The Merriam Webster dictionary gives a definition to propaganda as being: “ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause”. In present days, propaganda is a argumentative topic, mainly because of the expanding conversation about media ethics. Multiple people such as Robert Prentice from the University of Texas at Austin see propaganda as “ubiquitous and dangerous” but previously, propaganda was used greatly by governments to help the promoting of their causes and influence the public opinion.The use of “systematically produced government propaganda” targeted towards the general public internationally began with World War I (Welch). This being stated, forms of propaganda, although being at a primitive stage, had existed long before the 20th century. The Behistun Inscription, a large sized inscription upon the side of a cliff at Mount Behistun, which files the upcoming of Darius I to the the throne of Persia, produced in c.
515 BC is considered by some historians as the earliest form of propaganda (Nagle). Furthermore, another example is 12th-century literary work Cogad Gáedel re Gallaibh or The War of the Irish with the Foreigners (The War of the Irish With the Foreigners) in which the Irish are represented as the lawful rulers of Ireland. The use of propaganda during WWI was not the first time it was used for the Allies either. According to Karen Beckman, during the Indian Rebellion, in 1857, English women having been raped by Indian rebels were greatly exaggerated and overstated in Britain’s media to justify British colonies, some facts going as far as having been fabricated. For example, an article published in The Times, described an incident where 48 English girls aged 10-14 were sexually assaulted by Indian rebels in Delhi. This article came under Karl Marx’s analysis, who declared it to be false propaganda since it was reported by a minister in Bangalore, a city located far away from where the incident took place (Beckman).
During world war one, propaganda essentially became crucial in order to change the public opinion about each country’s concept and definition of war. During the war, both sides evidently used this tactic to change the common point of view concerning the adversary but also themselves. According to Ian Cooke, this resulted in some of the most powerful pieces of propaganda the world has ever seen. Men from Central Europe were obliged to sign up for the army and go to war, unlike the British, whose army was made of volunteers. Therefore, the majority of British propaganda focused on the recruitment of armed forces.
For instance, one of the most distinguished images from the war is the poster of Lord Kitchener stating: “Your country needs YOU.” This type of propaganda was effective as it appealed to a person’s honor and patriotism as an individual. Another strategy used was emotional blackmail and playing on the psychology of men. An example is Savile Lumley’s 1915 poster, which became infamous for these reasons, as it showed two young children asking their father: “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” Never before had propaganda produced by the government whose direct purpose was to manipulate the emotions of the people for its own benefit. WWI was the first war to be fought in front of a camera and the big screen was not to be left untouched by the government’s’ agenda. It didn’t take long for governments to realize that they could depict the war the way they wanted it to be depicted to the general public through this form of media. The film was also effective because it could reach the public on an emotional level and was very popular. According to Toni Steller and Florian Wittig, in Germany for example, cinemas had more than 1.
4 million viewers a day at the outbreak of the war. Due to the scale of the war, everybody was socially and economically impacted by it and thus wanted to know what was taking place at the front lines from a seemingly objective and realistic point of view which they believed film could provide (Steller and Wittig).The British War Propaganda Bureau, the French Cinématographique de l’Armée, the Austrian K.
U.K Krieg Presse Quartier, the American Committee on Public Information and the German Bild und Filmamt were all created to produce cinematographic propaganda. These and other films were 90% staged because the physical conditions of the trenches and the immobility of the cameras of the time meant that it was very hard to get footage from the front lines, and was later even banned (Steller and Wittig). Staging these films also meant that the government had more control over the “reality” being showcased to the audience and could choose to omit the more gruesome parts of the war. Box office hits of the time include Battle of the Sommes, Hearts of the World and the Little American. What these had in common was that they all reminded the audience of the purpose of the war, especially after it had endured for so long and caused so many losses. WWI reshaped propaganda by introducing it for the first time on film.
But propaganda during WWI was not only limited to screens or posters. In August 1914, the matter of German propaganda directed towards the USA was raised in the British Cabinet: ‘Mr. Lloyd George urged the importance of setting on foot an organization to inform and influence public opinion abroad and to confute German mis-statements and sophistries’ (Sanders). Thus, Britain’s War Propaganda Bureau, more commonly known as Wellington House, was created. It was a secret organization set up in September 1914 which spread the news about the war all over the world and gathered support for the British cause through its own newspapers such as the War Pictorial in the Middle East and Cheng Pao in China (Cooke).
According to Home Publicity during 1914-1918 War, the Cheng Pao had ‘such a powerful effect upon the masses that the Chinese government was able to declare war on Germany’. For the first time in history, propaganda had been spread to the populations of foreign nations to influence a war.According to Ian Cooke, curator of the British Library, contrarily to German propaganda, Britain’s was made to look as if the works were produced independently from the government. German propaganda was published by organizations such as The Fatherland Cooperation which had direct links to the government.
The idea was that the British, in contrast, were more likely to support a local opinion than a political one. This tactic was only introduced during WWI and was achieved by spreading media sympathetic towards Britain through Wellington House. “My Mission to London” by Prince Lichnowsky published in 1916 is an example of one such literary work, as it criticises German foreign policy towards England (Cooke). According to Allan Johnson, even letters sent by soldiers on the front lines were censored by Wellington House.
At the height of the war, 375,000 or 4 tonnes of letters were censored every day. “Field postcards” were handed out to soldiers in with pre-written messages in which soldiers could cross out those that were not applicable. This protected sensitive information from being leaked and increased public agitation (Johnson).WWI propaganda left a lasting imprint on the world. For one, people began to criticise propaganda as a tactic. In 1928, in British MP Arthur Ponsonby’s Falsehood in Wartime, he claimed, ‘There must have been more deliberate lying in the world from 1914 to 1918 than in any other period of the world’s history’ and that it had lead to unsuspecting Britishers enlisting and the US joining the war in 1917 ‘under false pretenses’ (Fox). According to Jo Fox, it also greatly affected Adolf Hitler, who later wrote in Mein Kampf ‘spurred me to take up the question of propaganda even more deeply than before… What we failed to do, the enemy did with amazing skill and really brilliant calculation.
I myself learned enormously from this enemy war propaganda’ about his experience during WWI. He praised manipulation of the atrocity stories, according to Jo Fox, and wrote that Allied propaganda was ‘a weapon of the first order, while in our country it was the last resort of unemployed politicians and a haven for slackers’. Consequently, propaganda played a huge role in Nazi Germany and Hitler’s rise to power.WWI shaped propaganda as a means to influence not just local, but international opinion. Although met with criticism and backlash, the methods employed in creating WWI propaganda are still used today, in areas such as advertising. Of course, it also directly affected WWII, the most deadly war in human history.
WWI shaped propaganda and this propaganda shaped the world.