Put yourself in the shoes of a G.I. slogging his way across Italy or New Guinea in December 1943. You’ve been subsisting on tinned ham and cold coffee for days; your feet are bleeding; your best friend took a bullet to the skull on Thanksgiving. The last thing in the world you want to think about is the lovely, peaceful Christmas your people back home are preparing to enjoy. And then a leaflet like this or this comes raining out of the sky. The literature is obviously designed to make you second-guess your commitment to the Allied cause. But does it?
I’m fascinated by this collection of fake Christmas cards of wars past because the psychological concept behind them seems so shaky. The messages were obviously designed to push fatigued soldiers over the edge, by reminding them of all the familial comforts they were missing. But that approach to propaganda strikes me as laughably simplistic—if anything, I would think most American soldiers would take offense at the co-optation of their favorite holiday for such nefarious purposes. Also, even in the age before mass media, wouldn’t the mendacity of an image like this be apparent to even the most unaware G.I.? The attempt at changing the narrative seems terribly transparent.
I will confess, however, that I admire some of the artistic skill on display in the fake Christmas cards distributed by the Vietcong. Whoever they got to churn out the drawings did a nicely Cubist version of Santa Claus.