How Propaganda Pressed Home the World War I Lies; as the Build-Up for the Forthcoming World War I Centenary Commemorations Gathers Pace, Media Expert Dr John Jewell Looks Back at the Role Played by Propaganda in the Horrifying Carnage of the 1914-1918 Conflict

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), September 20, 2013 | Go to article overview

How Propaganda Pressed Home the World War I Lies; as the Build-Up for the Forthcoming World War I Centenary Commemorations Gathers Pace, Media Expert Dr John Jewell Looks Back at the Role Played by Propaganda in the Horrifying Carnage of the 1914-1918 Conflict


IN UST the Government announced that, as part of the World War I centenary events, paving stones will be laid in the hometowns of every UK soldier awarded the Victoria Cross.

This is an admirable venture lest no-one forgets the horror and scale of death suffered in this most brutal of conflicts.

In four years Britain endured 658,700 fatalities, 2,032,150 wounded and 359,150 men missing in action. This adds up to total of 3,050,000 casualties.

Astonishing isn't it? And this is before one considers the impact on the home front. The mothers without sons, the women without husbands and so on.

So when the centenary events begin I hope we begin examine why it was that so many, many men enlisted to fight willingly.

What was it that made young males march together on their town halls, united in the common purpose of defeating Germany and defending Britain? I would argue that enlistment and commitment to the war cause was the result of sustained propaganda carried out by the Government - aided at every turn by a compliant and enthusiastic British press.

During World War I, historian Phillip Knightley has stated "more deliberate lies were told than in any other period of history, and the whole apparatus of the state went into action to suppress the truth".

When war broke out in 1914, it did so to flag waving and patriotism. Men were promised honour, glory and a conflict quickly over.

These were times of great social inequality and disenfranchised boys from the poorest, most hopeless communities could for the first time be useful. The army offered food, clothing, camaraderie and the respect of the nation.

The lure of these things should not be underestimated. Their king and country depended upon them.

Enlistment became a tribal, collective endeavour - many battalions were made up of men from the same villages.

They joined together and a great many died together. The propaganda posters told young men that they could be part of something special, to serve their country in righteousness.

Many posters appealed to individuals personally, they preyed on the insecurities men might feel if they did not join up.

Masculinity was questioned, fitness to be a father, to be a citizen. Not to join was cowardice - a treacherous act which would bring shame upon their family and nation.

And they would be fighting against an identifiable evil.

The posters and newspapers portrayed the German Kaiser as the devil in human form.

The Daily Mail of September 22, 1914 portrayed him in separate reports as a "lunatic", "madman", "barbarian", "monster", and "modern Judas".

The German soldier raped, mutilated and tortured. Stories of Hun atrocities in Belgium were front page news despite their being little proof of their occurrence.

The Times of January 8, 1915, stated: "The stories of rape are so horrible in detail that their publication would seem almost impossible were it not for the necessity of showing to the fullest extent the nature of the wild beasts fighting under the German Flag. …

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How Propaganda Pressed Home the World War I Lies; as the Build-Up for the Forthcoming World War I Centenary Commemorations Gathers Pace, Media Expert Dr John Jewell Looks Back at the Role Played by Propaganda in the Horrifying Carnage of the 1914-1918 Conflict
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