Propaganda in the Cold War

Nadia Esmail

Propaganda in the United States

Pro-American values were promoted in film, television, music, literature and art. This was done openly and often with little subtlety; watched today, some examples are little more than nonsensical propaganda. Communism was condemned both as an ideology and a social system. Every medium from motion pictures down to children’s comic books was used to portray an America under the heel of a communist dictatorship.

Anti Communism in Popular Culture


Most television programs contained music, light entertainment and comedy, so anti-communist themes were represented with more subtlety. American television in the 1950s promoted conservative family values and the virtues of American society, particularly in its situation comedies. Situation comedies like Leave it to Beaver and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet emphasised the importance of education, work, obedience, respect for your parents and the stability and prosperity enjoyed by American families. Cold War espionage was explored in drama series like I Spy and The Man from UNCLE; it was also parodied in the Mel Brooks-created series Get Smart.

The Arts: Cold War tensions fuelled competition and shaped the content of art forms as diverse as music and ballet. American and Soviet dance companies performed regularly around the world, attempting to demonstrate cultural superiority. This competition led to a dramatic rise in US government funding for the arts.

Education: In both hemispheres, education was harnessed for Cold War purposes and to instil the political values of each system. Education systems in both the US and USSR received dramatic boosts in funding, particularly in the maths and sciences. Humanities subjects like History and English became steeped in patriotism and political values. In 1952 the American Pledge of Allegiance, widely chanted by schoolchildren, was altered to include the words “under God”. Many American students were also subject to ‘social hygiene’ or ‘mental health’ films in high school.

The Big Picture

-Cold War propaganda was widely used in all major nations, in an attempt to gain and consolidate public support.

-Early forms of propaganda contained explicit political messages and themes and lacked any subtlety.

-In time the messages of Cold War propaganda were integrated into popular culture, such as film, books and television.

-In America, Cold War propaganda celebrated the prosperity of capitalism, while reinforcing conservative social values.

-Cold War culture was also keenly focused on the continued activities of spies and secret agents, who were well represented in film, television and literature.