World War I: War Propaganda

Figure 1.--This World War I "Captain" magazine from February 1915, very early in the War, has a suitably patriotic cover. Note the Allied (English, French, and Italian) scout uniforms. Note that the Russians who undoubtedly saved France in 1914 are not included. The Americns were not yet in the War. The illustrator was M.R. Whitwell.

The major contending powers in the War were the Central Powers (Germany and Austria) and the Allies (France, Britain, and Russia). Italy had signed a treaty with Germany and Austria Hungary, decided not to honor it and later entered the War. Turkey had signed a defensive alliance with Germany in July 1914 and seeing an opportuity to make major gains against their historic enemy Russia joined the Central Powers. The British, in particular as the War dragged on, sought to involve America which had proclaimed its neutrality after the outbreak of hostilities. British propaganda played up the German invasion of Belgium. The Germans harshly administered occupied Belgium, but British propaganda painted a vicious pictures of the Germans--an image they wereto live up to in World War II. The British painted the War has a conflict betwen the Allied democracies (Britain, France, and Italy) and the authoritarian Central Powers (Germany, Austria, and Turkey). This played wll in America. The obly problem was that Russia, the most autocratic country in Europe was a key member of the Allied coalition. It was Russia in August 1914 that prevented thge German from bringing the full weight of their Army to bear against the French and winning the War at the onset in August-September 1914. The Russians through 1915 and 1916 kept large German armies tied up in the Eastern Front. Almost certainly the Allies would have been unable to hold in the West had it not have been for the Russians. The Russian presence in the Allied coalition, however, was an embarassment. This was not just a matter of British propaganda in America. It also affected domestic public opinion. The British hesitated to accept the Tsar and his family in 1917 when it was still possible to save them.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: September 29, 2002
Last updated: September 29, 2002