A Father's Shame

Masculinity at War: To encourage enlistment and support for the war effort, this poster asked men to think how their children would view their service - or lack of it.

By Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

This British World War I poster uses the importance of family to push men to enlist, prior to the introduction of conscription in 1916. Unlike the iconic “Uncle Sam Needs You!” slogan, which encourages men to join the army due to a sense of duty to their country, this poster plays on a father’s responsibility to his children.

The daughter portrayed in this poster is an idealized image of loveliness – her hair is golden, tied back with ribbon, and her cheeks are charmingly pink. She sits lovingly on her father’s lap.

The son is similarly handsome, dressed in colors that complement his father’s suit.

The little boy is playing with a set of toy soldiers, along with a miniature cannon. This crucial detail highlights the significance of war to young men. If this man does not join, he risks the possibility of no longer being heroic in the eyes of his son.

The man looks serious, as if he is contemplating the repercussions of not joining. Note the wrinkles on his cheeks and the bags beneath his eyes. But the plea, “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” certainly seems a strong enough incentive to enlist – at least, if not for one’s country, then for one’s sense of fatherhood and masculinity.

AC0433-0009960Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

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