War of Words: Race-Based Propaganda During World War II

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

World War II was not only a war of battleships and bullets.  Words, in the form of overt and covert propaganda and psychological warfare, played an important role.  See the post Airplanes over France for examples of U.S. propaganda at the time of the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

During the war, Nazi Germany produced foreign propaganda aimed at creating divisions among those countries at war with them.  That propaganda used international and domestic topics to accomplish its objectives.  For example, propaganda directed at the British empire sought to sow discord between Great Britain and its subordinate dominions.  Once the United States entered the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the German declaration of war on the U.S., German propaganda took aim at America.

As the following document from Records Relating to Publications and the Foreign Information Service (NAID 1013120) shows, at times the Germans used aspects of the domestic situation in one country to affect the international activities of another.  In this case, it used domestic efforts at promoting the civil rights of African Americans in an attempt to deter South Africa, one of the British dominions, from cooperating with the U.S.

OWI.Race Propaganda
Special Daily Propaganda Report, 27 March, 1942; file: Daily Propaganda Report; Records of the Special Assistant, 1941-43 (NAID 1013120), RG 208, Records of the Office of War Information

Source Note: Some of the records in this entry originated in the Foreign Information Service (FIS) of the Coordinator of Information (COI).  In June 1942, the function and many records of that organization were transferred to the new Office of War Information (OWI) when that agency was established while the other parts of the COI became the core of the new Office of Strategic Services (OSS).