Propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view” (Oxford Online Dictionaries). Propaganda is often associated with the psychological mechanisms of influencing and altering the attitude of a population toward a specific cause, position or political agenda in an effort to form a consensus to a standard set of belief patterns.
The First World War was the first war in which the mass media played a significant part in disseminating news from the Fighting Front to the Home Front. It was also the first war to target systematically produced government propaganda at the general public. All the belligerents were therefore compelled to recognise that they had to justify the righteousness of the war and, to this end, themes such as patriotism and nationalism played an important role.
‘Your Country Needs YOU’
The armies of continental Europe were made up of conscripts, who really had little choice about going to war. In 1914 the British Army, by contrast, was made up of professionals and then volunteers. The British placed immense reliance, therefore, on propaganda to justify the war to the people, to help promote recruitment into the armed forces and to convince the population that their sacrifices would be rewarded. One of the most enduring images of the war – much copied and parodied since – remains the distinctive recruitment poster of Lord Kitchener’s heavily mustachioed face and intimidating finger imploring the British population that ‘Your Country Needs YOU’.
Stereotypes deeply embedded in national sentiment were invoked to justify Britain’s entry into the war, and British propaganda posters often employed the religious symbolism of St George slaying the (German) dragon.
British recruitment posters changed in tone, from appealing to an individual’s honour to ‘mobilisation by shame’. Savile Lumley’s famous poster of 1915 depicted two young children asking their father about his military prowess after the war: ‘Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?’ The emotional blackmail of using children to shame their elders into fighting was, in fact, employed by most of the belligerents.
Women were also assigned the responsibility for ordering men into war. Perhaps the most well known in this genre is ‘Women of Britain Say—“GO!”’
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