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Wartime Propaganda

He Can Kill, Can You?

Throughout the Second World War, the federal government waged an ongoing and relentless ideological campaign to win the hearts and minds of Canadians in support of the war effort. The government used a variety of media to rally the nation’s citizens to the cause, to ready them for the eventuality of total war, and to portray the events about to unfold as no less than a life and death struggle between good and evil. This propaganda campaign constantly reminded people that for good to triumph over evil, every man, woman, and child had a role to play in supporting the military.

Wartime propaganda targeted every aspect of day-to-day life: it encouraged able-bodied men to enlist, warned people of the danger of enemy spies, and reminded Canadians of the importance of recycling and rationing scarce items and of purchasing Victory Bonds to help finance the war. Second World War propaganda, produced largely under the auspices of the Bureau of Public Information, was intended to be informative and initially relied heavily on humour to deliver its messages. Those overseeing the campaign created the mythical figure of Johnny Canuck, an idyllic, patriotic, and heroic individual who appeared on hundreds of posters, billboards, and cartoons; in films; and on the radio. He said and did all the right things and was often portrayed saving Canadian lives.

Other well-known and recognizable symbols and phrases, such as “V for Victory”, popularized by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, were used effectively to remind Albertans and Canadians of their civic, moral, and wartime duties. Albertans responded favourably, donating time, labour, money, and goods to scores of causes such as Seeds for Britain, Milk for Britain, Jam for Britain, the Overseas Cigarette Fund, and the Home Comforts Fund. Commercial enterprises produced a litany of billboards urging the public to support the war by purchasing and using their products. Coca-Cola, for example, advertised the consumption of its beverage as a delicious and refreshing drink for Canada's pilots.

During the latter stages of the war, wartime propaganda required a shift in tactics: the messages delivered became more serious and often portrayed sombre themes centred on fostering unity, celebrating Canadian achievements in combat, and promises of a better postwar world dominated the messages on most banners, posters, and advertisements. Maintaining morale and the momentum built up during the previous three years was crucial, especially as the number of casualties rose during and after the D-Day invasion of Europe in June 1944.

Every Canadian Must FightOne of the most important aspects of the propaganda campaign was convincing people of the importance of financing the Allied war effort. The media was saturated with ads encouraging Canadians to contribute generously to Victory Loan campaigns. Albertans easily exceeded the amounts campaign organizers anticipated they would contribute in each successive campaign. The dissemination of information designed to influence the public’s thoughts and beliefs greatly contributed to the success of the Victory Loan campaigns conducted during the Second World War.

References

Choko, Marc H. Canadian War Posters: 1914–1918, 1939–1945. Laval, Quebec: Editions du Meridien, 1994.

Boas, William S. Canada in World War II: Post-War Possibilities. Montreal: William Boas & Co., 1945.

Information on wartime propaganda courtesy of Canadian War Museum


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