Anti-war ads from the 1930s

On the Vintage Ads LiveJournal, a fascinating set of anti-war ads from the 1930s protest group World Peaceways (see the full-sized version to read the text). They ran an anti-imperialist anti-war campaign that described soldiers as pawns in the corrupt games of the rich and powerful, and called on everyday people to refuse to involve America in future wars.

World Peaceways (1930s pacifist/anti-war organization) produced some of the boldest propaganda posters of that era, largely aimed at looking at what had come about in the aftermath of the First World War, including the Depression, and death on a scale the world had not seen before, as well as lasting enmity that was quickly brewing into the Second World War.

The name "World Peaceways" was used in the famous Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever" to represent the pacifist movement that Edith Keeler belonged to. The story claimed that her peace work would keep America out of the war for too long and thus lead to Germany winning and taking over the United States. Kirk HAD to let her die - because if he saved her (as he apparently had) then all of history would change.

Sunday Sampler of Anti-War Ads


  1. I’m glad that despite this campaign, the Americans, English and Canadians came to save us from Hitler, though.

    1. It wasn’t despite the campaign. Things were not so clear then, when the only glaring indicator would be rising nationalism.

      Rising nationalism…

    2. Presumably, if Hitler’s red-shirt brownshirts hadn’t been such suckers themselves, that wouldn’t have been necessary.

      It’s not as though ‘start WWII’ was much of a win for the interests of the German population either, unless it had an incredible ability to derive consolation from the fact that other people were losing harder.

      1. Presumably, if Hitler’s red-shirt brownshirts hadn’t been such suckers themselves, that wouldn’t have been necessary.

        THANK YOU.

    3. That was mostly the Soviets that saved the world from Hitler. The Americans, English, and Canadians mostly kept a small portion of his armies occupied in the west (and to the south to a degree) for most of the war, and then invaded at almost the last minute, partly out of fear of the Soviets taking over western Europe.

      1.  A mostly true statement that most people like to ignore. I know people who say that in their HS history classes, some teachers would even deny that the Soviets were our allies. 

      2.  They also saved us from 14-year-old girls by gang-raping them and killing them.  So we can be doubly thankful.

        1.  Yes, we all know about the postwar rape of German women. Pointing out that the Soviets were instrumental in winning the war does not give them a pass for that. No one is saying it does.

        2. It may sound cruel, but if I had to choose between Soviets gang-raping women on the one hand, and the US and Nazi Germany waging a nuclear war in late 40s Europe on the other. Moreover, let’s not start about war atrocities like rape. That happen(s/ed) on all sides.

          1. Clearly, you aren’t a German woman in the mid-40s.

            The rape of German women by the Red Army was pretty horrific and deserves attention, I think headcode is right about that.  Let’s not ignore the problem and paper it over with “well it was war” rhetoric… we could do the same thing with the  German atrocities, too if we want to get into that sort of moral relativism…  Pointing out that campaign of terror against Germans heading west as the Red Army headed to Germany at the end of the war does not at all undermine the notion that the Red Army was quite heroic, because it’s clear they were decisive. Nor does it say that all men in the Red Army participated. It’s just a fact of the war. It happened, and was far more pervasive and systemic then rapes coming soldiers of the other allies.

            And again, it’s hard to argue counterfactuals like “if the allies had not stopped the Germans, we’d have had a nuclear war”. The Nazis had not really gotten very far in their nuclear research, frankly.

          2. My final word in this pointless double side-tracked discussion: I’m grateful to all the Soviets fighting in WW-II NOT being involved in rape. I’m sure they’re the overwhelming majority.

          3. Citation? I thought the Axis were pretty damn close to a functional bomb, one reason why the Allies spent so much time, energy and special forces troops trying to stop them.

      3. I agree that the Russians couldn’t be credited enough for their part in ridding the world of National Socialism. I merely mentioned Americans, Canadians and [Brits], since (i) the campaign was American, and (ii) they were physically present liberating the Netherlands.

