Speak and Act Cautiously — World War II US Propaganda Posters

Although the United States did not provide military aid to Britain and the Soviet Union until around 1940, Nazi Germany's spy infiltration operations had already woven a complete web in the United States as early as Roosevelt's New Deal, with the pro-Nazi activist group Freunde des Neuen Deutschland and the Nazi group Silver Two major groups, promoted Nazi theory and anti-Semitic Ideology.
World War II US Propaganda Posters Speak and Act Cautiously 14

Although the United States did not provide military aid to Britain and the Soviet Union until around 1940, Nazi Germany’s spy infiltration operations had already woven a complete web in the United States as early as Roosevelt’s New Deal, with the pro-Nazi activist group Freunde des Neuen Deutschland and the Nazi group Silver Two major groups, promoted Nazi theory and anti-Semitic Ideology.

In 1936, William Pelley, the leader of the Silver Shirts, announced his candidacy for the U.S. presidency, and then Kuhn then led the the main backbone of the group to an unofficial audience with Hitler at the Reich Chancellery on the pretext of going to Berlin to watch the Olympic Games. Despite denials from Nazi diplomacy. It was also during this period that this domestic Nazi force in the United States began to raise a high level of alarm for the FBI. The reason was that they suspected that these German-Americans and German immigrants would launch an armed attack against the U.S. government. As a result, the FBI sent agents to begin a formal investigation of the two organizations.

Members of the German-American League undergoing the swearing-in ceremony.
A full house at the German-American Alliance rally.

Initially, the groups were judged as extremist organizations with strong nationalist tendencies, as they did not have any direct evidence of these organizations violent attacks on the government and every amount of money under their control was mostly used for the organization’s various activities. However, they soon discovered that things did not appear to be as simple as they appeared. U.S. agents then intercepted and secretly opened some of the letters, and their contents made them aware that German groups in the United States, especially the largest German-American alliance, might be secretly engaged in or facilitating illegal intelligence activities.

The FBI formally arrested a German-American named Ignatz Griebel in January 1938, and after some interrogation, Griebel eventually confessed to a number of details, including that he had secretly set up an intelligence collection station for the German Gestapo in 1934, primarily to collect data reports on industrial areas in the northern United States . This intelligence gathering station was the first spy organization discovered by the United States after World War I.

Although investigators were convinced that the uncovered spy network was only the tip of the iceberg of this vast intelligence agency, their investigation then stalled and went nowhere. But the entire effort took a radical turn in October 1939 when a German-American citizen named William Sebold voluntary surrender. Sebold, who had been coerced into becoming a Nazi mole in the United States in order to provide intelligence information, did not intend to engage in espionage and subsequently went to the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Cologne on the pretext of reapplying for a passport. During the visa process, Sebold told the visa officer what had happened to him and repeatedly emphasized that he intended to serve the FBI and had no intention of becoming a German spy. After contacting Washington, Sebod’s demands were met, but the agents wanted Sebod’s cooperation in carrying on the charade until the entire spy organization was wiped out.

The FBI secretly set up a short-wave transceiver station on Long Island in May, and with Sebold’s cooperation, the FBI intercepted as many as 200 cables from Germany over the next 16 months and captured 33 suspects, including New York regional director Fritz Drucken. FBI Director Edgar Hoover described the incident as “the most successful counterintelligence operation” in U.S. history.

The Alien And Sedition Acts of 1798, the U.S. government began internment operations on the third day after the declaration of war, making Japanese Americans the primary target of cleanup operations. Roosevelt signed Presidential Orders 9066 and 9102 on February 19 and March 18, respectively, authorizing the Secretary of War to designate certain areas of the country as military zones and to impose necessary restrictions on those living in military zones, even excluding them from military zones. These two orders by Roosevelt marked the official beginning of detention work in the United States.

The Los Angeles police who were taking Japanese American residents out of their residences on February 3, 1942. A month later, this act became a mandatory action that spread throughout the United States.
Newly constructed segregated Japanese American settlement in Arcadia, California, photo taken in April 1942.

American counterintelligence propaganda efforts were actually inspired by the British. As early as February 6, 1940, the British domestic campaign of “Lost words cost lives“, the War Information Service introduced this slogan to the United States and at the same time created its own counter-espionage slogan – “Loose Lips Sink Ships”

Because somebody talked! (Wesley Hyman, 1944)

Under this propaganda offensive, the anti-spy awareness within the United States began to strengthen significantly. At the same time, the U.S. government knew very well that a strong fortress is often broken down from within. Throughout the war, after analyzing the various situations in American society, a large number of “Axis Sallys” and “Tokyo Roses” began to use radio waves to constantly attack the American rear, while also sending frequent sugar-coated shells to the front line troops.

However, some rumors do not come from enemy, but from the United States. These malicious, slanderous, rumor-mongering, worry-warters are often referred to as the Fifth Column. They often start talking about the situation based on a few words, or make unfavorable comments about the current war situation, causing fear and panic among people. In response to this situation, the government bluntly and publicly stated, “We are under the attack of lies and malicious propaganda.” To prevent negative propaganda from enemy, guiding the correct wartime attitude of the public has also become an important aspect that the relevant authorities should pay attention to in times of war.

Stop the Fifth Column (Grateful American Publishing Company, 1943)
Don’t fall for enemy propaganda (Jack Bates, 1943)
This man may die if you talk too much (Sara Valentino, 1942)
Somebody blabbed. Button your lip! (Albert Dawn, 1942)
Loose talk can cause this (Adolphe Tredler, 1942)
Enemy ears are listening (Ralph Illigan, 1942)
Loose talk can cost lives (Stephan Dohanos, 1942)
Loose talk can cost lives (John Holmgren, 1942)
Loose talk can cost lives (William Steger, 1942)
Don’t be a dope spread inside dope (Cecil Beal, 1942)
Quiet! Loose talk can cost lives (Dal Holcomb, 1942)
Pipedown soldier! Berlin’s listening!(Office of Accurate Information, 1942)
Closed for the duration (Howard Scott, 1942)
He’s watching you (Glenn Gehl, 1942)
Sailor beware! Loose talk can cost lives (John Falter, 1942)
Americans suffer when careless talk kills! (Harry Anderson, 1943)
A careless word… a needless sinking (Anton Fischer, 1942)
Don’t talk about troop movements! (John Falter, 1943)
Careless talk got there first (Albert Dawn, 1944)

The Wartime Information Service made a painstaking campaign to the population to not read enemy propaganda leaflets, to not listen to enemy radio broadcasts, and to not believe the front-line reports of their opponents. This type of propaganda posters, along with the three categories of themes such as war bonds, industrial production and recruitment drafts, became the four largest categories of posters created within the United States at that time.


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