6 WWI Propaganda Posters That Rallied People to Fight

6 WWI Propaganda Posters That Rallied People to Fight

Stephanie Schoppert - February 18, 2017

When it came to the first great war of the 20th century, people were scared and many did not want to get involved. In the United States ,people did not know why they should get involved with a war that was on the other side of the world. Even in Germany it was hard to rally people to join the war effort and fight. But that was where propaganda came in. World War I produced such stunning propaganda posters that they continue to hang in homes and art museums to this day. They also helped rally people to fight for their countries.

6 WWI Propaganda Posters That Rallied People to Fight
National Army Museum

The Hun and the Home

When it became clear to the British government that war was happening, propaganda was one of the first orders of business. A war always needed men on the front and women at home to support the war effort in any way possible. To do this, Wellington House was established in 1914 and was responsible for propaganda about German activities until 1915. There was a lack of coordination between the various departments responsible for propaganda, so the Foreign Office was created in 1916.

In 1917 propaganda was still not as strong as it needed to be so Lloyd George created the Department of State to handle propaganda. Problems still existed and so finally the Ministry of Information was created in 1918 and handled propaganda until a few weeks after the war. Once the Ministry of Information was dissolved, anything left of the propaganda department went back to the Foreign Office.

This poster was printed in 1914 and it served the same purpose as many American propaganda posters would. The war in Belgium seemed far away for the people of Britain. Therefore, initial propaganda focused on British loyalty to Belgium and the suffering of her people. This poster refers to the Germans as Huns, and acknowledges the difference between the current lives of the people in Britain and the people in Belgium.

The poster shows that British women and children are safe and their homes intact. It contrasts it with a Belgium where women are murdered or worse, children are dead or slaves. The poster gives the sense that Belgium tried to remain neutral and is now suffering. Britain was the guarantor of that neutrality and it now becomes the duty of Britain to rise up and protect themselves and their Belgian brothers.

6 WWI Propaganda Posters That Rallied People to Fight
Australian Propaganda Poster 1918. Australian War Memorial

Will You Fight Now Or Wait for This?

Australia was in somewhat of a unique position during World War I. They were involved in the war and they needed manpower, but despite two attempts to introduce conscription in 1916 and 1917, participation in the Australian armed forced remained voluntary throughout all of World War I. Conscription in one form did exist beginning in 1911, but a conscripted force could not be used for a foreign war. So not only did the Australian government have to convince men to sign up for a war that was across the ocean but they also could not compel men to fight when they ran low on manpower.

Propaganda in Australia was two-fold, convincing men to volunteer for the war and to stifle any opposition to the war. Compared to the British propaganda operation, the Australian propaganda machine was a decentralized mess. For a period, propaganda was regulated at the state level. As time went on and it became apparent conscription was never going to happen, the propaganda took on a much more deliberate and persuasive tone.

This poster was made in 1918 and shows the desperation of the Australian government for manpower. The poster depicts a man surrounded by Germans. An elderly man has been shot, a woman is pleading for mercy, and in the background a woman is half undressed and being restrained by German soldiers. It depicts a worst-case scenario and one that was deemed highly unlikely.

There was little chance that the German army would make a move on Australia when they had much bigger fish to fry throughout Europe and even the United States. But desperate times called for desperate measures, and the propaganda officials in Australia were willing to put the fear of German invasion into the minds of its populace in order to get men to fight in its armies.

6 WWI Propaganda Posters That Rallied People to Fight
Russian Propaganda Depicting Kaiser Wilhelm. British Library

Arch-Enemy Kaiser Wilhelm II

Russia was known for being slow to mobilize. In fact, Germany planned on it. For Russia, the drawback to having a massive army was the fact that it took so long to get the army organized and to the front lines. The good thing was that with a massive population there was never a need for conscription, and the army was supplied with men mainly through volunteers. Even with a large army fighting the war, there were still enough men at home to keep things working, at least for a while.

This meant that there was not as big of a need for propaganda in Russia as there was for other countries. Nicolas II did put out some pamphlets and posters that were geared toward getting people to buy war bonds which would fund the war effort. There was propaganda at the time being put out by the Communist Party that was geared toward encouraging people to fight not the Germans, but the Czar and his family. Thus came the Russian revolution of 1917.

Among the few pieces of Russian propaganda that was put out during World War I was this image of Kaiser Wilhelm II being depicted as the arch-enemy of Russia. Kaiser Wilhelm II was the person blamed for the start of the war in Russia. In this image the Kaiser is portrayed with a devil tail, horns, and cloven hooves.

