This poster is important to the Contemporary time period, 1900 CE-Present, because it represents the political and social structures of this time period, nationalism and militarism. It is important that people recognize that this poster represents the war-related propaganda in the United States near the beginning of this time period. This portrait of “Uncle Sam” is relevant today because it went on to become–according to its creator, James Montgomery Flagg–“the most famous poster in the world.” Most people are able to associate this poster to this time period, making it a great symbol of the Contemporary time period.
Overview- This poster focuses on Uncle Sam, with a few words about joining the U.S. Army. This poster is trying to encourage young men to enlist themselves into the army. It portrays joining the army as fulfilling one’s duty, making it propaganda.
Parts- The most noticeable part of this poster is Uncle Sam, pointing at the viewer. He has a stern look on his face, giving his message a more serious, important tone. Below his portrait are the words “I Want YOU For U.S. Army / Nearest Recruiting Station,” which are directed at the viewer. The poster is bordered with red, white, and blue stripes, and on that note, the entire poster follows the same color scheme, bearing the United States’ colors. His star spangled hat, his red bow tie, his blue jacket, he symbolizes the U.S. with the intention of being eye-catching.
Title- Originally published as the cover for the July 6, 1916, issue of Leslie’s Weekly, this image had the title “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?,” which perfectly represents the message this poster is trying to convey. The title tells the reader that the poster will probably suggest something that they can do in order to be “prepared” as the title states. The title is therefore suggesting that to be fully prepared for war, one must enlist in the army and defend their country.
Interpretation- This poster is meant to depict the political and social ideals of this time. The message of this poster is simple: Join the army, it is the most honorable choice. We can justify that it is honorable because it is none other than Uncle Sam who needs us. Also, because the title asks us what are we doing to be prepared, this poster isn’t necessarily only aimed at people who can join the army right away. For example, it may also be targeting young boys, planting the idea in their heads now that in the future they should join the army. It also plants the idea in other people that can’t join the army, that they should still be doing something to be prepared for war.
Context- In all of the Great powers, military spending increased greatly in the years prior to the war. The rivalry between the powers to have the best military led to a building up of weapons and an increase in distrust. Allied to this growing militarism was an intense nationalism in most of the Great powers. The desire for world power status was very popular in Germany. The French desire for revenge over Alsace and Lorraine was very strong. In Britain, Imperialism and support for the Empire was very evident. This nationalism meant that there was little resistance to war in these countries. Russia was very nationalistic, their slavic culture brought the citizens together. On the same note, Russia was willing to defend other Slavic peoples from different nations, so when Austria-Hungary declared war on the Slavic state of Serbia, the Soviet Union stepped in, hoping to defend and gain control over the Balkan States. Thus, World War I began in 1914, and the United States stood idly by until 1917. Over four million copies of this Uncle Sam propaganda were printed between 1917 and 1918, starting when the United States entered World War I, allied with the Triple Entente (Britain, France, Russia, along with Italy who also joined late like the U.S.) and began sending troops and materials into war zones.
Conclusion- This poster depicts the ideals shared by the Great powers at the beginning of this time period, and consequently, the ideals of most nations today. It shows that the government was trying to encourage its citizens to join the Army, and that propaganda was popular and widely used. This is important to what we are studying because this Uncle Sam poster is directly caused by a major event, World War I, and is also direct evidence of the militarism and nationalism that presented themselves in the early 1900s and have continued since then to present day.