The Art of World War III
Image: "Spike"


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The Art of World War III

Posters and propaganda from the future.

"I Want You."

"Keep Calm and Carry On."

"Loose Lips Sink Ships."

There has always been an interplay between the visual arts and war, from the triumphal statuary of ancient Rome to Picasso's Guernica.

In turn, nations have taken to enlisting artists, and, more recently, advertising agencies to aid in selling war.

Artists during the world wars of the last century produced defining images that not only shaped public perceptions and attitudes, but also went on to shape the fields of marketing and art beyond, most especially in the Pop Art movement. The "I Want You" recruiting poster of Uncle Sam is now considered the "most famous poster" of all time by the Library of Congress. "Keep Calm and Carry On" started out as a British government morale poster in the face of German air attacks, and lives on today as a meme on everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs. "Rosie the Riveter" didn't just celebrate the role of women in the wartime workforce, but persisted as a symbol in the broader women's rights movement that would follow.


Today, the world is entering what many fear is a return to dangers of the past: a brewing cold war between the great powers of the 21st century that could turn hot.

That fear is the premise of Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, a new book by P.W. Singer and August Cole. The book is a new kind of experiment that melds fictional storytelling with real world research into how such a war might play out, drawn from meetings with the real people who might fight in such a war, ranging from US Navy fighter pilots and Chinese generals, to Silicon Valley venture capitalists and Anonymous hackers.

World War III is by no means inevitable, but it is now a risk again we have to take seriously, especially if we want to avoid it. The unthinkable is now thinkable, opening up new concerns for politics, but also new realm for art to explore.

Motherboard, the authors, and the Atlantic Council's Art of Future Warfare project helped bring together a group of leading visual artists and illustrators, as well as entries from a crowd-sourced online contest, to reveal the art of World War III.


Bill McMullen is an artist and sculptor whose work focuses on hip-hop, science fiction and urban culture. His work has ranged from Beastie Boys album covers to his iconic "AD-AT."

This series of posters explores the essential elements of security in an interconnected society where every scrap of information is a potential target for surveillance or interception.


Bill McMullen"Hot Tech"

Bill McMullen"Often"

Bill McMullen "Eyes in the Sky"


Jordan Clayton is a creative director and Abby Clayton is a designer, with experience at multiple leading advertising agencies between them.

Reflecting their advertising experience, the Claytons built a marketing campaign for the war effort, involving everything from key catchphrases to an iconic logo. They also echoed past marketing campaigns of World War II, exploring the different kinds of shortages and public involvement that might be needed in a future war.

Jordan and Abby Clayton"Sacrifice"

Jordan and Abby Clayton"Victory Drive"


August Cole is director of the Atlantic Council's Art of Future Warfare project and co-author of Ghost Fleet. Adam Proia is a studio manager at a Boston ad agency.

Convincing the occupied that their new life is safer and more prosperous than the one they just had torn from their hands by violent invasion is the focus of this poster from the Hawaii Special Administrative Zone authorities.

August Cole and Adam Proia"49>50"


Sam Cole is a filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. Cole co-directed and shot Danchi No Yume - Dreams of the Projects, a feature documentary about Japanese hip-hop icon Anarchy.

The "S" in the shark tooth meant trouble is not far away. The primary resistance group around Honolulu, the N.S.M. borrowed their name from America's insurgent adversaries because many of their tactics were learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sam Cole"North Shore Mujahideen [ N.S.M.]"


EG Douglas is a freelance writer based in Scotland. A graduate from the University of Glasgow in both aerospace engineering and war studies, he enjoys considering the speculative nature of science fiction and how it can shape the development of technology and society. This poster was a featured entry from the Art of Future Warfare project's creative challenge.


Future conflicts will have to factor in the necessity of civilian opinion to a far more immediate degree, but if leveraged appropriately such a reality could be advantageous, both at home and abroad.

EG Douglas"Win the Peace"


"Spike" is a European illustrator whose work focuses on future-war and science fiction imagery.

A vacation paradise aflame in the iconic harbor backdrop of this poster is meant to galvanize America's distant tragedy into an immediate and urgent response.

"Spike""Never Again"


William S. McCallister is a retired military officer who served in various infantry and special operations assignments specializing in civil-military, psychological, and information operations.

Future war will continue to require simple messaging methods of the "Loose Lips Sink Aeroships" variety. The "Watch What You Say" poster continues the tradition of admonishing the public to do what they are told in wartime.

William S. McCallister"Watch What You Say"


Chris Martin and Ben Mauro are a writer and artist duo who created the future-war series Engines of Extinction. Mauro has also worked on feature films Elysium and Chappie.

These recruitment posters make an appeal to those who will become next-generation special operations forces that will be asked to make an even more profound, life-altering commitment to elite units than even today's operators.

Chris Martin and Ben Mauro"Make History"

Correction, 26/06: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified "Jordan and Abby Clayton" as "Jordan and Abby Clayton Hall." Motherboard regrets the error.