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The Art of Wars

This research proposal will try to find out the role that art played within propaganda posters within wars. The research will focus on the question by using primary and secondary data available both in print and online. The aim of the research is to unearth the role art and design played within propaganda posters especially during the Nazi regime in Germany and elsewhere during WW I and WW II wars. The research will use World War I and World War II as examples to show the effects of art and design played within propaganda posters within wars. The research will concentrate to using the U.S., Germany and Russia as the countries that used this propaganda wars.

Introduction to the Problem Statement

Propaganda, they say is as old as history and over time and a number of studies have been conducted on the subject. This phenomenon is mostly associated with the Nazi regime that ruled Germany during the Second World War. Later on after the war, the soviets took it up during the cold war and in recent times, it has increasingly been used by totalitarian states. In addition to being transmitted through print media, propaganda can also be spread through flags, pageantry, symbols, music, rituals and also parades. It has been observed that democratic governments tend to neglect official propaganda in the politics that is until they find themselves facing a serious crisis (Lewis 2004).


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Given the changed nature of war, whereby mass war came into being during the First World War, propaganda came to occupy an important place in warfare. Totalitarian propaganda is more often than not backed by violence. In democracies however, those in power, tend to give the impression that the viewers’ actually have a choice in this matter. Instead of being forced, the population is persuaded, encouraged and cajoled (Lewis 2004).

Purpose of the Study

The motivation of this research lies in the fact that over the past eight decades or so, the world has experienced a number of wars and conflicts and in many of these, posters has played a role of some kind in spreading propaganda. His research will examine some of these wars. It will also explore the role that art and design in propaganda posters within wars.

Background of the Study

I will conduct my study in by using primary and secondary sources both from online sources and print materials. I will focus on how the U.S., Germany and Russia effectively employed propaganda posters during WW I and WW II. I will also visit government galleries to observe some of the posters and carry out research on the same.

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Posters in the First World War

During the First World War, the allies used a more illustrative approach in as far as graphic propaganda is concerned. The posters stressed the need to protect the traditional values of the country; the family and the home. According to Meggs (2011, pg. 285), patriotism among the members of the public ran high when the United States joined the war in a bid to “make the world a better place for democracy”. The war was described as “the war to end all wars”. Charles Dana Gibson worked as the director of the Division of Pictorial Publicity, which was an agency set up by the federal government and was responsible for producing more than seven hundred posters as well as other propaganda materials for about fifty other government agencies.

War led to an increased demand in graphic design and this took the form of government information and more specifically in the case of propaganda posters. According to Blackwell (2004, pg.68), people charged with designing the posters faced a huge challenge in that they had limited resources and were expected to relay messages that were complex in the simplest way possible to facilitate easy understanding. Many of the posters of the pre-war period were produced by European designers who were mostly working in Britain and the United States. In the United States, the exiles were joined by young modernists in the Office of War Information. These designers included Joseph Bindner, an Austrian, Leo Lionni an Italian and a Frenchman Jean Carlu. These designers were charged with the responsibility of creating posters. Bayer and Matter are exiles were tasked with coming up with designs for the Container Corporation of America which had an innovative series of promotions. The promotions were however subsumed within messages that were in support of the war effort.

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According to James (2010, pg. 136), posters that lack in visual appeal will not serve the intended purpose as the people who pass by it may not have the time to concentrate on any elaborate message that may be printed on the poster. Nazi propaganda posters had appeal and aesthetic sophistication. These posters featured icons that included the warrior figure and the national eagle which were incorporated alongside the symbols that represented the fascist regime. Special attention was paid to the ideal balancing of image and text and the incorporation of pithy slogans in an effective manner. The importance of these aspects is to whip up emotive effect as well as maximum comprehensibility. The designers also made efforts for the posters to target specific segments of the society; for example veterans, women, labor and most importantly the youth.

It is just recently that the British Communist Party and Chicago Institute brought forth the two large Soviet posters of war catches. These were so beautiful, striking and communicated declaration of war. Politic namely Page Arnot and Rothstein Andrew acquired the collection of posters between1917-1953 after picking them in turns and delivering them to the Republic of Weimar. The main role of the posters was to stir the BCP (British Communist Party) by announcing their solidarity in supporting the Soviet Union (SU). Not only did collection of posters drawing the revolution zeal closer to their shores, but they also presented the sorption of the interests of both the Soviet Union and British Communist Party.

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In Germany, posters were used to communicate the brutality as well as fragility although other images were also used during the liberation war which was predominantly on the northern pat of the country. In South Africa  posters played  a role in the anti-SWAPO propaganda which was a two folded strategy which was used in frightening and filling people with terror at the same time  playing with their psychology  so as to win their minds and hearts over  the opposition side (Miescher et al., 13). In Spain, posters were also used to achieve political interests. As the nineteenth century dawned, during the Spanish Civil War posters were used mostly on the Republican wing. Using their colour and design they stimulated activity, and finally achieved a positive response (Hart, 23).

