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Propaganda Effects of World War I

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Propaganda effects of World War I

During the early 1900s a new era of warfare emerged as governments began to employ all economic, technological and psychological resources available to defeat their enemies. This concept of Total War altered the direction of humanity and governments understanding in their allocation of resources. This essay will examine the relationship between propaganda used during World War I, its effect on the masses and the absolutely essential need for the success of such campaigns in obtaining military victory. While leaflet propaganda used during the war will be the main focus, considerations will be given to other forms to illuminate the necessity of understanding and utilizing the tools of this very powerful weapon.

During World War I, propaganda was widespread in most countries. Propaganda took on many forms and the primary function was to reinforce to the citizens of a nation that war was intrinsically heroic, and conversely to destroy the morale of the enemy.

The actual business of physical injury had added the more subtle process of slaughter of morale, a far more difficult, but none the less effective, method of warfare. The Germans have for a long time preached it. They practiced it from the first, 'frightfulness' being merely the German interpretation of the theory of the destruction of morale. Bernhardi lays as much stress upon it as upon perfection of maneuver. The Allies, perhaps keener students of psychology, substituted persuasion for brutality, and developed a system of military propaganda that has never before been equaled.

Historians generally refer to WWI as the first 'total war'. It was the first conflict in which modern industrialized societies mobilized their complete economic, technological and psychological resources in order to wage war. Unlike earlier wars, which involved relatively small numbers of soldiers on the battlefield, it affected many aspects of the lives of civilian populations and demanded enormous sacrifices and support from them. Mobilization of the home front was crucial to achieving military victory. Some of the main aspects of Total War include conscription of men into the armed services, increased government control of the economy and daily lives of citizens and subsequent loss of personal liberty. Control of the labor force, physical safety and security of civilian populations threatened are involved and of course, propaganda used to create support for the war and encourage acceptance of the necessity of personal sacrifice. Censorship of bad news about the war in newspapers and magazines to maintain morale and support for the war effort was also vital to this new age of waging war.

It must be emphasized that the ultimate object of propaganda in war is the destruction of enemy morale, and its corollary, the strengthening of friendly morale. "It consists of the dissemination of ideas, designed to react in different ways upon their various recipients. The enemy must be made to feel that his cause is hopeless from the start, has no chance of ultimate success, and is based upon delusive ideals." It is usually impossible to convince the responsible organizations of the hostile nation, such as the government or the army, though it may be advantageous to hinder them in their decisions. But it is comparatively easy to influence the rank and file, civilian as well as military, and to produce an atmosphere of hopelessness fatal to success.

Also, the general public of neutral nations must be supplied with the arguments of victory and of a just cause, followed by a cautious relay of every success, great or small, and by brilliant descriptions of the spirit that animates the troops. The neutral countries and individuals, especially when weak and "necessarily somewhat at the mercy of the side that eventually proves victorious, is naturally disposed to sit on the fence and lean towards the side that he imagines to be winning." (Doob, 34) Finally allied, friendly nations and even the violating nation itself must be kept in good spirits by emphasizing the justice of their cause, the magnificent bearing of their troops, and the demoralization of the enemy. Any contradictions must be explained and shown to be only temporary. Information of each success must be widely spread and its meaning made clear to the general populous. The list of examples of such instances is quite exhaustive so the focus of this analysis will remain on the processes rather than the specifics of any one example.

Propaganda is the "organization of ideas that will serve some cause, and disseminate the ideas and information for the purpose of inducing or intensifying specific attitudes and actions." Because propaganda is frequently accompanied by distortions of fact and by appeals to emotion and prejudice, it is often thought to be "invariably false or misleading. This view is relative, however." Although some propagandists may intentionally distort fact, others may present it faithfully as objective observers. A lawyer's brief is as much propaganda as a billboard advertisement. "The essential distinction lies in the intentions of the propagandist to persuade an audience to adopt the attitude or action he or she espouses." (Doob, 35) At the time of the war, propaganda changed the views of many people's way of thinking.

Propaganda originated before the war, and as a result, this media changed the views of people during the war and .any types of propaganda were used to justify it. One example of a different kind of propaganda would be religious propaganda. One of the earliest uses of propaganda was related to religious missionary activity. A noteworthy propagandist was the apostle Paul, who established the first Christian churches in Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. In the 17th century, with the help of propaganda, the Jesuits were able to gain back large areas of central Europe that were lost during the Reformation. Another form of propaganda is political propaganda, which is also quite old. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, which was an example of rational propaganda that was intended to "solidify communal opinion at home and justify the debatable American cause at large." Throughout history then, there were many forms of propaganda used during wars that were to strengthen support for the conflict. With the help of many propagandists it was, and remains possible to make citizens think highly of war.

Literary propaganda was important during the World Wars, as pamphlets, history, novels, posters, speeches, influenced many people's opinions. Many classic novels were written with a propagandist's intent, including much philosophy, history, religion, economics, novels, poems, and plays. Some examples of

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