Jingoism and Propaganda World War One and Acrobatic truths.
|The old man told me I could never understand the
enthusiasm to join up
in the first world war. “It was the feeling of national pride of King
and country.” “You must have seen the tens of thousands waiting outside
the recruiting offices on the old films, they wanted to have a crack at
the Hun.” Propaganda in many forms was rife and found its target
in a worried and angry people on both German and British sides.
Propaganda may be described as information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.
Or just a misleading truth or just acrobatic facts?
In John Buchan’s Thirty Nine Steps we read, ‘behind all Governments and Armies was a subterranean movement going on. I gather that most of the people in it were sort of educated anarchists that made revolution.’ He was not far from the truth as both sides and their allies grasped the opportunity to use whatever material available to denounce the enemy.
The British cut the German Atlantic Cable within hours of the war, beginning to isolate Germany and have the single advantage of informing a neutral America of our noble cause.
The soldiers and civilians of Britain and Germany were convinced God was on their side, and therefore presume the other was in league with the Devil. Gott Strafe England was a common call in Germany, for God to punish England. Our pulpits resounded with the belief of Gods involvement in our game.
The media rang the scare bell renouncing German and foreign names or pronunciations as works of the enemy.
The House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha changed to the House of Windsor and the Battenberg’s by Royal Warrant became Mountbatten. The Germans equally responded by renaming the Hotel Westminster to The Lindenhof. A confectioner was asked by a General to changed the name Bonbon for sounding too French. The confectioner replied as soon as the General stopped calling himself General. According to American Ernestine Bullitt the word lift was removed from her hotel elevator.
Norwegian sardines would not sell in Germany till they changed them to Hindenburg Sardines. In Britain, German biscuits became Empire Biscuits.
It was said one fifth of the British officers who volunteered at the start of the war were German descent, to avoid accusations of treason. German sausage dogs were hissed and attacked in the streets.
G.K. Chesterton in his book The Barbarism of Berlin, wrote about peace loving people as weak. He states. ‘If he hits his neighbour on the head with the kitchen chopper, what do we do? Do we all join hands, like children playing Mulberry Bush.’ It appears as an invitation to clobber the neighbour and teach him a lesson.
Gilbert Macdermot reintroduced a song that jingoed. ‘We don’t want to fight. But by jingo if we do. We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men.’ The meaning was plain, we are ready to have a go at Gerry. Mocking cards with pictures of the allies marching to certain victory were seen as mail with a message. They covered the full range of human emotions from love, nostalgia and humour recognisable to those at the front and at home.
The execution of Nurse Cavell while serving in Belgium accused of helping French and British prisoners escape, was a poignant reminder of the brutish Hun. Nurse Cavell, a Norfolk girl, had just lost her husband and was weeding her mothers garden, when she heard war had broke out. She declared, “I am needed more than ever.” A card showing the dastardly deed would more than energise the sender and reader. It would reveal the German political philosophy as inferior, callous and merciless. Embroidered silk cards titled TO MY DEAR MOTHER were the most popular and treasured as mementoes of sons over there.
Posters potent and colourful showing Women on the phone lines in France, Take up the Sword of Justice, Back our Girls Over There, You Drive a car Here -Why not a Transport in France. The output was enormous and diverse.
In Germany dancing in public was banned. The speaking of English was forbidden in public, but not in School lessons.
At first the school children got a holiday on each German victory. In towns and villages Hindenburg wooden statues were erected and people drove in iron nails to make Hindenburg into an iron effigy.
Before the war, working class women were usually employed as domestic servants, and used for the most unclean of jobs.
When the war broke out they were expected to encourage the men to join up and fight for their country. Admiral Fitzgerald instigated the Order of the White Feather encouraging women to hand out feathers to young men not in uniform.
Albert Einstein, after seeing this display thought it would be a good idea if woman were in the next war, as it may inject some humour into it.
Compton McKenzie said the white feathers were used by women to get rid of boy friends they were tired of.
A few days after the war started most Suffrages suspended their effective political actions. The government responded by releasing all the suffragettes from prison as a gesture to encourage their help in the war effort. Women on both sides now worked in factories, drove busses and trains. Women were employed to fill the industries needed in wartime including engineering. The Punch Magazine wrote.‘It is quite impossible to keep pace with all the new incarnations of women in war-time.’
Evelyn Sharp later wrote. ‘Certainly, by their four years' war work, they did prove the fallacy of the anti-suffragist' favourite argument, that women had no right to a voice in questions of peace and war because they took no part in it.’
America was neutral and President Wilson reminded the Populace in January of 1916, he stated that, "so far as I can remember, this is a government of the people, and this people is not going to choose war." But deliberately the Germans on May 7th 1915 torpedoed the Lusitania, Captain Turner gave the order to abandon ship unfortunately the hole made by the torpedo caused the ship to list making it difficult to launch all life boats and 128 Americans lost their lives. In America and Britain the propaganda opportunity was not lost and the sinking of the Lusitania was reported as ‘A most dastardly crime by a callous foe murdering innocent women, children and men, which should bring upon the whole German nation the execration of the whole civilised world.’
In 1917 when America did enter the war, Radio stations in the U.S. had become a government monopoly, reserved for the war effort.
As German defeat approached ,the mood began to change. Rationing was severe and hunger became the norm. ‘I am proud of thirst and Hunger for the Fatherland,’ was a note of defiance.
The inevitable happened and Germany sank to defeat. Still the propaganda continued. ’Shine Out Holy Flame, Shine Out Through The Darkness, For the Fatherland.’
Adolph Hitler in his Mein Kampf Chapter VI talked of the success of British propaganda. ‘How effective this type of propaganda was is most strikingly shown by the fact that after four years of war it not only enabled the enemy to stick to its guns, but even began to nibble at our own people.’
In 1920 British and German War Propaganda was heavily criticised as simple myths. But was it effective?
I asked the old man and he relied, “Do you believe everything you read in the papers?” “No, I said.” Then the old man asked,” do you then repeat what you do not believe?” I had to admit the answer was yes.