Patriotism and Propaganda in First World War Britain: The National War Aims Committee and Civilian Morale

By David Monger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Patriotisms of Duty: Sacrifice,
Obligation and Community –
The Narrative Core of NWAC
Propaganda

IN the NWAC’s patriotic narrative, the values celebrated by proprietorial patriotism supplied the foundations of British national identity. Supranational patriotism provided a validation of this value-based identity and a means of demonstrating that more could be done. Adversarial patriotism reminded Britons of threats to their identity to revitalise their commitment to the war effort. Quantitatively, these sub-patriotisms represented a substantial proportion of NWAC propaganda, often the majority of a speech or article. However, purposively they merely contextualised the NWAC’s core message, that the British people not only had a particular national identity, but were duty-bound to maintain it. Sometimes this message amounted to a minuscule proportion of the overall piece – the ‘moral of the story’. Over-explication of Britons’ duties without such contextualisation might be counter-productive, potentially discouraging citizens by making stark demands for public exertion without a reasonable purpose.

Propagandists’ recognition of the danger of antagonising war-weary civilians with unreasonable demands was manifested in their discussions of duty. Together with a rhetoric of sacrifice, NWAC propaganda espoused a complementary view of duty stressing obligations but emphasising the praiseworthy meeting of these by most individuals and communities, with ‘consent and coercion [becoming] reciprocal functions of each other’.1 In this dual approach, civic patriotism extended the contextual subpatriotisms, especially proprietorial patriotism. Since, so NWAC rhetoric assumed, Britons lived in a privileged nation with institutions and laws to protect key civilisational values, citizens should work unstintingly to maintain the British way of life. Because they were Britons, however, they amply understood the relationship between responsibilities, rights and privileges, and had responded to the crisis in such a way that they grew

1 See Pierre Purseigle’s discussion of civil society, ‘Introduction’, in Purseigle (ed.), Warfare and Belligerence, pp. 24–27.

-169-

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