Children, War and Propaganda.


A troubling development of the brutal century recently passed has been the growing use of children for war. Before the twentieth century children may have served as valets or messengers. They may have played with war toys, or dreamed of becoming soldiers someday. Sometimes they may have actually fought, lying about their age to reach the battlefields. But children were not generally expected to participate in any organized way. As the Great War of 1914–1918 changed world societies in so many ways, it also changed expectations for children during wartime. World War I was the first "total war," so designated by the belligerent nations. "Total" was determined to mean that everyone needed to be involved, not only those in the armies. In total war, war on an immense, world-wide scale, everyone worked. Including children of all ages.

But we have often ignored the wartime contributions of children. What were they expected to do? How did it contribute to the war? How did it affect their lives? This history attempts to respond to these questions, by examining activities of children in the United States during World Wars I and II. Modern propaganda helped to draw children into those wars. A variety of authorities participated, in the school, on the playground, at work or at home. They promoted military ideals and activities in hopes these might reduce fear, build character, prepare for service, and even tangibly help the war effort. In doing so, authorities brought war themes to children on a day to day basis, a militarization of American childhood. This research takes a look at how they did that.

Chapter one considers methods used to encourage the transformation, the development of propaganda. The idea of propaganda had been debated in some detail throughout the last century, both as a negative and positive force in modern society. Also considered here is how United States Government propaganda offices operated in both world wars.

Chapter two examines the many methods authorities used to militarize American childhood through both wars, and the challenges they faced. Children were encouraged to accept war values as a way to virtuous character, both physical and mental. Paid war work could be a viable alternative to school work, while children could show their patriotism in many volunteer activities.

Chapter three considers the single most important focus of authorities working to militarize childhood, the schools. Schools could serve as clearinghouses for a child's war education and activities. Children could also be counted on to bring wartime messages from the classroom to their parents at home. If parents were away doing war work or in the service, the schools could help children take on wartime roles to avoid delinquency.

Chapter four describes the most significant jobs children were expected to undertake for war services, and how those jobs were coordinated. Food production in particular would be a focus for children, as well as scavenging for material of use on the battlefields, and selling war bonds. The High School Victory Corps was the largest of many formal programs governments relied on to coordinate children's war work.

Chapter five considers the non-governmental groups interested in bringing children into war. These ranged from private values-building groups such as the Boy Scouts and the Red Cross, to marketing appeals and war toys.

Chapter six devotes attention to the juvenile press, editors of quality children's publications interested in presenting the war to their readers and parents.

Chapter seven examines how American children responded to war, and how they responded as later adults. It considers the role of children in war around the world, and how that role has changed since World War II. It concludes that child participation in war has evolved through the century from a militarized home life to actual combat.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, nearly one-quarter of the world's armies recruited adolescents; almost one-fifth drafted children under twelve. Two million children died in wars during the last decade of the twentieth century. War of the new millennium was not only being fought for the children; it was being fought by the children. This seemed to be a logical progression after it became acceptable to recruit children for wartime needs. As the world seems to be more and more indifferent to mass death, war becomes a natural part of everyday life.

© 2011 by Ross F. Collins. All rights reserved.