      4. The Soviet Union was a nation that went to war with a gutted military with a paranoid dictator at its helm.  The individual heroism and sacrifice of the Russian people is noteworthy, but to say that the “Soviets won the war” is a very one-dimensional and erroneous point of view.

        The Soviets were using western hardware during the opening years of the eastern front invasion, it wasn’t until around 1943 that their industry caught up to become the mainstay supplier of arms.  Also, I don’t seem to recall a Soviet naval presence in the Atlantic to ensure all of those lend-lease supplies were reaching their ports safely.

        Your narrow view of history is also completely ignorant of the Allied strategic bombing campaign disrupting Nazi Germany’s war industry.  Soviet strategists never considered using aircraft as a strategic weapon until after the Second World War.  To them, aircraft were tactical weapons slaved to the needs of ground operations.  Had the Eastern Front occurred in a vacuum it probably would have resulted in a stalemate.

        Finally, your view of the Second World War is very euro-centric.  Many tend to omit Pacific campaign which was a much more massive logistical undertaking that the land-war in the Eastern Front.  It’s called “World War II” for a reason.  The only Soviet contribution against Imperial Japan was the invasion of Manchuria, and that occurred well after the fate of Japan was decided.

        Replacing conventional wisdom with more conventional wisdom is foolhardy.

        edit: disqus doesn’t like cntrl+v

        1. Also, that very Allied strategic bombing campaign was the subject of a lot of criticism.  And since this is about the anti-war movement, people should look up Vera Brittain.

          It still has many critics today, even including people who otherwise like to credit the Red Army for winning WWII.

        2. To them, aircraft were tactical weapons slaved to the needs of ground operations.

          A doctrine German General Heinz Guderian (father of the Blitzkrieg) learned from Soviet Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky during the interwar collaboration between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht. The Germans later forged documents to frame Tukhachevsky as a traitor so Stalin would execute his best commander and purge the Red Army of Tukhachevsky loyalists. Stalin even tossed out Tukhachevsky’s doctrine as counterrevolutionary. Since tanks dominated the European land war, the Soviets’ decision to abaondon Tukhachevsky’s combined arms tactics left them at enough of a disadvantage that the Wehrmacht was able to make up for lost time in their buildup of armored infantry.

          Much of the dynamics of WWII boiled down to who started with what. Russia had the Red Army, tired from but battle-tested by the Russian Civil War. Germany wasn’t even allowed to have an army per the Treaty of Versailles, which is why they agreed to help train the Red Army. They knew that when they turned on the Russians, they would need a way to keep the Red Army from crushing them before they were ready to go to the mat. The French were still recovering basic government after WWI, and the British and Americans were doing their best to bury their heads in the sand and hope Hitler went away.

          1.  The Germans also got in a fair bit of practice with the Condor Legions in Spain.

    1. The face of evil was not apparent, and the poster is clear in that it calls for examination of the previous conflict. 

      Which side was “evil” in the first world war, which was much more a struggle of empire than ideology?

      As well, it does not encourage doing nothing.

      1. Indeed, it explicitly discourages doing nothing:

        Civilization must build its own defense out of human reason and intelligence, properly organized and applied. To every reasonable and intelligent man and woman in America goes the responsibility of doing his or her share to avert the coming war.

        … and again in another piece:

        This organization does not claim to have solved the world’s troubles or to be able to cure all the world’s ills. It does feel, however, that intelligent efforts can and must be made against war and toward a secure peace.

        … and again, and again, and again:

        Peace is not the reward of passiveness. It must be fought for- and fought for aggressively.

      2.  In my comments below, I mention a congressional commission that investigated the causes of US entry into the Great War, but I’ve been blanking on the name of that commision. But they found that arms dealers and bankers were instrumental in the push for war. Sorry I can’t remember the name of the thing… It’s kind of annoying me. Maybe I should go look at one of my many textbooks.

        1. I expect the Nye Commission could find that of most any war, for even wars with definitively ideological motivations, say fascist vs whatever instead of  Imperialist vs some other Imperialist who does things pretty much the same way, are at their root a squabble over resources.

