Propaganda Campaigns During the Cold War

Daniel Le
May 25, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: A clip from a popular Duck and Cover propaganda film that was shown in schools and at home. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Under the conditions created by the Cold War, the family became a essential target of Government Propaganda. Faced with the daily fear of nuclear annihilation during the Nuclear Age, the Government devoted resources to take advantage of this fear. According to historian Elaine Tyler May, the home and the family "provided heavy protection from the dangers of the outside world." [1] This perception was played on by the government and campaigns were run to instill the ideas of the evils of communism. Particularly American women who were wives and mothers during this era were encouraged through various propaganda techniques to prevent the spread of communism by cultivating patriotism and democratic virtues in the home. [2]

Family Roles

After the making up a large proportion of the labor force during WWII, American women increasingly became homemakers for their families during the Cold War while the men returning from War made up the majority of the work force again. The U.S. Government strongly reinforced these gender roles and images, particularly in regards to women's role in preparing for a potential nuclear attack by running a series of campaigns geared toward American wives. [3] These campaigns were run by the Federal Civil Defense Agency and taught the American public how to survive a nuclear attack. [4]

The two most significant FCDA campaigns were the "Grandma's Pantry" and the "Duck and Cover". The "Grandma" campaign emphasized women's role in keeping a well-stocked house in the event of a nuclear attack. American wives were also encouraged to teach their children what to do during a nuclear attack. The "Duck and Cover" campaign emphasized women's role in teaching her children how to "duck and cover". Brochures from the campaign suggested a mother make "duck and cover" into a game in order to "alleviate her children's fears over a nuclear attack". Fig. 1 is a clip from a Duck and Cover cartoon that was shown to mothers and their children on television and at school. Under Cold War conditions, American wives and mothers were seen as a great target in promoting a strong sense of national security because they were seen as the ones who had the most influence in the home. [3]

The Home

Following World War II, the trend was that thousands of new families moved out of cities and into suburbs. This gave new families the opportunity to have their own spaces, unlike the crowded conditions they had previously face in cities. During the Cold War, the home even more so "held out a promise of security in an insecure world." Again, this insecurity was taken advantage of to instill Americans a hatred towards communism and a greater sense of patriotism. [3]


The conditions of fear combined with the rising popularity of the television created an ideal medium for the government to spread their propaganda. Since television and television news were fairly new, networks would seek out sponsorships from other places. Seizing the opportunity, the U.S. defence department became of the primary sponsors to television networks. As a result the content on the television and news heavily revolved around presenting negative perceptions of the Soviet Union. There were also a series of campaigns aimed at how to be a patriotic citizen by supporting democracy, free speech and free markets. Although, the propaganda campaigns promoted free market, the government during this time essentially had control over content of television media. [5]


In conclusion, the common denominator for nearly all cold war propaganda campaigns was the fear and uncertainty of the future. The fear created an environment that the US Government took advantage of in order to convince people the American Way was the right way. Cold War propaganda didn't just stop at the promotion of Western culture, but it also instilled even more fear for communism which begins a cycle of fear, then persuasion through propaganda, to fear and so on.

© Daniel Le. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S. A. Lichtman, "Do-It-Yourself Security: Safety, Gender, and the Home Fallout Shelter in Cold War America," J. Des. Hist. 19, 39 (2006).

[2] P. A. Lamphier and W. Rosanne, Women in American History (ABC-CLIO, 2017).

[3] E. T. May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War (Basic Books, 2008).

[4] A. D. Grossman, Neither Dead Nor Red (Routledge, 2001).

[5] N. E. Bernhard, U.S. Television News and Cold War Propaganda, 1947-1960 (Cambridge University Press, 2003).