One of the effective and common propaganda methods in history was the dissemination of proclamations and information leaflets. In the pre-internet era, states disseminated various information precisely through proclamations by air or land on their own or the enemy territory.
Proclamations were printed in million copies and most commonly, dropped by air on various territories.
Proclamations were used for the following reasons:
- Fearmongering society and state on the basis of possible outcomes;
- Provoking desertion and explaining how one can surrender to the enemy;
- Disseminating disinformation or particular information;
- Establishing communication with the population from enemy-state;
- Humanitarian aid.
Propaganda through proclamations was even more active during clashes between states. A clear example of it is World War II. During this period distribution of leaflets via air was utilized by Nazi Germany, as well as its opponent Allies United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. With the aforesaid propaganda method, states attempted to gain different types of influences and sow certain sentiments in society. Various individuals disseminated proclamations through non-air methods.
- Great Britain and proclamations used in the WW2
Great Britain was one of the first states to use proclamations at the beginning of WW2. Back in 1938, Great Britain decided to drop proclamations over the specific territories after the declaration of war and before bombing the enemy territory. A special proclamation called “A Message to the German people from the British people” was created in 1938. The first English leaflet called "Warnung – Warning" used by Great Britain served as a warning. Initially, Great Britain dropped 6 million proclamations on average in Hamburg, Bremen, Ruhr, and other highly populated cities.
The picture depicts 2 individuals loading respective weapons with proclamations
As mentioned above, proclamation serves different goals and is propaganda in nature. It was the same in the case of Great Britain. Let’s overview several examples:
“Fortress Europe has no roof”
Proclamation “Fortress Europe has no roof” in German
Great Britain dropped the aforesaid proclamation over Nazi Germany in 1943. The leaflet’s message aimed to demonstrate Britain’s superiority. The leaflet claimed that Great Britain’s air forces were stronger than that of German and Italian combined.
The same message can be found in other leaflets of the same period:
“On the night of 23 and 24 May 1943 the RAF (Royal Air Force) dropped twice as many bombs on Dortmund as the Luftwaffe (Nazi Germany Air Force) dropped on the whole of England in the six months from 1 January to 30 June 1943.”
Moreover, Great Britain also produced leaflets with different messages, however, whether it was disseminated in Germany via air or other methods is unknown.
“For Führer and Fatherland – why?”
The aforesaid leaflet was aimed against Hitler’s politics. It notes that Hitler can no longer win the war, but needed new sacrifices to save himself.
Moreover, Great Britain often attempted to gain the goodwill of people living inside the enemy territory (Nazi Germany).
“Black lists for the black scandal”
The aforesaid proclamation reassured people that there will be no revenge against German people in case of Allied victory.
- United States of America and proclamations against Japan
The U.S had actively used this method after it entered the war, however, the proclamations the U.S. used in 1945 against Japan are especially noteworthy. When it comes to the U.S, the common proclamations were about warnings for possible bombings. This way the U.S. attempted to avoid harming innocent populations and disseminated respective information in various cities.
In 1945, respective messages were disseminated in Japan precisely for this reason. Special leaflets informed people about the U.S’s plan to bomb specific cities, where enemy state contained military installations and since “bombs had no eyes”, the U.S called for people to leave the cities:
Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs... “
Common, together with warnings, were the call for the evacuation of the cities so the collateral damage would be minimum:
“In accordance with America's humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives”
Proclamations used in Japan
The U.S. also attempted to gain the goodwill of the Japanese people through proclamation. The text deliberately mentioned that the U.S's enemy is not the Japanese population, but Japan that enslaved Japanese people.
Messages reassuring the population were also common in the case of Great Britain and the U.S. It reassured people that they would win the war or that they should stay strong in face of a common enemy or that they shouldn’t help the occupier and Axis Powers. The leaflets below, disseminated in France and Belgium, contain precisely the aforesaid calling.
American and British individuals recall that in the making of proclamations they were told to use all kinds of psychological tricks. They often tried to deliver facts through the proclamation and not false stories in order to maintain the trust in society that proclamations targeted.
- Soviet Union proclamations in WW2
Similar to other Allied states, Soviet Union also actively utilized proclamations to reach different goals. It’s noteworthy that this propaganda method was used in all other directions by the Soviet Union.
It’s worth noting that the Soviet Union used proclamations for its soldiers. One of the aforesaid shows the state calling for soldiers to read Lenin’s work.
We also encounter leaflets Soviet Union utilized in WW2 for foreign state soldiers. The one aimed at Germany contains the number of prisoners of war, which would have an even more psychological effect on the targeted addressee.
- Nazi Germany proclamations in WW 2
Besides using proclamations, Germany also actively persecuted people who were found to have the proclamations of the enemy state. In one of the interviews, a Holocaust survivor recalls that when she was in school the teacher distributed leaflets among the students so that they could take them home. However, the Germans soldiers came, and the students, following the teacher’s instructions, ate the papers so they wouldn't be discovered by Germans. In the end, the teacher thanked the class for saving her from the German soldier's wrath.
Germany actively used proclamations for Soviet Army or foreign populations in the same manner as the U.S and Britain, however, we can still distinguish the 3 specific leaflets.
Leaflets did not show how Nazi Germany treated different minorities even though everyone knew about it. In the 1944 leaflet, Nazi Germany calls for the surrender of African-American soldiers and notes that they would receive better treatment in Germany than in the U.S.
Half of the leaflet described racist occurrences that happened in the U.S and at the end, asks the respective question: "Isn't America a free country?”. Another half promised African-American soldiers secure and healthy life, where they wouldn’t be restricted to attend religious services.
Germans preparing proclamations for American soldiers was also quite common. Those proclamations prompted American soldiers to return to the U.S. Germans reminded the Americans how great their lives were in their homeland, where they had fun and were happy and now, they had to participate in a war and say goodbye to happy days
"Happy Days …. Gone”
Germans also manipulated the subject of wives and girlfriends of American soldiers. They would draw sad women on proclamations and ask American soldiers how their wives felt being alone without them in the U.S.
“Waiting in Vain”
See more German proclamations manipulating the subject of love.
This is only a short list of proclamations that they used in WW2. As you’ve noticed, proclamations are used in various directions, however, they all served one goal – sow one specific opinion in the society, as well as mobilize the society against the enemy.
Prepared by Irakli Iagorashvili