World War One (1917 – 1918) was deeply unpopular. “once public opinion polling did start appearing in the 1930’s, early surveys on World War One showed only 28% of the country thought entering the war was a good idea, while 64% opposed it.”
In the years after World War I Americans quickly reached the conclusion that their country’s participation in that war had been a disastrous mistake, one which should never be repeated again. During the 1920s and 1930s, therefore, they pursued a number of strategies aimed at preventing war. Source: neh.gov
And Support for World War II (1941 – 1945) was also not widely popular. Even as public opinion in favor of war increased after France fell to Nazi Germany during World War Two, only 42% of the country thought entry into the war was a good idea, while 39% of the country still considered it a mistake.
In fact, entering this war was unpopular until Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Then it was clear that the US couldn’t stay out of the Second World War.
Once the war began in earnest, America increased the flood of propaganda, utilizing especially the radio and visual media, most specifically posters. … Since American leaders realized that the best hope of winning the war was through increased production and labor, many posters were circulated urging increased labor and production as well as conservation of materials for the war effort.… During World War II, America produced some of the most successful propaganda campaigns in history. The pushes for increased production, labor, and conservation may well have won the war for America. Source: thinkquest.org
Next, the Korean War (1950 – 1953): When Americans were first asked (by Gallup), in August 1950, if deciding to defend South Korea was a mistake, only 20% thought it was, while 65% said it was not a mistake.
But by the following January, opinion had shifted dramatically, and 49% thought the decision was a mistake, while 38% said it was not—13% had no opinion.
Over several months, as Gallup asked the public if “going into war in Korea” was a mistake, opinion remained relatively stable, with more Americans saying it was than saying it was not. Six months later, as truce talks were being conducted at Kaesong, Americans were feeling more positive—42% felt the war was a mistake, while 47% said it wasn’t. But the numbers shifted again six months later in February 1952, when a majority said the war was a mistake for the United States, soon after a POW exchange proposal by the United Nations was rejected, and riots in the United Nations’ overcrowded Koje-do prison camp resulted in the deaths of many North Korean prisoners.
Soon after Eisenhower was elected president in 1953 and truce talks began again, the American opinion shifted yet again, with half of Americans saying the war was not a mistake, while a low of 36% said it was a mistake.
Continued on July 12, 2013 in Manipulating public opinion to wage wars: Part 5 or return to Part 3
Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.
His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.
And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.
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