During World War II, propaganda was an indispensable tool for both the Allies and the Axis. In Germany, for example, the Nazi newspaper Storm SS acted as a mouthpiece for the Third Reich and a forum for propagandist imagery. Kultur-Terror (pictured above), illustrated by Harald Damsleth, is a perfect example. In this image Damsleth, a Norwegian cartoonist who contributed countless illustrations to the Nazi war effort, depicts the United States as an amalgamated monster of contradictions.
In the book Monsters and the Monstrous: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil, Kristen Williams Backer takes a detailed look at Damsleth’s illustration, and the role of fantastical political monsters, in a chapter titled “Kultur-Terror: The Composite Monster in Nazi Visual Propaganda.” Though Backer incorrectly credits the poster artist as Leest Storm — text that actually just translates to “Read Storm SS” — her insights on Damsleth’s work are valuable:
The United States defines itself through variety, and examination of Kultur-Terror‘s iconography demonstrates that this aspect of American culture was especially threatening to National Socialism. The inclusiveness of American culture made it the perfect foil for the singularity of Nazi totalitarianism, and it was particularly suited to portrayal as a composite monster.
As Williams Backer also notes, Damsleth intended to depict the “virulent danger of American culture” with Kultur-Terror:
In the image, the great creature is composed of wildly incongruous body parts, each of which represents some facet of American culture that was anathema to the ideals of National Socialism. From the waving Old Glory, to the [Indian] chief headdress to the figure of the Statue of Liberty in the background and the textual label in the foreground, the monster is unmistakably a visual amalgamation of all things American. Ostensibly, the poster warns viewers against the dangers of listening to Allied radio broadcasts. The small foreground figure with exaggerated ears was a frequent component of posters in that particular propaganda campaign, and in this case he suggests that the American “salvation” of those in occupied territory might be more akin to cultural infection.
To understand the context of the image beyond Allies versus Axis, it’s worth noting Damsleth’s political inclinations and artistic influence. He had been a member of Nasjonal Samling since 1933, Norway’s fascist party that was in power until 1945. And in April 1940, shortly after the German invasion of Norway, he began receiving assignments from Josef Terboven’s Council of State for public service announcements:
Damsleth prolifically produced propaganda posters, almost 200 in all. He drifted away from modernism, a style considered “degenerate” by national socialists, and painted in a more naturalistic style. At the beginning of the war, his posters depicted normal, working people. However, near the end of the war, the posters began expressing military and war themes, including strong Russophobic sentiments. Damsleth was also a war reporter for Waffen-SS, and had a stay at the Eastern Front in 1942.
When World War II was over, Damsleth served two years hard labor for treason committed during Nazi rule. After the war, he opted for “politically neutral work, illustrating book covers and postcards, including many with nisse motifs. The books covers ranged from Christian books, pulp novels, and collection items called glansbilder. He also experimented with psychedelic art.” He died in 1971.
(Image: Harald Damsleth. Caption: “De U.S.A. zullen de Europeesche Kultuur van den ondergang redden. Med hvilken rett?” which translates to “The USA shall save European culture from destruction. With what right?”)