Pray for Peace but Fight Your Insect Enemies: U.S. Postal Messaging and Cold War Propaganda
Pages 255 - 278
This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0. (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
In this essay, we examine “slogan cancels”—postal messages used to deface or “kill” a stamp—produced and disseminated on U.S. mail during the early Cold War. Slogan cancels, like postage stamps, afford spaces the state, through its postal service, can use to send messages to a mass public. While stamps celebrate national identity, slogans instruct citizens how to behave. In the Cold War, such instructions often concerned impending disasters and the ultimate threat of nuclear annihilation. Since the juxtaposition of slogans and stamps occurs randomly, it is not surprising that among the artifacts emergent from the process—the envelopes arriving in the mail—can be found some in which the slogan’s message is not consonant with, and even contradicts, that of the stamp. Despite the Post Office’s functional efficiency, the artifacts delivered by the system emerge bearing messages that are in some respects random. This mechanically produced randomness is a literal embodiment of the ideological content of the slogans (“Pray for Peace”), which testify to an apparently powerful state’s concerns about its own lack of agency in a dangerous world.
Keywords: agency; Cold War; postal cancelations; propaganda; U.S. postage stamps
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