          Ain’t no profit like a War profit!

    2. Yeah and thats exactly the mindset of Usian exceptionalism that led to the mess in which the USA is in today:

      The USA is the force of Good and simply can’t do no wrong (freedom, liberty etc.) and the others are ( the Axis of) evil foreigners. With us or against us. 

      Who’s to decide what’s evil? US politicians like G. W. Bush?

      WW2 was the last time the USA fought a just war.

      1. But back in WWII, there were also many voices who called that one an unjust war, and not just this group.

        They made the very arguments we hear today:  saying that was a war for imperialism, Wall Street, Jews, etc.

        1. Not every one played the Jew card… some were seriously invested in anti-war as part of their philosophy. Bayard Rustin spent time in jail for his pacisism during the war and plenty of African-Americans refused to serve the country that denied them basic citizenship rights. I don’t think they were all concerned about a Zionist conspiracy… I think in to point out that some people use international finance as a code word for anti-Seminism kindo f misses the point, as plenty of people were absolutely openly anti-Semitic who did not speak German. But not everyone who opposed the war was anti-Semitic.

          1. Quite true, but my point was that these were some of the things actually said then, and some of the things said today.  They didn’t think WWII was just.  That’s hard to accept now, but that’s the way they were.

            The anti-war movements were and are pretty big, and ideologically very diverse.  There were and are left-wing anti-war groups, and right-wing anti-war groups, and only a few who were truly pacifist.  They would sometimes hate each other — with good reason.

        2. It’s quite possible to judge criticisms (and critics) on a case by case basis.   For the record, the American reasons for joining in WW II might have been justifiable, but the way it was fought wasn’t just on any side.  The reason Nimitz defended Dönitz at the Nurenburg trials was because the US had engaged in the same war crimes and didn’t want to see a precedent for prosecuting them. 

          1.  It was a brutal and difficult war.

            You may judge how they fought it, but you need to bear the costs in mind.  Nimitz and Doenitz both knew those weren’t simply pieces on a chessboard.

          2.  And those who decided to re-expand the Iraq war 10+ years ago knew that most of the dead would be civilians, many of them babies and young children, and they would likely number in the millions.

            Unfortunately, come election time, very few voters disapprove of this.

      2. WW2 was the last time the USA fought a just war.

        There are no “just wars”; there are costs to war and costs to doing nothing, and the balance between. But don’t let me get between you and your black&white view of history.

    3. Encouraging good men to do nothing in the face of evil. This must be practically the poster child for Useful Idiocy.

      I think the best poster child for useful idiocy is the people that encourage good men to kill for the profits of the few.

      I have to ask, did you support the Iraq war?  Just curious.

  2. I’m trying to understand the mindset.  What would make this approach worth the disrespect it shows to wounded vets?  I’m wondering if they thought getting in the psyche of those who were angry (for themselves or on a loved one’s behalf) so that they would start proselytizing too was the way to make a strong impact.  After all, it’s hard to ignore a permanently-wounded soldier and his family saying his sacrifice wasn’t worth it.  I wonder what the rate of return was, though: one person won over to their side for every million infuriated by the ad?  It just seems so militant in its supposed plea for peace.

    1.  There was a fair amount of anger in the interwar period due to the Great War, so the anti-war movement was not just those who were anti-Semetic and sympathized with Hitler (though there was that faction of the anti-war movement).  During the interwar period, there was a congressional commission which came to the conclusion (rightly or wrongly) that it was international finance and the banks that got us involved in the Great war. I’m blanking on the name of the commission but various groups got behind it and promoted it as showing how certain groups were undermining democracy in the US…  Of course, some groups (America First or the Silvershirts) used it as a back door for their anti-Semitism, but numerous groups were anti-war, not just fascists.  Don’t forget around this time you have the bonus Army incident that nailed Hoover’s re-election coffin shut, I think.  Vets were pretty pissed off at the federal government and wanted their pensions early. I’d suspect that this image was trying to rally that group of vets to their cause. 