With two skulls in his hands he looks like a figure of absolute evil. The skulls were used as symbols of greed, evil, and brutality. It was posters like this that kept men volunteering for the war even as losses on the front mounted. It was not until after the revolution that Russia finally accepted defeat and signed a surrender with Germany.

6 WWI Propaganda Posters That Rallied People to Fight
German Propaganda Poster from 1918. Imperial War Museums

This is How it Would Look in German Lands

Propaganda in Germany near the start of the war focused on convincing the public that violating Belgian neutrality was necessary in order to get to France. There was a three-pronged approach to propaganda in Germany. They censored their own press so that no negative reports on the war would reach the public, they presented favorable information and publicity about the war to news reporters and agencies, and finally they worked to prevent the home front from being infiltrated with propaganda from the enemy.

The government would supply press releases to journalists who were not permitted to edit the reports. This meant that there was no diversity of information among newspapers and it caused the public to generally distrust the press. Propaganda in Germany toward the second half of the war took a very different turn as the need for money rose. It started playing on the fear of the people and the need for money and men at the front.

This poster from 1918 focuses on the need to for the Rhineland to remain German. The text says “This is how it would look in German lands if the French reached the Rhine.” The Rhineland made up a border with France and it was important to both sides because of that. The Germans wanted to keep France out of the Rhineland not only to keep the front in French territory, but because the Rhineland was a large industrial sector for the country.

The poster depicts French howitzers firing on German towns with buildings on fire. It was supposed to scare the public into continued support for the war. Nationalism in Germany had people willing to support the war in the beginning but now support for the war was as scarce as food so the propaganda started to shift toward that of fear.

6 WWI Propaganda Posters That Rallied People to Fight
Canada Propaganda Poster. WordPress

Why Don’t They Come?

Canada during World War I was not given much choice as to whether or not to join the war. Once Britain entered the war, Canada was obligated to because they were still a British dominion, and therefore Canada’s foreign policy decisions were made by British Parliament. The war caused a rift in Canada as British Canadians were much more willing to support the war effort, while French Canadians were less willing to get involved in British affairs. For the first part of the war Canada’s force was voluntary, but people of color and different ethnicities were not allowed to volunteer. They were told “this is a white man’s war.”

Propaganda was therefore focused on shaming or guilting men to sign up and fight the war. There was not a lot of propaganda that focused on fear because few believed that the war would ever reach Canada. Propaganda was also geared toward donations to the Canadian Patriotic Fund which helped support the war effort and the families left behind as their men were fighting.

This propaganda poster worked on a number of levels. It played to the guilt of a man who saw it. How could he sit by and watch hockey while a soldier was in desperate need of help? It also suggested that a man who had not volunteered for the war was not really a man because he wasn’t playing a man’s part. Not only did it speak to the men eligible to fight in the war but for those that were not.

The poster gave the sense that any man who did not volunteer for the war was someone who should be shamed for not being a real man and doing his part. The poster is done in yellow because that color gives a sense of warning or immediacy, men are needed now to volunteer because the poor chap in the photo won’t last very long. Posters like this were also meant to help convince the French Canadians that the war was necessary.

6 WWI Propaganda Posters That Rallied People to Fight
U.S. Propaganda Depicting Germany as a Brute. Learnnc.org/

Destroy This Mad Brute

The United States never had a large standing army, and that meant that when war came they had to quickly mobilize and get public support for the war. President Wilson created the Committee on Public Information whose job it was to put forth propaganda towards the war. Wilson chose George Creel to head the organization largely because Creel had a unique approach to propaganda that Wilson agreed with. Creel did not want to censor information, which was contrary to most propaganda initiatives at the time. He would allow the papers to publish what they wanted as long as they did not print enemy propaganda or lies about the war.

Since the United States had not quite reached the age of mass media, Creel focused most of his attention on posters. Some of the posters that were created through his department remain as iconic images to U.S. culture today, such as the Uncle Sam “I Want You” poster. Creel partnered with advertising agencies and put his posters everywhere. They were on subways, bus stops, billboards, barns, and anywhere else an American might walk. Creel also hired 75,000 men to travel and deliver hundreds of patriotic speeches to rally people to the war effort. Creel’s operation was considered one of the most successful to date as his efforts even reached Europe and Germany.

Some of the propaganda took a less patriotic turn and focused on defeating a barbaric enemy. This poster shows a large brutish ape carrying a woman away and leaving destruction behind him. He carries a club that says “Kultur” which was representative of German culture. It also shows the brute making his way across the ocean and stepping onto American shores as a way to instill fear into the hearts of Americans that the German menace could reach them.

This sort of propaganda was effective but it also put numerous German-Americans at risk. They faced persecution for being associated with the Germans, despite their families having lived in the United States for generations.