Extremes of glorification and demonization characterize portraits of Axis and Allied leaders. Hitler appears icy eyed and resolute in Knirr's famous 1936 German portrait. In an American poster that links vile Axis stratagems with, of all things, domestic forest fires (a hint of how thoroughly the war permeated the culture), Hitler looms over a blazing forest as a pop-eyed psychotic. An Italian card shows Roosevelt and Churchill as gun-waving, bleary-eyed, lascivious gangsters hovering over bombed buildings surrounded by corpses, in contrast to these leaders' reverential home-country portraits.
The exhibit's scariest image is its most benign a grandfatherly Hitler in a pastoral setting, beaming over an Aryan tot (left). The discord between this benevolent-grandpa image and the war's 50 million dead renders this bit of war-media whitewashing sickening.
Taken all together, these historical artifacts suggest a widespread trust in government and a unified, even moral, sense of national mission. My World War II veteran dad, to whom I described the exhibit, said, "Now it is hard to once more remember the feeling after Pearl Harbor in this country . . . the feeling that we were there to save the world."