So last week as part of a college trip, I had the opportunity of attending a History lecture at The University of Manchester, which was based on the use of propaganda in the First World War. Being a History student myself and having found the utilisation of mainly emasculating posters during 1914 & onwards interesting, I found the lecture absolutely fascinating. Particularly, the fact that there was an extreme use of British propaganda, as opposed to French or German propaganda. Perhaps this shows that a sense of pride and nationalism was the only thing that was needed to convince the nation to contribute to the war effort, and naively accept the war as a relatively short war, “to end all wars.”
Every British man and woman was convinced of “playing your part”, essentially either being conscripted or working at a munitions factory, growing your own food…the list is endless. The war needed the support of the British people. Slogans like “Women of Britain say go!” were used to persuade women to let go of their loved ones, as the assurance that all men would return home from the front was a guarantee. The lecture made me question the power of propaganda, that it is in fact words that lead people to accept havoc and disaster, the belief that the Battle of the Somme is an example of “God working in mysterious ways”, thus shows that propaganda was the most prominent weapon in WW1, the economic side of war, cost of ammunitions and etc, is essentially, only the economic side of war. The skilful persuasion and emotional blackmail that led to fighting in the war, the enthusiasm of millions of young men that saw the war as an adventure speaks volumes. What I learnt is that this was the most devastating part of the war, the sheer propagandist tactics that led a million men to their deaths.
In fact, this reminds me of a comment that Michael Gove, education minister, made about TV shows like Blackadder, whilst comedic, in one episode gives a portrayal of the innocent naïve men that sacrificed their very lives, in the presence of ignorant Generals and their staff. No Mr Gove, this isn’t leftist propaganda. It is reality. The dedication of men like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, to remind people of the concrete fact that lives were sacrificed for unjustified purposes, is also reality.
So the real tragedy were the words and propaganda used to manipulate and emasculate men and women. The only thing that seems more tragic than this is the shocking number of deaths that occurred, as a result of WW1.