When I was younger, my parents always made me eat carrots to give me better eyesight. Much to their surprise, even though I ate carrots basically every day, I still needed glasses. Although carrots are full of Vitamin A, which is good for eye health, the vegetable cannot improve night-time vision. There is no science to back up this notion, and yet for years, people have believed that carrots can truly improve their eyesight. Surprisingly, this myth originated through a propaganda campaign in the early days of the Second World War.
Covering up a hidden technology
During The Blitz and the Battle of Britain in 1940, the German Luftwaffe often made their attacks at night, under a cover of darkness. To make it more difficult for the Luftwaffe to hit their targets, the British Government issued citywide blackouts. This meant the Luftwaffe and Royal Airforce were fighting above English cities in complete darkness.
In 1939, the Royal Air Force first used a secret technology they were developing called the onboard Airborne Interception Radar (AI), which would eventually help the RAF repel the German fighters in 1940. AI had the ability to pinpoint the location of enemy bombers before they reached the English Channel.
On November 19, 1940, RAF night fighter ace John ‘Cat Eyes’ Cunningham was the first pilot to shoot down an enemy plane using AI. John Cunningham would go on to record 20 kills during the Second World War, 19 of which were at night.
Carrots as a propaganda campaign
After Cunningham’s success with AI, the British Government decided to start their own propaganda campaign, with carrots being the focal point. The British Ministry of propaganda told newspapers that pilots like Cunningham were so successful because they ate an excess of carrots.
Pictures of Cunningham were published with captions that claimed he had the night vision of a cat. Cunningham was presented as a superhero who got his powers from eating lots of carrots. These carrots gave Cunningham ample Vitamin A, which helped him shoot down German bombers in the dark.
A message to the Germans
This propaganda campaign most definitely encouraged young pilots everywhere to eat more carrots. However, the real target of this propaganda campaign was not the British military, but instead, the Germans. There is no evidence on whether or not the Germans fell for this propaganda campaign. After all, at no point during the Second World War did Germans start targeting carrot gardens during their bombing campaigns.
There are no official German publications about carrots, but it was believed that the Germans fell for some of this propaganda campaign. According to John Stolarczyk, curator of the World Carrot Museum, “there are apocryphal takes that the Germans started feeding their own pilots carrots, as they thought there was some truth in it.”
On the other hand, the British people as a whole definitely bought into this propaganda campaign. They believed that eating carrots would help them see better during blackouts. The Food Ministry took the carrot craze a step further and promoted the vegetable as an alternative to fruit in cakes and tarts because of their natural sweetness. They were even stuck onto sticks and given to young children instead of ice cream or lollipops.
The Germans eventually developed their own onboard radar, similar to the RAF’s AI. Despite the fact that carrots improving eyesight was purely a propaganda campaign created by the British to hide their new technology, people continue to eat carrots today, hoping their eyesight will improve.