At the beginning of World War I, young men did not yet realize the responsibility
and need to join the armed services. Recruitment posters try to bridge
the gap between social classes and dissolve the notion of a separate and
elite government by personalizing the idea of service. One of the more
recognizable and popular poster designs for the world wars was the "this
means you" recruiting image. During the beginning of the first World War,
Alfred Leete designed the recruitment poster Your Country Needs You, (1914)
with the image of Britain's Secretary of War, Lord Kitchner. Kitchner's
disembodied face, inescapable eyes and pointing finger permit no refuge
for the viewer, intensifying the bond between individual and state. Leete's
poster stresses the change in perceptions about enlisting in the armed
services and serving the state. Until the first world war, joining the
army had been an option for only a minority of Britains, and governmental
affairs seemed distant from daily life. For the most part, the state played
a "small part in regulating everyday life and made few demands on private
individuals." The idea of "your country needs you" was probably a novel
notion for the population.
James Montgomery Flagg incorporated the Leete format in his I Want You(1917) American recruitment posters. Flagg uses the image of Uncle Sam to personify the unity and patriotism of the United States, leaving the viewer "in no doubt that American citizenship is s status which carries with it formidable obligations." By representing Uncle Sam as a white, patriarchal American, Flagg also reinforces the stereotypical image of "American." By personalizing the poster, the pointing finger and the emphasis on YOU, the viewer feels Uncle Sam is really indicating him or her. The Uncle Sam character actually originated in the mid-1800's, long before Flagg thought about using his face for recruitment posters.
Check out this history
of Uncle Sam, the most famous patriotic individual in America.