      Good question, though. I don’t know if this would have motivated vets or completely alienated them.

      1. I learned about that in high school from my very lefty teacher.  Interestingly, this is the origin of the term “merchants of death”.  Which, per WP…is it the Nye Commission you’re thinking of?

    2. You’ve hit upon what makes this “propaganda.” The ads were designed to provoke outrage, to suggest that such sacrifices were meaningless, because the outrage stems from the idea that war was unavoidable, that wounds were justified and noble because soldiers (and the nation) had no choice but to fight. By portraying war as unnecessary and avoidable, World Peaceways hoped veterans, families, etc. would redirect their outrage towards the real culprits: the warmongers who sold the false premise that war is unavoidable and great sacrifices must be made.

      It’s a bait-and-switch technique: suggest that “noble, unavoidable war” is undesirable and unnecessary, then offer World Peaceways as a constructive alternative. I hope this assists your understanding.

  3. Historian Niall Ferguson has argued that if the German Empire had been allowed to win WWI, it would have had it’s “place in the sun” after Spain, France, Britain, ect…averting the rise of fascism and WWII and ultimately resulting in something like the EU. I personally find this naive, not in it’s analysis of pre-Depression German ambitions, but in it’s ignoring the role the rise of soviet Russia would have played. Plus, I don’t think France and the rest of continental European would have appreciated being left to German conquest by the rest of the West.

    1.  I’ll never understand why people want to argue counter-factuals like that. That’s not history – our jobs are not to tell everyone what WOULD have happened, but to make arguments about what DID happen.  Especially when they are prominent historians at Harvard – that’s really what the ivy league spends their time on?  It accomplishes nothing  and it can’t be proven or disproven.

      I think the rise of fascism was aided as much by the victory of the bolsheviks  in Russia, the depression, and genuine support for the ideology. Not too few Americans saw it as a workable system to invest their belief in… Even now, fascism seems to be finding new supporters all over the world. 

      I agree about the French. That would not have gone over well. Part of the reason that the Germans were saddled with such a heavy war debt was because of France – they insisted upon it.

      1. But they were able to insist on it because of all the backing they had. Oh, I’m sure they would have insisted anyway, but they would have been laughed at. Of course, if the war had simply gone on until all the nations involved were destroyed, that wouldn’t have been any better.

        In this case, making arguments about what did happen is boring. We’ve been over it enough.

      2. I read counterfactuals, what-ifs and alternate histories because I write fiction that requires me to find plausible ways for fictional histories to turn. Also, understanding how things might have gone gives me a better understanding of the possibilities the people who made history were faced with, before their actions became history, and hence I gain a better understanding of their decisions.

        I think it only becomes a conceit if you convince yourself that you know what really would have happened if X, Y and Z were replaced with A, B and C. That’s no more possible than predicting the future. But as another tool in the toolbelt for studying why things went the way they did, it’s proven quite useful. Then again, I am not a historian (I’m a physicist). YMMV and I defintely see why counterfactuals aren’t for everyone.

    2. If not for World War II, it’s just as likely that Soviet communism would have collapsed from famine. I doubt they could have kept the Russian people so amenable to forced industrialization without the war, or therefore to becoming a superpower and an atomic power. And you can forget all about the Warsaw Pact.

      Mass starvation is ugly enough in itself, but it’s rather fanciful to imagine any worse alternative to the Holocaust and ALL the collateral damage of WWII, the most deadly war in human history. And an eventual nuclear war would have been even less likely without WWII to drive the creation of those weapons.

      When it comes down to it, there was no Second World War, there was WWI Part 2. And the Treaty of Versailles is pretty much responsible.

      This is probably why we don’t have hovercars by now.

      1.  Well, but we helped to bail out the Russians with grain in the 20s. I think you might be right about the war allowing Stalin to force through industrialization easier, though there was already several 5 year plans that had gone through by that point.

