Truth in advertising
Messages of WWII put ‘global war on terror’ in perspective
“Take the fight to the enemy” is a phrase we’ve heard a lot lately in reference to U.S. military actions—i.e., “What the hell are we doing in Iraq while al-Qaeda gets stronger elsewhere?” But it was also a phrase used in World War II, when it meant, “Let’s make sure we fight in the enemy’s homeland as quickly as possible.”
Thus, when a May 1943 edition of National Geographic somehow ended up in my lap, I couldn’t help but turn the pages. The magazine was torn, looking every bit as if it had gone to the battlefields of World War II and back. Because the cover was missing, there before me was a Bell & Howell advertisement.
Movie camera- and projector-maker Bell & Howell ordered readers to “Take a look and throw out your chest! You’re looking at soldiers of the U.S.A.!” A drawing depicted soldiers: Some sat on tanks; all watched an Abbott and Costello movie, Ride ’em Cowboy, set somewhere in Morocco.
Now, for any students of the Second World War who might be reading this, I need not tell you that Morocco was not the center of Nazi totalitarianism. We did take a circuitous route to Berlin, not landing on the European continent until June of 1944, when it was painfully obvious that Joe Stalin’s boys had done so much “taking the fight to the enemy.” In the Pacific, we also battled on the periphery—island by island, atoll by atoll—until we really took the fight to the enemy with two atomic bombs.
Back to the advertisement. Bell & Howell stated, “Relaxation is vital to a soldier” and that the company’s contribution to the war effort was to make certain war-weary soldiers got some R&R.
Those days, nearly every ad made certain you knew where the company was from and that you knew it was a 100-percent-patriotic, true-blue, apple-pie-eating, made-in-America corporation.
Lockheed (Burbank, Calif.) showed a “Sub Smasher,” otherwise known as the Lockheed Hudson. The catchphrase was “for protection today, and progress tomorrow, look to Lockheed for leadership.”
General Tire & Rubber Company (Akron, Ohio) stated that its war effort was “directed straight at the target of giving our fighting men the vital tools of war.”
Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company (Pittsburgh, Pa.) claimed that “Westinghouse wartime products are at work—on every front, in every battle.”
The Buick division of General Motors (Detroit, Mich.) proudly proclaimed that its large-caliber shell casings were crafted of “steel instead of hard to get brass,” and that in its effort toward the war GM “makes all materials stretch—and there is no better way of making sure our fighting men get plenty of what they need to win.”
Magnavox (Fort Wayne, Ind.) begged readers to send-long playing records to soldiers and sailors at the front. It “can help them forget hardships and dangers.” The ad also instructed: “BUY WAR BONDS FOR VICTORY TODAY— SECURITY TOMORROW.”
Prudential Insurance Company of America (Newark, N.J.) reminded readers, “As a service to the government and to you, Prudential representatives sell War Stamps. Buy some today!”
The Gruen Watch Company (Cincinnati, Ohio), “America’s choice since 1874,” explained that its watches might be hard to find because “we at Gruen have been asked to turn our 69 years of experience in this field” toward the manufacture of electrical instruments that measured ice thickness on the wings and tail sections of high-flying bombers.
Advertisements are a window into the way our government and corporations want us to think. Each ad, whether from today or a hundred years ago, has but one motive: to move you in the direction of appreciation, of desire, of purchase.
There are those who wish to convince you that our current battle against extremism, against religious intolerance, against terrorism is just as epic a battle as that of yesteryear when we faced Nazism, Fascism, and genocide. But if this is so, why—today—do I not see Wal-Mart proclaiming in ads what it’s doing for the war effort? Where can I buy war bonds? Are there such bonds in existence?
Truth is, the only thing remarkably similar today to the situation 65 years ago is that we have yet to take the fight to the enemy—where he lives. Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden’s headquarters are somewhere on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Iraq has become our Morocco, our Guadalcanal, our periphery.
“Take the fight to the enemy” is a quotation from Gen. George C. Marshall. Operation Sledgehammer was his invasion plan, intended for July 1942, to land in France and take the fight to the Nazis. Even though citizens and corporations were giving our government their full might, the invasion did not happen until nearly two years later.
If we are truly serious about “taking the fight to the enemy,” we really need to ratchet up our country’s full resources, both corporate and human.
Here’s an idea: Let’s reinstate the draft and raise an army of more than 2 million soldiers. And let’s enlist more corporations in producing goods and services for our fight against al-Qaeda.
As long as the current advertisements in National Geographic never mention this so-called “war on terror,” I will take it as a sign that this war is more about perpetuity than about winning. I’d rather do whatever is necessary to end it.
“Take the fight to the enemy"—in our fight against global terrorism, I wonder when we’ll get around to that.