Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Propaganda! The Office of War Information

Seventy-five years ago today, a little more than six months after Pearl Harbor, an executive order created the Office of War Information. Tasked with the dissemination of all official U.S. news within and abroad as well as propaganda overseas, the organization had a mammoth job.

Former NY Times reporter turned radio news reporter Elmer Davis was tapped to spearhead the OWI, as it came to be known. The result of combining several existing government organizations, OWI ultimately employed over 3,000 people. A strong-minded man, it was Davis who convinced President Roosevelt to allow Japanese-Americans enlist in the armed services. Because Davis believed that Americans had a right to “be truthfully informed,” he was a key proponent of loosening the censorship that forbade the publication of pictures that featured dead GIs.

Photographers were sent across the nation to capture images of the public performing patriotic work. The photos showed aircraft factories, women in the workforce, and armed services members in an effort order to inspire and encourage Americans. The photo to the right was captioned “Pearl Harbor Widows have gone into war work to carry on the fight with a personal vengeance. Mrs. Virginia Young (right) who husband was one of the first casualties of World War II, is a supervisor in the Assembly and Repairs Department of the Naval Air Base. Her job is to find convenient and comfortable living quarters for women workers from out of state, like Ethel Mann, who operates an electric drill.”

Overseas OWI operated a Psychological Warfare Branch which used propaganda against enemy forces in combat zones. “Leaflet warfare” became popular, and OWI produced and dropped over 180 million pamphlets. Titles such as “You are surrounded” and “Drowning is a nasty death” are just two of the many used to undermine the enemy. OWI also produced “specialty items” such as seed packets, matchbooks, sewing kits, and soap papers (“From your friends in the United Nations. Dip in water, use like soap. Wash off the Nazi dirt.”)

By 1944, conflict and tension between Congress and the OWI resulted in a reduction of funding for domestic projects forcing OWI to focus their efforts outside the U.S. Some of the more well-known employees of OWI include: Milton Eisenhower (younger brother of President Dwight D. Eisenhower), Jay Bennett (Author), Alan Cranston (U.S. Senator), Howard Fast (Novelist), and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (Historian and social critic).

Don't forget to leave a comment for your chance to get your name in the drawing for "Just Claire" by Jean Ann Williams! Winner will be announced in the June 19th issue of the Weekly Windup.

A freelance writer for over ten years, Linda Shenton Matchett is the author of Love's HarvestLove Found in Sherwood Forest, and On the Rails. Under Fire, the first book in her trilogy about WWII war correspondent/amateur sleuth Ruth Brown, will be released this on July 25 from eLectio Publishing. To get to know Linda, visit her website.


  1. Linda, thank you for sharing this informative post about OWI. I enjoyed reading this blog post. History right after Pearl Harbor changed the work foce and so many other things for America.

  2. How times have changed and yet, they are the same! Social media offers news, both true and untrue, constantly and instantly. Propaganda certainly exists!!