ohio Historical Society
The Canadian Air Museum
The Canadian Museum of Civilization

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Sep.12.2006 BY marian bantjes
Brad Brooks’s comment is:

Fantastic article Marian, thank you.

On Sep.12.2006 at 04:44 AM
bootchec’s comment is:

Nice article in terms of listing few interesting things but lacks the conclusion and author's evaluations.

On Sep.12.2006 at 09:38 AM
Kosal Sen’s comment is:

If war posters were produced today, they'd easily be ripped down or vandalized. It's much harder for people to put the remote down. The government knows that.

On Sep.12.2006 at 09:56 AM
felixxx’s comment is:

Watching "the Path to 911" last nite a "Special Report" interrupted programming in order to show president Bush crying with babies and hugging mourners. ABC should be ashamed of itself, as should the journalists who abet such blatant propaganda. Its war alright.
In the editing room right here at home. According to the NY Times today they were editing the movie up until saturday night. Can't wait to read the history books.

great article/ research, MB!

On Sep.12.2006 at 10:31 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

"ABC should be ashamed of itself, as should the journalists who abet such blatant propaganda."

I tried watching it for 10 minutes last night and all I could think was a) is Harvey Keitel THAT hard up for a gig? and b) what absolute utter crap this is!

And by 'crap' I'm not even referring to the message...just the crappy production of the show.

So yes, I'm sad. If we're going to be propaganda-ized, why can't we have at least enjoy the aesthetics of it...like the classy works from the WWII era? Beutiful posters. Instead, we get really shitty TV mockumentaries. So sad.

(and I really want a reproduction of that Elephant poster!)

PS...go vote today, dammit.

On Sep.12.2006 at 11:14 AM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

in hindsight, WWII in particular is seen as a necessary war, but at the time, there was no way that the citizens could have known that

Soon after the US was fighting in WWII it was clear to most people that it was necessary—not for advancing future strategic positions or for improving the situation of seemingly obscure regions but necessary for the survival of their basic freedoms. North America wasn’t invaded but the prospect was real. Well after Pearl Harbor, the US Navy was being destroyed by the Japanese at a terrifying rate.

Ration stamps and shortages meant that “meatless Fridays” weren’t by choice but the sense of involvement was probably as important as the practical savings of food or scrap material. Not that people were all in their own personal Audie Murphy movies, but there was a realization that a nation, make that a world, was at war.

One reason that these posters strike us so strongly is that they were sincere expressions of real group will. In an age where our leaders try to play Churchill and Eisenhower while lowering taxes and telling people to drive monster trucks, take fourth helpings, and set the AC on high, people wouldn’t have to rip things down or vandalize them. Posters like these would wilt off the walls in embarrassment, even though we’ve given up carrying hair gel on planes and other fundamental sacrifices.

My favorite Bugs Bunny scene when I was a kid was from a WWII era cartoon. Our hare hero stopped to look at a billboard that said “Is this trip necessary?” and said “Of course. I’m a necessary evil.” (I couldn’t find an image of one of the famous gas and tire rubber conservation billboards but here the slogan made its way onto the sides of a P-51 and a B-24 in addition to Warner Brothers cartoons.)

On Sep.12.2006 at 12:41 PM
Diane Witman’s comment is:

but at the same time I can’t help but notice that missing element of sacrifice on the home front.

What element of sacrifice are we missing? I'm sure if you asked the parents, wives, husbands and children of those with loved ones overseas you would see their heads explode over this statement. We are sacrificing people, every day. Not more so than in any other war, but they are the ultimate sacrifice.

Is it because we are not hoarding food? Because we are not blanketing the streets with propaganda? (By the way, in my opinion is wasting paper. It's a contradiciting act on to itself.) Is it because we are not donating scrap metal or paper for the benefit of warfare? Perhaps it is because these types of contributions aren't necessary these days. Perhaps it is because our government puts every possible hard-earned dollar of every Americnan in the form of taxes behind this outrageous war on terror.

We were made to feel that the need of conservation is not necessary. I absolutely agree that we should be conserving fuel along with our other resources and people are completely ignorant to this need. What are your suggestions for conservation? Most people must drive to work, in turn consuming more fuel. I hate paying over $3.00 a gallon so that Bush and his oil company friends can live fat and happy after they are out of office but what other choices do most Americans really have? We have to work, and to get to work we have to drive (sorry, walking, taking the train or taking a bus are not options in our area)and this is how we support our way of living.

I do not support war in any way shape or form, but we were all lead down a path of deceit by our government. That sacrifice is there... no matter how big or small, it is there.

On another note, your research of these posters was interesting and I thank you for opening a discussion on this but some of your statements struck me as ignorant.

On Sep.12.2006 at 02:25 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:


Marian was talking about collective sacrifice. Certainly many are making individual sacrifices. (This includes students of mine who find themselves in sophomore classes at age 28 because the time others used for school was spent in Iraq as well as the more obvious tragedies.) As a nation, however, the US does not act like a nation at war. Our celebrations make scant (if any) reference to those dying for us. Military and security budgets have been slashed while taxes have been lowered (an unprecedented move for a country at war.) For years we were urged to buy our way into financial nirvana, including buying oversized trucks and, despite overwhelming evidence of the folly, Americans bought these high fuel consumption vehicles that are objectively badly designed for their uses. (I hope the irony is obvious.)

