“Don’t forget to send me a postcard,” was the way of asking a friend or relative to share their vacation via a postcard, usually depicting picturesque scenery before cellphones came along to send photos of anything and everything, including the food one is consuming for dinner. Not to be confused with large posters, a postcard is normally a rectangular piece of thick paper or thin cardboard the size of a small envelope. During WWII, most of the postcards were printed on a linen-type paper and usually the cheapest way, if not free, to keep in touch with loved ones back home.
The world’s oldest postcard was sent by writer Theodore Hook from Fulham in London, England to himself in 1840 as a prank on the postal service. The image on the postcard depicted the postal workers as caricatures; a practical joke that cost Hook a penny black stamp. Hook’s postcard sold for 31,750 British pound sterling in 2002, in U.S. dollars that’s a little over $42,805, certainly purchased by a dedicated deltiologist, or collector of postcards.
During WWII, postcards contributed to the U.S. war effort by reminding citizens to support the troops overseas and to keep the factory production at home humming. The larger posters, however, were viewed by more citizens, but an odd exception is the Rosie the Riveter poster, now a mainstay of feminism. The now-famous “Rosie” poster was not seen by many citizens during WWII. Geraldine Hoff Doyle was long believed to be the real-life Rosie used as a model for the artist J. Howard Miller, who painted the poster for Westinghouse Electric, but better evidence strongly suggests that 20-year-old Naomi Parker was the real Rosie on the legendary poster.
Postcards, however, never gained the lasting recognition as did their larger cousins, but during WWII the lowly postcard did its job with amazing success. The images and messages could be blunt and upsetting, but they told the truth in a manner that in today’s society would appear a bit corny, but not to patriotic Americans during the war. There were no TVs, no 24/7 news alerts to grab your attention, only radio and the big screens at movie theaters, posters, and the tiny postcard.
One black-and-white photo postcard of a WWII pinup woman in an extremely thin negligee was wildly appreciated and widely distributed among the troops. The photo is available online but not appropriate for local newspapers.
All nations practice propaganda to support and boost their war efforts, but the frame of mind of some revisionists attempting to explain a nation at war leads one to believe journalism has been taken over by a battalion of Frosty Flakes. A recent article in a nationally-known newspaper touching on the “propaganda” postcards of WWII stated, “The United States often portrayed violent scenes in cartoon form to give the sense that conflicts happened far away and had little effect on real human beings.” Just a hunch, but I don’t think the individual who penned the above statement would last more than a week at Parris Island.
In reality, the U.S. normally avoided scenes of brutal combat and violence in favor of patriotic messages or anti-Axis (Japan, Germany, and Italy) material. The reason is simple: The killing fields of WWI were still fresh in the minds of millions, and the government did not want to harp on the bloodbaths of WWII. Keeping a nation psyched for war is an ongoing effort for any government, especially as casualties mount, goals are foggy, and support waffles between patriotism and protest. Be it a poster or postcard, a primetime speech, a letter, the internet, or Facebook gobbledygook, communication is the key, always has been, always will be.
A very short ‘Veteran’s Story’ this week, but next week a 97-year-old WWII veteran relates his story as an F-4 Hellcat fighter mechanic to becoming a Navy medical doctor. More WWII postcards are on my website: veteransarticle.com and at rockdalenewtoncitizen.com.