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Propaganda and World War 1

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Propaganda in World War 1


Propaganda, used in any war by all sides, is designed to propagate emotion in the observer that makes them want to support the war effort. Propaganda is just a way of obfuscating or twisting the truth to make the public believe what you want them to. It was not limited to just censoring the information available, as many governments also made up completely fictions events to sway the public's mind with. In World War 1 governments used propaganda to justify their involvement to the people, recruit men, encourage financial and industrial support, and encourage conservation of resources. Televisions hadn't been invented yet, and not every family had a radio in their homes. Because of this, propaganda was usually limited to public posters and newspapers. In using different methods and tactics to instill emotion while using different methods of advertising, propaganda on both sides was quite influential.


Propaganda was used for four main and basic purposes. It's primary objective was to get more men to come out and serve their country. As the war progressed, both sides needed more men and both sides started to push more posters requesting and encouraging enlistment. Both sides also needed more and more money. It was hard to get the population to give more money because it was already experiencing a hard economic time. The posters encouraging victory bonds and military donations rose. They would say things like "Support your man abroad!" or "Don't let your man freeze, support the military". In conjunction with monetary support, they pushed conservation of home resources. Slogans like "That soldier needs your second cup!" and "Send extra bread to the front lines" tried to get the people to not consume as much, in the hopes of fueling the war effort. There was also a big push to industrial production. Men were badly needed on the front lines, so women were encouraged to take their places in the work camps and factories. Posters would again, encourage support of the "man abroad", preying upon the women's want to take care of their own. For the people who were against the war effort, posters and headlines were also displayed to justify involvement. The Name Calling tactic was used frequently for this purpose. Showing how evil the British or Germans were was a great way to instill rage and a feeling of justification for battle in the public.


Propaganda usually uses seven tricks or methods to get their message across. It tries to make the observer feel a need to support the war. In doing this, you might even say they preyed upon human psychological weaknesses. They used "Name Calling, Card Stacking, Band Wagon, Testimonial, Plain Folks, Transfer, Glittering Generality" to encourage the public to rise up and fight, figuratively and literally, against the enemy. Name calling was used to hang a bad label or idea upon the opposing side. The British would publish things like "Belgian Baby's eyes poked out by Germans". This would encourage the public to "rise up against evil" and support the fight against the "nasty Germans". Card Stacking is showing all the bad points of one side, and all the good of another. The Germans and the British alike, were well known for publishing a story on the exact same battle with completely different facts, usually about the losses on either side. This would make the public believe that they were doing well and that the danger and mortality rate were lower then they actually were. The Band Wagon approach was used to encourage people to follow the crowd. Posters would boast titles like "Who's absent? Is it you?", or "Come share in the victory with the rest of us". It appeals to the human urge to be on the winning side, and to fit in with the rest of the people. A Testimonial is where the propaganda uses a well known figure or respected person to support the ideas. This encourages people to follow their idols and leaders. When the propaganda tries to show that the spokesperson is from humble origins, or is someone they can trust and relate to, it is called the "Plain Folks" approach. It is usually targeted at the lower end of the populace, attempting to inspire a sense of unity and belonging for the regular, average, every-day-Joes. A Transfer is where the propaganda attempts to transfer the respect or authority of a symbol in order to stir emotion and win public approval. Flags and monuments are typicaly used. The last is Glittering Generality. This uses images and ideas of love, honor, peace, and nature to instill a sense of duty or desire. Pictures of beautiful English countryside, and women with children are used for enlistment because they appeal to the man's duty and desire to protect what is his, and maintain his honor. Many of these tactics would be used both in a positive and negative way, encouraging people and making them feel guilty.


Posters were the main source of propaganda in World War 1. They would be placed on the streets, in pubs and bars (sometimes aimed at making the people in the bars feel guilty they weren't helping), and in many other public places. They tried to be simple and instantly appealing to the passerby. Just like newspapers, they were not often realistic, and instead stood for ideals. Being instantly eye-catching was a big part of the posters. Bright colors and big, block lettering attracted the public's eye as they rushed past on their daily activities. They were also careful to be broad in terms of appeal to diverse populations. They pushed a "national" sense, but stayed away from separating wealth, religion, or culture. The other big part of the posters was that they had to minimize the appearance of the duty required. Time in the service and bad conditions were not displayed on the posters, and if they were, they always emphasized the good things.


Newspapers in World War 1 were full of government propaganda. The government would tell the newspapers to print a headline or article and the media barons who controlled the newspapers were happy to oblige. When there were heavy losses, the government would suppress reporting, or try to turn the message around trying to show how strong the front line effort was. They would even publish completely fictitious headlines and stories about the other side, or about soldier's heroics. The British would publish headlines like "Germans crucify Canadian prisoner". These were designed to strengthen and develop the British public's hatred of Germans, and get them to support the war effort. The newspapers were an ideal way of getting the messages out, as almost every citizen would read them.


Overall, propaganda not only showed things in a good light, and pushed victory, but went even to the point of outright lying. The importance of having the public on your side in a war is paramount and propaganda was the best way to do it. Propaganda was not limited to either of the different sides. Both parties used it and both parties lied. They all did it in name of Queen, Kaiser, and Country.


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