Some people are making sacrifices. In World War II, pretty much everybody did.

On Sep.12.2006 at 03:43 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

Diane, my point was that during the World Wars, there was a sense of community effort. At the same time you honour other people's sacrifices in life and family, you defend your right to drive to work as your way of life.

Taking alternative methods (other than the dreaded Car Pooling) might not be an option for you, but it is for many.

I think the costs of war are largely hidden to those who are not—and whose families are not—directly involved. We see the gas prices rise, and we say "Goddammit ..." and keep shelling out.

And I have to wonder if this doesn't make it easier for Governments to go to war—as long as the citizens can keep on spending, buying, consuming; as long as life at home doesn't actually change, the gov't can keep engaging in immoral acts. We cry our outrage while we drive to the shopping mall to replace the broken microwave and buy more clothes for the kids.

In this arena, the vast majority of readers are those who do not support the war, and to us, the answer is simple "Stop. Get the fuck out of there." But there are many people who do support the war (and at one time there were many more), but they support it with rhetoric, not their "way of life." And maybe since WWII, governments have learned not to ask their citizens to support wars by sacrificing their way of life, because that's a much harder sell to the folks in Boise, Idaho, or Moosejaw, Sask.

Imagine the voting booth in a red state. I can easily see it: vote "yes" for this crazy fuck who wants to go to war vs. vote "no" for this crazy fuck who wants to put us on rationing and make us drive only every 2nd day in aid of yet another war effort.

On Sep.12.2006 at 03:52 PM
Diane Witman’s comment is:

I can see both of your points (Gunnar and Marian) on the lack of a community effort, but maybe that goes back to the changing of times that you mentioned in your original post.

Everyone has taken the "everyone fend for themselves" attitude where we don't need to worry about our neighbors or the person sitting next to us. This is a much bigger issue. Our sense of community has long been deteriorating and if we were back in the day of WWI or WWII, we would not only see but experience that strength of the community. It is not seen because it is not expected and most of all we have not really ever experienced that sense of community, at least in my generation.

I think the costs of war are largely hidden to those who are not—and whose families are not—directly involved. We see the gas prices rise, and we say "Goddammit ..." and keep shelling out.

I don't think the costs are hidden, but rather what other choices do we have??? Boycott fuel all together? That's not even an option as far as I can see. If I had the financial disposition to get rid of my VW and purchase a Hybrid (a minimal effort) I would do it in a heart beat, but even this is not feasible. I wasn't defending driving to work as my way of life, but what other choice do I have? I have a family, and as a parent I have no other choice but to go to work and support that family. If that means driving to the mall to get clothing or to fix the microwave that heats up my sons food, so be it.

...as long as life at home doesn't actually change, the gov't can keep engaging in immoral acts.

I did not see it this way at first but I absolutely agree with you. I agree with you on many levels but I guess my question is: Where is this community effort supposed to come from?

Most of us disagree with war and wish it were over, so what are the solutions? What could we do as a community to show our displeasure and make that change? I fall short when it comes to any worthy answers.

On Sep.12.2006 at 04:37 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

Please check this out. ( Note: Compulsory service ended shortly after 1975 here in the U.S.)

And then check this out.

Feel the pain? Poster ideas anyone?


Current number of Americans serving in the military: 1.5 million. Current number of Americans: just under 300 million. (Sorry Marian, I can't speak for Canada.)



Q1. Why are Free governments (and their subjects) afraid of "terrorists?"
A1. Because terrorists blow themselves up for their ideological beliefs. (And that screws up free government approval poll ratings -- really badly.)

Q2. Who are the terrorists most afraid of?
A2. Soldiers from free countries! Because our military are all volunteers. (In America at least.) Free service men and women are also willing to give up their lives for their beliefs.

Have you ever heard of a terrorist throwing them self on a grenade to save their fellow terrorist?



It’s a gang culture out there right now. I'm going with John, Paul, George, and Ben's gang for the foreseeable future. (And their mastermind “Tom.”)


Food for thought

I'm going to bed tonight (thanking the BIG man in charge) knowing some very patriotic (idealistic?) Americans -- and Canadians and many others -- are "out there" making personal sacrifices and keeping my ass safe right now.


Very Thankfully,

On Sep.12.2006 at 10:54 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

"knowing some very patriotic (idealistic?) Americans"

Some are, for sure. But most are just doing their job. It's not necessarily for any idiological or idealistic purpose.

Also, the War in Iraq really has nothing to do with keeping your ass safe, but that's another debate...

On Sep.12.2006 at 11:20 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

[note to all: in a strange twist of bloggism, some fake identity comments have been removed, and this comment has been edited-MB]

Joe's first link is interesting to me, because as I was writing this post it did cross my mind that what I was writing would probably be viewed with interest by someone in the armed forces, because it does feed into the alienation that I'm sure many people in the military feel. And it was confusing to find myself on potentially common ground with a group of people I've always been at odds with. Well. The next time I find myself at a party, awkwardly cornered by a Lieutenant, perhaps I'll have something to talk about.

