Don’t Be a Sucker

The 1947 film, Don’t Be a Sucker, was produced by the U.S. War Department as a means of propaganda following the end of World War II. This film contains a variety of rhetoric that influences and persuades the viewer through a compelling message. Although this is a propaganda piece, it also acts as a narrative. It begins by introducing a scene at a bar with two different scenarios. One is of a man who is questioning whether he should play cards with strangers and the other meets a girl at the bar, despite him having a wife. However, the man who goes home with the girl was part of a mugging scam. This serves to peak viewer interest because they want to know more of what happened to these two men. The narrator continues to introduce the idea of “the sucker”. He mentions how there are two types of people; suckers and those who try to take away what they have. Here he begins by introducing the antagonist, “the people who are out to get you”. No one wants to be known as a “sucker” who gets duped by the enemy, so people will listen so they do not fall into this trap. It flashes to a nice looking, young, average man riding on the train. The narrator proceeds to describe his features and the benefits of him being an American citizen. He describes how he has access to many resources within the country which include all the factories, cities, farms, mines, businesses, and people. He explains how American people are diverse and come from different countries, backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions. Despite these differences, he claims Americans are allowed to work in any position, live in any city, vote, have freedom of speech, attend schools and churches of their choice. By explaining all these rights, the War Department is playing on methods of logos to appeal to a person’s reason or logic. They are building up the image of the United States and all that it has to offer. It is the logic that they hope many Americans value these rights and freedoms, and make it seem as if there is an antagonist who will take this away, which will allow them to sell the idea of war if the time is needed.

The narrator says, “He’s got America”, making it seem as if the country is a reliable and supportive friend, which is similar to the device of personification. He then transitions to discussing the enemy, in which he keeps repeating the idea there are people who want to take these rights and freedoms away. The repetition of this concept throughout the film is to help resonate within the minds of the viewers and further promote the mission of the U.S. War Department. The film follows the man, who acts as the main character, from the train into the city where he is introduced to an example of the “enemy”, or the one who will try to take it away. There is a man who is preaching a racist message of how black people are taking away jobs, and that people should be worried about the freemasons. The main character was not concerned with the racist man until his minority group was targeted. This purpose is to introduce the idea that with these enemies, no one is safe, not even the typical American Citizen. Another character, the Hungarian man, is introduced and serves as the one who enlightens the main character on how people like the racist man are the enemy. He tells his story of how Nazis took over Germany and started in a similar way to what they witnessed. The Hungarian man makes a valid point that humans are not born with prejudice thoughts, but are taught to think and feel that way. Nazi men would go from town to town giving speeches on how the Jewish people were taking jobs, the Catholic religion should not be allowed, and freemasons should be questioned because of their secret society. They would ostracize minority groups to split them up into rivals to create fear and doubt among these people. In the process, they built up the men and women who fell into their ideal target group, which was light skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Those individuals who fit this criteria made them feel included or superior, and served as a good ego or confidence boost to those who were low on their luck. For example, there was a man who lost his job, yet fit the criteria of the Aryan race so it made him feel important and made him want to join their mission of creating the “master race”. The Nazis wanted one nation, one religion, one ethnicity, and one power. In the film it mentions that over twenty million books were burned, college attendance rates dropped, and everyone had to get their news and information from one source. These are some things Americans were privileged and are allowed to choose. Those who spoke out against this plot to create a master race, mostly professors or educators, were arrested and taken away for disagreeing and sharing with others. Once their power grew, Nazis began to tell people what, when, and how to do things. They made farmers produce certain crops, while others had to work in factories to produce supplies needed for the war. These people had to work long hours, with little pay, and were not permitted to leave. Despite all these promises for a better nation, conditions had actually worsened. Towards the end of the video, it flashes to D-Day, where is shows those German men previously featured in the film. It seems as if no one cares that they fought and died that day, they were just a number to help fight for their cause. This is a play on pathos and ethos, because it is sad that those men died, yet felt wrong that they were left there with no care or proper farewell. By showing those dead German soldiers, it also makes it seem as if the United States would not do that to their citizens, that they are meaningful and cared for. The two different perspectives of life in the United States versus life in Nazi Germany serve as juxtaposition, to compare the two nations and how one is better than the other. However, if people do not take a stand and become “suckers”, there is the potential that the same lifestyle and limited rights could happen to them.

The film finally discusses how Americans often takes these freedoms and rights for granted since people in other countries do not have these same liberties. In an effort for symbolism, the main character rips up the paper that was being handed out by the racist to show that he nor any other citizens need that type of negativity and enemy in their life. For a final remark, the narrator says, “Forget about ‘we’ and ‘they’, and think about ‘us’”. If citizens are divided into groups based on their differences, it will be difficult to work together especially in times of need. Although this war propaganda was towards the end of the second world war, it brings up a lot of ideas and concepts to build moral and to develop a united front in the case that there be another outbreak or war. It uses a variety of rhetoric from methods of persuasion, juxtaposition, and symbolism to make their point to viewers. They also use simple characters and scenarios that people can relate to as a means to change thoughts and attitudes. With the use of these tools, the U.S. War Department was able to create a successful method of propaganda to convince and influence American opinion to fit their thoughts and ideals.

Image Source:

Film Source: U.S. War Department (Director). (1947). Don’t Be a Sucker [Video file]. United States: The Dept. Retrieved February 13, 2018, from