Artist: James Montgomery Flagg (1877 – 1960)
Originally Published: July 6, 1916 – Leslie’s Weekly: “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?”
Images have always had power over words; words merely outline a situation, they allow for the mind to create its own scenario to fit those words. While everyones’ interpretation of an image can be different, the physical image itself remains the same. Historically, images have been used to change social opinions, motivate social change, and point out wrongdoings in society. During World War I, the United States Military utilized images to urge enlistment in the allies’ cause. The purpose of the photos were to villainize the central powers, and exalt the allies.
Uncle Sam is a well known character. His face still appears in many cartoons, comics, and news articles today. Many view uncle same as a personification of America, a physical embodiment of freedom and justice. Due to Uncle Sam’s plethora of interpretations, the United States realized he could be the perfect tool for war propaganda.
World War I was viewed as the war against the central powers,the last remaining empress of the world, “a war to end all wars” (H.G. Wells). By having such anti-democratic enemies, the United States used Uncle Sam to motivate social change and inspire the youth of America. Americans have always viewed themselves as the world’s policemen, and it is from World War I which that belief began to seed. A simple cartoon of a manly character outfitted in the stars and stripes was the perfect social motivator. The cartoon inspired men from across the country to enlist and protect the world from the central empires. By the time that the United States entered World War I it was 1917. The war had been ongoing for three years, and with the aid of America, the war of attrition came to an end. Uncle Sam’s embodiment of American democracy and strength was a driving force behind the U.S. Military’s recruitment campaign.
I find myself somewhat inspired by Uncle Sam. I can relate the the generations of the 1910’s and 20’s. I can see how the 1920’s brought about record high stocks, endless parties, and amazing literature. Uncle Sam made that American generation realize that they live in a country that promotes democracy and freedom. In addition, I can also see how the poster was successful. Physically, Uncle Sam’s serious demeanor and pointed finger appear as if he is addressing the viewer specifically. It appears as if, while viewing the photo, the viewer is the sole subject. The text also reads, “I want YOU for U.S. Army,” further suggesting that he artist intended for the viewer to be the sole focus. Moreover, the lack of background in the poster is suggestive of the meaning the poster was trying to get across: the eradication of injustice and imperial powers in the world. What are your thoughts? I would like to know why you think Uncle Sam was such a successful propaganda campaign. What do you think lead the U.S. Military to choose Uncle Sam as the figurehead?