On Sep.13.2006 at 01:12 AM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

I found this:

Not sure what exactly it says about our society, but it seemed pertinent to this discussion. Ideas?

Maybe it speaks to our need to feel the current conflict ourselves, or maybe it is a disgusting bit of capitalism. Maybe both.

You can read more here.

On Sep.13.2006 at 10:59 AM
diane witman’s comment is:

Wow. Strangely, that is not surprising.

If someone can make a profit off of this war, I guess it's reality video games.

Why don't they just volunteer to the armed services and experience it first hand, oh yeah, they might not like true reality.

On Sep.14.2006 at 09:53 AM
Ed McKim’s comment is:

I think these would be neat campaign posters to do for my Graphic Design class. Or drawing from these, at least.

Thems was the days. Thems was the days.

On Sep.14.2006 at 04:37 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

If you go to this link you can type in "war posters" and get a digital preview of everything in the Library of Congress's Web site that has been digitized. Pretty cool resource for research, too.

Make sure you click on the purple rectangle that says, "Preview Images." Then you'll be able to *see* the posters they've scanned in (not everything is scanned in their archive). Pretty extensive collection, though.

And then after you've blown your mind at LOC, try the National Archives.

Really confusing. Few, if any, previews at ARC. But you can hire researchers to do it remotely for you.

Great article Ms. Bantjes.


On Sep.14.2006 at 08:35 PM
Harry’s comment is:

" don’t support this current war, nor do I support wars in general, but at the same time I can’t help but notice that missing element of sacrifice on the home front."

Surely this is entirely a function of scale. Germany and Japan were (and indeed still are) two of the world's richest and most powerful industrial economies. Germany managed to occupy most of Europe; Japan occupied a very large chunk of Asia. They both had navies large enough to make the transport of supplies genuinely difficult and dangerous. The war in Iraq is simply very very small in comparison.

America is much richer now than it was 60 years ago. Even so, if a genuine World War started - let's say China started invading her neighbours – I think you'd see the same kind of posters once again.

On Sep.15.2006 at 09:02 AM
Ricardo’s comment is:

I am showing up late for this discussion, but Diane said...

What element of sacrifice are we missing? I'm sure if you asked the parents, wives, husbands and children of those with loved ones overseas you would see their heads explode over this statement. We are sacrificing people, every day. Not more so than in any other war, but they are the ultimate sacrifice.

This is true, Diane, but then, why were we being kept from seeing pictures of returning coffins in the media? The answer to that question probably has something to do with Marian's observation that those who are not fighting are not being asked to make sacrifices.

Very intersting article, Marian. I think that with some extra research, as you acknowledge, about wars that came after WWI and WWII, it could be expanded.

On Sep.17.2006 at 11:23 PM
lucy’s comment is:

this site is wikid ive just used the information for a school project and it was a great help. the posters were fabulous to.

On Jun.28.2007 at 02:21 PM
H. Todd Duren’s comment is:

WWII Scrap drives are covered in one of the episodes of Ken Burn's The War, being shown now on PBS.

I didn't understand why Americans saved fat during WWII until I watched Fight Club, oddly enough. Fat is heated to render glycerin, a primary ingredient in soap and explosives. Gives you a new respect for bacon, doesn't it?

I agree with Diane that Americans generally do not feel a sense of sacrifice. But I believe that is part of the plan from thye White House. With an all-volunteer military, the Washington war machine needs to keep military families waving flags and driving SUVs while the rest of America only sees the war as a video game on CNN.

The tragic big picture of the war in Iraq is this: it was unnecessary and it has hurt America economically, militarily, and politically. My biggest frustration is that more of us (voting age Americans) were unable or unwilling to call bullshit by it's true name from the beginning.

No, the sacrifices made by non-military families are slight.... Except for a monstrous national debt, reduced military readiness, political energy wasted on scandal after scandal, a Nat'l Guard unable to respond to future Katrinas, and an unprecedented sense of goodwill toward Americans post 9/11 that has been squandered on swaggering lies.

Come to think of it, we have sacrificed a lot.

Thanks to Marian for a chance to think and respond to her informative article.

On Sep.28.2007 at 02:34 PM
The Pickle’s comment is:

Please disprove me: The level of threat of terrorism, by hard cold facts is: 1 in a million.

That is: your chance, worldwide, of dying due to terroristic activity, per year, is 1 in 1 million.

Please point me to facts that show successful terrorist attacks that exceed 8000 deaths per year. There are 8 Billion people on this planet. 8 bil/8k = 1 in 1 million. What am I missing?

Thanks! picklejuice_13@yahoo.com

On Oct.05.2007 at 12:08 AM
hollie constanc(10 yr old)’s comment is:

hi joe moran,im 10 and im doing a ww2 project and came across this! its sooooooooooooooo shocking what the war did back then
any help with ww2 stuff anyone
hollie constance

On Oct.29.2008 at 03:51 PM