Waving the Flagg (again)


James Montgomery Flagg (1877 – 1960) is a good example of how someone who works for peaceful, productive, market activities can get corrupted by the state in wartime. Flagg began work as a magazine and book illustrator before turning to creating wartime propaganda for the US government during World War I. Here is a fairly typical example of the kind of commercial illustration he did for magazines and newspapers before the war:


(See a larger image] [Source American Art Archives http://www.americanartarchives.com/flagg.htm.

He became caught up in the war hysteria and ultra patriotism of the moment and created some of the most memorable propaganda posters of the war, such as the recruiting posters – Uncle Sam “I want you for US Army” (with his likeness used for Uncle Sam and modeled on a British poster with Lord Kitchener urging British citizens to sacrifice themselves for the war effort):


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and “The Navy needs you! Don’t Read American History – Make It!”


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and fund raising activities, even urging children to give their savings to the state.


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In a cover illustrate for Leslie’s magazine in 1918 Flagg crudely contrasts the founding “father of our country”, George Washington, with the possibility of a German invasion (impossible given the state of Germany’s economy and Navy in 1918) which would make the Kaiser the new “stepfather” of the American nation.


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After the war he continued to draw posters urging closer Anglo-American ties, such as “Side by Side – Britannia!” (1918)


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and the need for higher taxes and loans in order to fill the government coffers which had been emptied by the war effort (1920). Here we see Uncle Sam frowning at the empty Treasury safe (we could only wish!).


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Flagg was recalled to duty during WW2 to do for the Roosevelt regime what he had done for Wilson in 1917-1918. In 1942 he did a full page advertisement for McCall’s magazine appealing to female consumers to pledge their allegiance to the war effort. Women were encouraged to sign the pledge and be sent an emblem which they were to wear proudly as a token of their commitment. It reads in part “The United States Government’s Consumers Pledge for Total Defense”, “You are the most important woman in the world”, “Join the ranks of home defenders – Today!”


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In 1943 Flagg returned to his iconic figure of WW1, Uncle Sam (for which he used his own likeness as a model in order to save time), in this demand from the government that “I need your skill in a WAR JOB!” which was followed by a list of key jobs for which the state lacked manpower.


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