During war, countries fighting for their survival are often at the brink of innovation, applying their know-how in a variety of different ways. Biologists, physicists, and chemists are all rushing to create innovative products for use locally and internationally. Most people normally overlook the artists and designers who are also set in motion, creating propaganda and war posters to distribute to the masses. War propaganda posters are designed to provoke patriotism, a feeling of pride and a conviction to winning the war from home.  During wartime, supplies are often rationed and civilians face dynamics in living conditions, and war propaganda posters are designed to assist combat this.

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Although poster design was already somewhat recognized within the art world of the early 1900s, its significance as a political tool was established by the ubiquitous government-sponsored poster art of the two World Wars. These posters, both in America and other nation states, served a unique and challenging experience to “make coherent and acceptable a basically incoherent and irrational ordeal of killing, suffering and destruction that violates every accepted principle of morality and decent livelihood”. To do this successfully needed refined artistic skill and ingenuity from a broad range of artists. War posters of all countries and eras are remarkably uniform in their foundations, both ideological and iconographical. These posters invariably seek to provide national motivation; persuade citizens to enlist or provide financial support for the war; encourage frugality and productivity among the populace at home; promote conservation of resources to provide material support to the war; and discourage the enemy as much as possible.

Research Questions

  1. To identify The context in which the campaign and use of propaganda posters were used
  2. Indentify the structure of the propaganda organization; leadership during the propaganda wars and forms of media used
  3. Indentify the targeted audience and audience reaction to the propagandists
  4. The counterpropaganda wars that were used and their effects on the paper.

Significance of the Study

  1. Improve the literature and understanding of how propaganda wars worked and how they are in use today
  2.  Improve public understanding of the role of posters during WW I and WW II, and how the internet can be used today to continue the propaganda wars
  3. Fulfill my university degree requirements


The methodology section will present a general overview of the methods employed in this study. The paper will cover such areas like research design, samples and sampling technique, data collection methods analysis of the data.

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Data collection: this study will focus on the perception and attitudes of primary data while not emphasizing the importance of primary data. However, we will also make use of secondary data to argument on the primary sources. It will also involve the researcher collecting introductory paper from the University institution to collected date from the government galleries that have evidence and samples of the propaganda posters.

Sampling design: although the researcher may want to study a whole population, it is impossible and therefore the study will settle for a sample. A sample is defined by Black and Champion (1976) as a portion of elements that is taken from the population and thus considered as a representative of the whole population. To collect data, we will employ the use of questionnaire. The questionnaires will be designed for the various galleries that we will visit and we will be restricted to only 50 questionnaires.

We will also employ interview as another technique. During visits to the galleries, we will interview staff and ask them any important information about what they know and understand about the propaganda wars and the use of posters during WW II.

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The term propaganda has a nearly universally negative connotation. Propaganda is defined as any information that is biased and misleading. This information is used to promote a certain political cause for the architect’s (of the propaganda) own benefit.  Walter Lippmann described it as inherently "deceptive" and therefore evil. Propaganda is critically more an exercise of deception rather than persuasion. Partisans normally use the label to dismiss any claims made by their opponents while at the same time professing to never employ propaganda themselves. It is akin to advertising and public relations, but with a purpose.  Although propaganda has been utilized for centuries, the term was first used way back when Pope Gregory XV issued the Sacra Congregation de Propaganda Fide to check the ever rising Protestant threat in order "to conquer by spiritual arms" those avenues "lost to the Church in the debacle of the sixteenth century. Propaganda remains a common component of war. As new communications technologies have arose, propagandists have implemented new methods to reach increasingly large audiences in order to shape their views. The shift to targeting mass audiences and not just elite publics has been called by some as "new propaganda." This essay thus provides a brief overview of the concept of propaganda, various propaganda techniques, and related topics.

In a nutshell, propaganda is designed to manipulate peoples’ beliefs and provide action in the interest of the propagator by sending the message into the listeners' heads. It involves the use of images, slogans and symbols to play on prejudices and emotions. The ultimate agenda of propaganda is to appease the recipient of the message to come to 'voluntarily' accept the propagandist's position as if it was one's own. Propaganda may be aimed at one's own people or at members of other groups. It can be designed to agitate the population or to pacify it. We often think of propaganda as false information that is meant to reassure those who already believe. Believing what is false can bring cognitive dissonance, which people are eager to avoid. Therefore, propaganda is often directed at those who are already sympathetic to the message in order to assist overcome this discomfort.

One the one hand, then, propaganda generally aims to construct the self as a noble, strong persona to which individuals in the domestic population can feel connected. In the same scenario, propaganda often attempts to rally the domestic public to action creating fear, confusion, and hatred by portraying the antagonist as an abominable figure. Typically, the other is demonized or dehumanized. Some of the examples might include downsizing, extraordinary rendition, or the coalition of the willing. These may take the form of euphemisms, which are used to make something sound better than it is such as the term collateral damage. Another strategy is to appeal to authority. For instance, the World War II-era series “This is War!” Emphasized how FDR's leadership qualities were the same to greats like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. At other times, testimonials may be effective.

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Limitations of the Study

The researcher was not able to visit all galleries that may contain vital information about the propaganda wars and use of posters during world wars. 



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