“Paris defies the enemy. The whole of France rallies. Death to the invaders. Foolish people, shall we always throttle one another for the pleasure and proudness of Kings? Glory and conquest are crimes; defeat brings hate and desire for vengeance. Only one war is just and holy; that of independence” – One of the earliest known airborne propaganda leaflets originally in German dropped from a French balloon, over Prussia in 1870
Propaganda is one of the most powerful weapons of war. A demoralized enemy is already partially vanquished. A popular uprising can subvert the ability of a government to wage war on another. Military forces have always utilized new technology to attempt to disrupt the plans of the opposition. As human beings began to take flight in the 19th and 20th centuries the propaganda of war took to the air with us.
Initially used strictly for reconnaissance by the time of the Franco-Prussian War hot air balloons were being used as a platform to deliver political leaflets behind enemy lines. The text above represents one of the first examples of a mass communication dropped from the air meant sow dissent in a war zone. From then on the air drop leaflet has been a tool in the arsenal of every army with the capability to invade its enemies airspace.
Like all forms of propaganda these missives are interesting not just from a political and psychological standpoint, they also constitute there own genre of visual art. Pictured above are some highlights from this gruesome art form. They run from the early 1900’s through to the present day. Certain themes persist, primarily the futility of the participation in the conflict, the corruption of the government involved in the the war and the real psychological dagger of what of what is going on back home while you the soldier fights and dies.
The images and the language are often highly stylized, comical and gruesome. They are simple and brutal in their effort to deliver the maximum impact in a limited space often with a very limited understanding of the people they are directed at. Unlike the moral equivocating inherent in war time political speeches and newspaper reports, no country stands above the mud in this milieu. All parties are are equally vicious in the efforts to exploit their target’s fear.
For a truly expansive overview of airborne leaflet art check out https://www.psywar.org/leaflets