To look at WWII propaganda posters today is to glimpse another world. Aside from encouraging young men to join the armed forces, they stirred patriotic sentiment and stressed the necessity of shared burdens among the civilian population. Each country offered its own paeans to national unity and collective sacrifice, from America’s “When you ride alone, you ride with Hitler!” to Japan’s “Luxury is our enemy!”
The contrast with early-21st-century wartime propaganda couldn’t be starker. In the wake of 9/11, George W. Bush urged Americans to return to the shopping mall, a message emblematic of a slow-rolling cultural and martial decay in the West. We had reached such levels of comfort and prosperity that the most productive response to a national tragedy was to visit Disney World or buy extra consumer goods.
In 2022, however, calls for shared sacrifice have returned, but rather than inducing solidarity, they elicit disgust and unease. On March 10, President Biden stated, “There will be costs at home as we impose crippling sanctions in response to Putin’s unprovoked war, but Americans can know this: The costs we are imposing on Putin and his cronies are far more devastating than the costs we are facing.”