France at War in the Twentieth Century: Propaganda, Myth and Metaphor

France at War in the Twentieth Century: Propaganda, Myth and Metaphor

France at War in the Twentieth Century: Propaganda, Myth and Metaphor

France at War in the Twentieth Century: Propaganda, Myth and Metaphor


France experienced four major conflicts in the fifty years between 1914 and 1964: two world wars, and the wars in Indochina and Algeria. In each the role of myth was intricately bound up with memory, hope, belief, and ideas of nation. This is the first book to explore how individual myths were created, sustained, and used for purposes of propaganda, examining in detail not just the press, radio, photographs, posters, films, and songs that gave credence to an imagined event or attributed mythical status to an individual, but also the cultural processes by which such artifacts were disseminated and took effect.

Reliance on myth, so the authors argue, is shown to be one of the most significant and durable features of 20th century warfare propaganda, used by both sides in all the conflicts covered in this book. However, its effective and useful role in time of war notwithstanding, it does distort a population's perception of reality and therefore often results in defeat: the myth-making that began as a means of sustaining belief in France's supremacy, and later her will and ability to resist, ultimately proved counterproductive in the process of decolonization.


At the same time [as] the war was relying on inherited myth, it
was generating new myth, and that myth is part of the fibre of our
own lives.

Paul Fussell, Preface, The Great War and Modern Memory

In 1995, the University of Westminster established a research group to study the relationships between conflict and culture in France during the twentieth century, from the beginning of the First World War to just after the end of the Algerian War. The Group for War and Culture Studies (France: 1914–1964) has a particular interest in the representation of war experience and its effect on the individual imagination, an approach which draws on the history of memory as well as the cultural artefacts through which it is sustained.

This book reflects both the wide-ranging interests of the Group, and its commitment to the fostering of interdisciplinary research by bringing together contributors who work in departments of modern languages, European and French studies, contemporary history, art history, and education. The combination of these diverse approaches, in individual chapters and across the book as a whole, reveals how propaganda is created, diffused and received, and the crucial role played in this process by myth and metaphor. Through theoretical analysis, historical example and the close reading of visual and verbal discourses, this book also analyses the effects of propaganda by considering its development, its forms and the ways in which it functions in the individual and the collective mind.

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