Vilonia Freshman Academy civic students may have had their first introduction to college courses Wednesday. Instead of in the classroom, students sat at picnic tables inside the barn at the Museum of Veterans and Military History in Vilonia, for a lesson on propaganda and purpose.
The ninth grade civics teacher, Michael Slicer, was among the audience. The teachers were persuasion class students from the University of Central Arkansas under the direction of Dr. John H. Saunders. Their props were duplicated posters from the World War II era. Their message was regarding propaganda, purpose and target audiences.
Saunders introduced himself and began the series by telling students propaganda is a form of communication that “utilizes media and attempts to persuade a mass audience to believe or behave in a specific way that is desired by the author of the message.”
The UCA students had done their homework in advance and were articulate in delivering their message. They said they spent many hours on research and one by one they explained what they believed and offered their findings regarding each.
For instance, an Italian poster showing Hitler standing tall and prideful, while clutching the Nazi flag was designed to persuade Germany of Hitler’s capabilities as a leader. One hand was slightly clutched in a fist and there was a halo effect around Hitler. There is also gold leaves, oak trees, Nazi flags on it and soldiers behind Hitler in a Nazi salute. The students analysis was that author, F. Stauber, portrayed Hitler as being this “divine leader,” mirroring Christ in a biblical reference.
The poster with the words “Keep Mum, She’s Not So Dumb,” is a piece of British propaganda, the students said. It was designed to be slightly humorous. It shows a woman dressed elegantly with soldiers in the background. It was a reminder to men to be mindful of talking freely. If there are women in the room, the poster seems to be saying, they may be more than a “pretty face.” They could also be a spy.
A poster, by Gino Boccasile of a Japanese samurai warrior wielding a sword high above his head as he prepares to strike death onto allied powers, was created post Pearl Harbor. The content, the students said, attempts to link success specifically to the Japanese force having a victory against the U.S. and allies.
A poster with the words “DuPoli, Una Guerra,” used the text, the students said to further unite Italy and Germany. In English, this translates to “Two nations, One War. At the time, they were working together to win WWII. A strategic placement of the sword in the center of the poster, students said, between both the Nazi flag and the Italian flag, shows a sense of unity as well as a sense of patriotism.
An American poster, “Stop This Grab—By Bonds,” was produced by the United States of War Information and the Office of Emergency Management. The audience was U.S. citizens. The students’ analysis was that it fostered patriotism and was made as an effort to encourage individuals to purchase war bonds. It provided those who were not in the military, the students said, a way to participate in the war effort by raising funding to build the military.
Saunders wrapped up the class telling students there are many types of propaganda. “It is all around you,” he said. "It is on television, radio, the internet or just posted in public spaces."
He provided some ways to critique a propaganda poster and the importance of doing so.
“You are exposed to more propaganda now than ever,” Saunders said. “I would encourage you to learn and use your skills to understand the world you live in today and to protect yourself. You shouldn’t let propaganda determine your mindset or what is in your heart.”
Students also toured the museum.