“The Victory Girls are on the loose and soon will cook some poor guy’s goose. The G.I. Joes must be more wary of the diseases they may carry. Venereal disease is on the rise – so take your pros; be well and wise!” After all, “98% of all procurable women have venereal disease. Why bet against these odds?”
Those are just a few of the more memorable slogans produced by the United States Military during World War 2 as they embarked on a campaign of “penis propaganda” – a form of psychological warfare waged against a ferocious enemy: venereal diseases.
Such psychological warfare was nothing new to the Allied forces of World War 2. Through the use of images, posters, pamphlets, and movies, the leaders of the Axis powers (Adolf Hitler, Hideki Tojo, and Benito Mussolini) were often depicted as gorillas, rats, demons, skeletons, monsters, or whatever else the Allied forces could concoct.
The purpose of the campaigns were to dehumanize the men and the people they led. A successful propaganda campaign would capture the minds and hearts of its audience. That audience would no longer view the subjects as people; instead, they would view them as invasive, subhuman monsters that were fit to kill.
Venereal Disease & The Military
As America prepared to enter World War 2, they were well aware of the threat that venereal diseases posed to their ability to win the war. For example, throughout World War I, venereal diseases accounted for more than 6.8 million lost duty days and the discharge from active duty of more than 10,000 soldiers serving in the U.S. Army (Deller et al., 1982). With worrisome stats like that, the U.S. Military cleverly worked to stop (or at least slow down) the spread of venereal diseases.
Due to the lack of sexual health education, combined with the scarcity of strong antibiotics; namely penicillin, sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis and gonorrhea posed a serious threat to health of our fighting men. In their book, Protect Yourself: Venereal Disease Poster of WWII, Ryan Mungia and Jim Heimann reveal America’s answer to the VD threat… shame soldiers in abstaining from illicit sexual contact because it’s “…unpatriotic, lethal, or detrimental to one’s health, and shameful to one’s spouse, girlfriend, or family back home.”
Eagles, death, shame, and the good ole’ Red, White, and Blue… solid plan America, solid.
Anti-Venereal Disease Posters
The byproduct was comic-book style pamphlets, PSAs, illustrative posters, and such cinematic masterpieces as: “USS VD: Ship of Shame.”
Let’s take a look at some of our favorites (click on any image to expand):