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Submitted for Lileks’ approval, or: the Last Good War

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 19 years ago, in 2005, on the World Wide Web.

Thanks to Amanda, I recently found James Lileks’ new hobby, Patriotica, a loving collection of genial homefront propaganda from World War II. Lileks’ tone is jokey and sometimes downright satiric. But he makes it clear enough that that’s just his usual campy, self-deprecating schtick, applied at the level of his nation-state; part of the point here is that he’s collecting WWII propaganda because, deep down, he believes in it, and he thinks we have something to learn from it. And it’s clear enough that his audience on the Right is getting the message. (As he comments in the Daily Bleat: New update to Patriotica here, a sad reminder of the days when nearly everyone agreed there was actually a war on, and it had to be won. As a fan at the Independent Women’s Forum puts it, Those were the days when our media supported our troops! Pro-Victory writer Dadmanly wistfully remarks: For all those who think that the current administration is over-hyping the Global War on Terror, a little reminder of how they REALLY knew how to whip up the masses in WW II.)

Let’s everyone get in on the campy collecting fun! Here’s some submissions I’d like to see Lileks put in Patriotica. I’m sure you can soon find these collectibles from the Last Good War on loving display in Lileks’ collection.

We begin with Private Joe Louis clearing it all up for us. We’re going to win because we are acting as the Sword of God:

poster: Pvt. Joe Louis says: "We're going to do our part ... and we'll win because we're on God's side"

Next, there’s nothing quite so genially amusing — especially for conservatives — as absolute government command over the economy. Obey the price controls, and make sure you get your meat ration, citizen! (We’ll be taking the rest of it.)

poster: "Pledge your conscience to your country: I shall buy no more meat than my ration stamps entitle me to ... because the rest of the meet is needed for the war."

poster: "My pledge to you: I charge no more than Top Legal Prices. I sell no Rationed Goods without collecting Ration Stamps.

poster: "Keep the Home Front Pledge: Pay no more than Ceiling Prices. Pay your Points in full."

On a similar theme, we have the following adorable bit of naked attempts at intimidation, in order to whip the masses into line:

poster: a scowling soldier's face, with the words “Have you REALLY tried to save gas by getting into a car club?”

Here’s some more choice bits for Lileks, also on the topic of intimidation. Specifically, a genial reminder from the government to shut the fuck up, citizen.

poster: a dead soldier, with the text "Somebody blabbed. Button your lip!"

poster: "Watch yourself, pal! Be CAREFUL what you say or write!

poster: Uncle Sam shoves his hand over a surprised man's mouth. Caption: "Quiet! Loose talk can cost lives!"

That last image is actually pretty famous. This one isn’t quite so famous, in spite of being a classic combination of two great themes of American World War II propaganda: overbearing commands for silence, and violent racist caricature.

poster: a crudely caricatured Tojo is caught in a mousetrap. Caption: "KEEP YOUR TRAP SHUT. Careless talk may cost American lives."

Speaking of which, here’s several more I just can’t wait to see in Lileks’ gallery. Submitted for his approval, without further comment.

poster: slant-eyed caricature of a Japanese diplomat with a lupine grine, offering an olive branch labeled "PEACE" to the Statue of Liberty, while a huge, sharp-nailed arm with the label "JAP TREACHERY" raises a knife behind her back with a swasitka on the hilt and "Dec. 7th" on the blade. Caption: Remember Pearl Harbor. Buy WAR Bonds."

poster: cartoonish caricature of Tojo and a bill of sale for several items; caption: "Buy this man a HARI-KARI KIT on December 7, 1944. Buy EXTRA War Bonds on PEARL HARBOR DAY!"

poster: a buck-toothed, slant-eyed caricature of Tojo, wailing underneath some kind of molten substance labeled "Dec. 7th bond purchases." Caption: "Pour it on."

poster: a lurid caricature of Tojo with blood dripping from his fingers, clutching at Australia and the South Pacific on the globe. Drops on his head seem to be enraging him. Caption: "Your bit can help drive him mad!"

poster: headline reading "JAPS EXECUTE DOOLITTLE MEN." Uncle Sam's arms strangle Tojo in a lurid drawing. Caption: "WE'LL PAY YOU BACK / TOJO / Through the Payroll Savings Plan / if it takes our last dime!

poster: seedy, porcine caricature of a buck-toothed Tojo clasping his hands and saying, "Go ahead, please- TAKE DAY OFF."

poster: bestial caricature of Japanese soldier slams a kneeling American prisoner in the head with a rifle butt while other soldiers force men to march in the background. Top caption: "What are YOU going to do about it?" Newspaper headline reading: "5200 Yank Prisoners Killed by Jap Torture in Philippines. Cruel 'March of Death' Described." Bottom caption: "STAY ON THE JOB until every MURDERING JAP is wiped out!"

… Yeah.

I really fucking hate World War II propaganda.

4 replies to Submitted for Lileks’ approval, or: the Last Good War Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Lady Aster

    Is it pointless even to mention that the idea of fighting “until every murdering jap [sic] is wiped out” advocated genocide as the cure for ‘murder’? I’m a quasi-Nietzschean and it’s not my issue, but am I the only one who sees a slight ethical illogic there?

    Shades of Anne Coultier or the Ayn Rand Institute!

    Oh yes, “The Good War”…. when white Americans could unite together in respectable hatred with good consciences.

    P.S. Some of think Americans could learn something about civilization from Japanese culture.

  2. Rad Geek

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say “Americans could learn something about civilization from Japanese culture.”

    It’s true that the American government’s conduct of the war in the Pacific was unremittingly barbarous, not only in rhetoric but in reality. Besides the endless stream of violent racism in propaganda and pop culture, there was also the starvation-siege and the terror bombing of the Japanese home islands — which killed somewhere between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Japanese civilians.

    Those were atrocities and there is absolutely no excuse for them, which is why I have tried to expose them for the evils they are. But the “Japanese culture” that produced the militarist regime, the terror-bombing of Shanghai, the Nanjing massacre, the brutal sexual enslavement of women across Asia, etc. — sponsored by the government, glorified in the official press, and excused and denied to this day by some of the powerful and influential men in Japanese society — has nothing to “teach” anyone about compassion, civilization, or righteousness.

    None of this justifies, excuses, or ameliorates the atrocities committed against Japanese civilians. But if there are comparisons of inhumanity to be made, well, there just are no winners.

  3. Ben Kilpatrick

    When I see this stuff, I really have to wonder if people were actually so imbecelic or cowardly as to believe it or contain their disagreement.

— 2010 —

  1. Alan B'Stard M P

    of course people believed it. Same as they believed the ridiculous rubbish about the Germans in WW1 & 2

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Anticopyright. This was written in 2005 by Rad Geek. Feel free to reprint if you like it. This machine kills intellectual monopolists.