        I’d argue Warsaw pact was in direct response to our actions in Greece and Turkey in 47 and then the Marshall Plan not too long after. Stalin wanted to shore up his defenses along Eastern Europe (as well as treat Eastern Europe like a colony, which is how Tito got kicked out of Cominform). Of course, maybe I’m confusing Cominform with Warsaw Pact – Warsaw Pact was in response to NATO, in 55, while Cominform was in response to the Marshall Plan in 47…  Yeah that’s right.

        Agreed about the damage of the Second World War.


      2. Obviously saying anything very definite about alternate histories is hard, though…even without Versailles, Germany still would have suffered plenty during the great depression, wouldn’t there still have been the temptation to enrich themselves through conquest? And fascism developed in Italy despite their having been on the winning side in WWI. Also, if nuclear weapons weren’t rushed into development as part of a war effort and used almost as soon as they were created, when there were still very few to use, isn’t it possible the first use of nuclear weapons would have happened when both sides had large stockpiles, and when people didn’t have quite the same visceral sense of how horrifying they were? I don’t want to say “it was all for the best” but just to say it’s hard to know one way or another whether “an eventual nuclear war would have been even less likely” in an alternate history where WWII didn’t happen.

        On the subject of not having hovercars, this is a pretty interesting article exploring the idea that the failure of the expected techno-utopia to materialize has been a great shaper of our disillusioned “postmodern” culture…

        1. Italian Fascism also developed well before the brunt of the depression, though I think maybe Italy got hit early? 

          Who knows about the bomb. Part of what motivated US scientist was the fear of a Nazi bomb, then a fear of a Russian bomb, when it became clear that the Nazis really weren’t that far along in their project.

          But I’m still on the side of you can’t really argue a counter-factual, except maybe in very abstract terms, or in fiction. There are just too many variables to take into account. 

          That being  said, my problem is people like Niall Ferguson pontificating on these things – he’s an historian who is supposed to base his arguments on facts and sources. He makes conjectures to prove a political point, more than anything. Maybe I just don’t like him… 

    3. “Plus, I don’t think France and the rest of continental European would have appreciated being left to German conquest”

      I don’t think Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy were too appreciative of being left to French, Russian and English conquest.

      1. I think that’s true too. But I think Germany was just as keen to stretch their imperial legs. It was the Austro-Hungarians who demanded the Serbs deliver a list of demands they knew they couldn’t. They were also well aware of the treaty agreements. I think both sides were spoiling for war.  If anyone was not keen on war, it was probably the ottomans and the people in the Balkans, who had just dealt with the Balkans wars a year or two before. We always talk about the destruction of the Western front (in both wars), but often we neglect the damage on the Eastern/Balkan fronts, which were often just as destructive. Even the aftermath was more brutish, with things like the forced populations swoops between Greece and Turkey, after the civil war in Turkey, brokered and backed by the League of Nations.

        1. People forget that… I’m not sure they are too far off from fascism now, what with Berlussconi still managing to be a factor in Italian politics. How does he do that? I asked an Italian friend of mine, but he refuses to talk about Silvio at all (and I can’t’ blame him).

      1. Yes, I remember. Ferguson is a bit of a tool. His books are still fascinating and insightful, if shallow in their analysis. He’s the sort of “expert” that I look to for off-the-wall ideas other might not think of. As with all off-the-wall ideas, I take them with a extra grain of salt because sometimes he’s full of shit.

  4. Wounded Veterans are, by and large, suckers. They get robbed of their livelihood, again, primarily in the interests of a few industrialists and globalists. Certainly this particular advert does shit on a few soldiers who maintain a position of true duty to all humanity and lose their livelihood because of it. Mostly, though, it highlights the truth of the situation for 99 percent of soldiers.

    I see nothing wrong with being inflammatory in the face of murder and pillage. So long as the purpose of inflammation is to route out the disease, it is a necessary part of our social defenses.

    1. my roomate’s sister makes $81 hourly on the computer. She has been fired for ten months but last month her pay check was $18715 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on  Zap2­2­.c­om

  5. BTW, slight correction here. It was a time traveling McCoy who saved Edith Keeler. Kirk and Spock figured out that they needed to stop McCoy. 

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