World War II

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After entering World War ll, how did the United States portray the racial polices of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy? Would the United States consider itself to be similar or different from Nazi Germany in its ideals about democracy and equality?

After entering World War II, American propaganda seldom focused on the racial policies of Germany and Italy. Instead, Americans heard and saw a contrast between American democracy and the general brutality of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

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Americans knew that Hitler's regime was founded upon anti-Semitism. American newspapers and movie newsreels regularly reported on German actions against Jews, including Kristallnacht, the Nuremberg Laws, and the forced relocation of Jews to ghettos before American involvement in the war. But American propaganda did not generally dwell on Hitler's racial theories, perhaps because of anti-Semitism and institutionalized racism in the form of Jim Crow in the United States. American propagandists portrayed these actions as another facet of the inherent brutality of totalitarian dictatorships. These were juxtaposed with American democracy, which was portrayed as the polar opposite of fascism.

Americans saw films depicting the endless stream of German atrocities against civilians in Eastern Europe and, somewhat earlier, Italian brutality against Ethiopians. Hitler and Mussolini were shown as brutal thugs who, along with the Japanese Empire (depicted in American propaganda in highly radicalized terms) would overrun the world if left unchecked. It was the expansionism of Nazi Germany and the brutality with which they treated conquered peoples that was the focus of American propaganda efforts, not the racial foundations of it. The important thing from the perspective of the American government was that its people were steeled to make heavy sacrifices to defeat the Axis powers. Films like Frank Capra's Why We Fight pointed to the inhumanity of the Axis dictatorships, while countless posters, patriotic films, and even Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons celebrated American democracy and urged Americans to defend it.

African-American leaders did, however, focus on Nazi racism, explicitly comparing it to racism at home, especially in the Jim Crow South. Black-owned newspapers famously called for a "Double-V" campaign to win a victory for democracy in Europe and the Pacific, but also at home. This theme, however, was not taken up by the United States government.

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