Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Learning to Hate the Hun

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Learning to Hate the Hun

Article excerpt

For Home and Country: World War I Propaganda on the Hone Front

by Celia Malone Kingsbury

University of Nebraska Press, 2010. 309 pages

Yesterday's propaganda always looks obvious, unpersuasive, and shameful in its attempts to exploit fear and manipulate a people's hearts and minds. Today's propaganda, however--whether coming from Washington or Madison Avenue, cable news or the blogosphere--is likely still to prove effective in gulling many. Examples needn't be offered. Indeed, it is this continuing; exploitation of what is best about us (whoever "we" are) to make us think the worst about them (whoever "they" are) that concerns Celia Malone Kingsbury: "my ultimate hope," she writes, "is that if we look at enough propaganda, we will know it when we see it, and we will know why it raises the hair on the backs of our necks" (26). Indeed, after judging George Creel, chairman of the Committee on Public Information during World War I, "one of history's villains" (263), she closes her book with a warning about the government's continuing reliance on misinformation and Orwellian Newspeak. What Creel's colleague Edward Bernays wrote of propaganda in 1928 is, Kingsbury reminds us, even more pertinent today: "Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our Country" (265).

In For Home and Country, Kingsbury, whose previous work includes The Peculiar Sanity of War: Hysteria in the Literature of World War 1, has chosen to examine propaganda produced principally for US and British consumption during the (treat War (some French, Belgian, and German examples are included). More specifically, she focuses on how the fancily was enlisted in the service of the state. Young men were, of course, given Sundry reasons to enlist; children were encouraged to hate the enemy and love war, thus predisposing them to become cannon fodder in some future conflict; young women were morally coerced into joining the Red Cross or performing other useful wartime work, while housewives were encouraged to do volunteer work and otherwise turned "into domestic soldiers" (10) whose mission included learning how to prepare meatless meals and wheatless biscuits while providing a moral compass for the family and a cause for which to fight and die.

To unpack the messages World War I propaganda sought to insinuate into American and British psyches, Kingsbury gathers a variety of sources: posters and postcards; atrocity stories; children's books and toys; cigarette cards extolling the war work of worsen and cookbooks supplied by the government or companies (Proctor and Gamble, Campbell's Soup) with some patriotic foodstuff to sell; songs and films; advertisements; series novels aimed at teenage girls and adult magazine fiction; pamphlets promoting classroom wartime activities; and accounts of England's White Feather campaign, which saw young women handing out feathers symbolizing cowardice to any man not in uniform. Although she has occasion to quote Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen, and Siegfried. Sassoon, Kingsbury has deliberately excluded most literary fiction and poetry, which by and large promoted a cynical, critical attitude.

As Kingsbury explains in her introduction, the Great War "saw the first massive organized propaganda campaign of the twentieth century" (6), a largely successful effort that employed the same messages and images throughout the Allied nations to rally all to the defense of home and family. After providing a working definition of "propaganda" (essentially, any means of exerting "moral compulsion" short of force that manages opinions and behavior by discouraging intellection), Kingsbury surveys psychological and sociological explanations of why propaganda works, finally settling--perhaps ironically--on the work of German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies, whose notions of Gemeinschaft (family, community) and Gesellschaft. …

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