Editorial Intro to MWC WW1 Centenary Special Issue (7:3)

Volume 7, Issue 3, Dec 2014
Editor: Sarah Maltby


Editorial introduction


It is one hundred years since the outbreak of the First World War (WWI). Consequently, this year has been marked by considerable investment in its commemoration. Yet the significance of the centenary lies not just in the opportunity to remember the war, but in the opportunity to explore and investigate the impact of its legacy on contemporary social, cultural and political life. As a contribution to this, Media, War & Conflict has dedicated this issue to the theme of WWI and its memorialization. The articles deal with a range of media – press, poetry, film and advertising – and draw on international, historical and contemporary perspectives. Combined they offer an insight into how memory of WWI shapes and is shaped by current mediations and re-mediations of the war. Included in this is Nick Webber and Paul Long’s article on war veteran Harry Patch. They not only elucidate what is remembered and forgotten in British popular press, but how it is remembered through characters like Patch who serve as a synecdoche for all WWI war veterans with particular consequences. Similarly, Ross Wilson’s analysis draws our attention to the significance of the allusions, imagery and terms of WWI that become evoked in mediations of contemporary wars. Here Wilson suggests that whilst WWI is embedded in public discourse, its inherent meaning becomes lost in the frames and symbolism associated with contemporary concerns. Leanne Green offers a more historically focused analysis of WWI mediations through a visual examination of the publicity produced in response to the German invasion of Belgium. Green argues that the use of particular themes and visual narratives by official and charitable organizations, particularly the themes of loyalty and gender, are revealing of a wider propaganda campaign used to legitimize British involvement in the war. The theme of legitimacy and post-colonial nationalism is also considered in Anderson Araujo’s article on WWI poetry where a comparative reading of Jessie Pope and Wilfred Owen is used to draw our attention to Pope’s mythopoeic glorification of Canadian troops in light of the non-partisan vision of Owen’s warrior poet. In so doing, Anderson highlights Pope’s allegiance to the colonial–imperial traffic of ideas informing the belligerent poetic–aesthetic turn that the war provoked in Canada and Britain. The use of a particular memory of WWI for ideological purposes is also the focus of Marie-France Courriol’s article where she considers the inclusion of WWI memory in Italian cinema as part of a wider Fascist project. She suggests that whilst WWI was integrated into Fascism’s war culture, fiction cinema showed a reluctance to adopt a Fascist memory of the event. Consequently, WWI-themed films created a space of involuntary freedom that would otherwise have been denied. All of these contributions speak to diverse perspectives that emerge through investigations of the memorialization and commemoration of WWI. Beyond the arguments posed within each individual contribution, these articles collectively offer a broader understanding of how mediations of WWI and its commemoration might embody the politics of contemporary cultural and political life.


Nick Webber and Paul Long

The last post: British press representations of veterans of the Great War

Harry Patch (1898–2009) was the last surviving soldier to have fought in the trenches of the Western Front, entering the media spotlight in 1998 when he was approached to contribute to the BBC documentary Veterans. Media coverage of Patch and the cultivation of his totemic status were particularly prodigious in anticipating and marking his death, producing a range of reflections on its historical, social and cultural significance. Focusing on the British popular press, this article examines media coverage of the last decade of Patch’s life. It considers the way in which the Great War is memorialised in the space of public history of the media in terms of the personalisation and sentimentalisation of Patch, exploring how he serves as a synecdoche for the millions of others who fought, how he embodies ideas of generational and social change, and how the iconography of the Great War’s contemporaneous representation works in the space of its memorialisation.

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Ross Wilson

Sad shires and no man’s land: First World War frames of reference in the British media representation of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

The focus of this article is the manner in which media representations in Britain of the 21st century conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan drew upon the terms, allusions and imagery of the First World War. The application of these visual and textual frames of reference has been used to demonstrate the failings of government, the need for national support or the validation of anti-war perspectives. Through the use of a critical discourse analysis, this assessment will highlight how the war of 1914–1918 is used within contemporary Britain as a vehicle for political and social commentary upon the actions of authority. Despite being fought at the outset of the last century, the newspaper coverage of the British Army’s operation in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrates how the First World War still goes on within sections of British society.

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Leanne Green

Advertising war: Picturing Belgium in First World War publicity

With the German invasion of Belgium on 4 August 1914, Britain was given a noble cause. Not only had the Germans apparently violated an international treaty in their invasion of neutral land, but according to press reports they were showing no remorse as they committed alleged acts of atrocity upon the innocent nation. As the press justified the war in terms of the sanctity of the law and the safety of civilians, Britain’s involvement became difficult to dispute. The invasion of Belgium merged parliamentary and press support for the war and provided the two with a powerful tool that they fully intended to exploit. This article argues that because of Britain’s vast machinery for the production and distribution of propaganda, visual representations of the German invasion of Belgium had ramifications for the way that the meaning of the war was addressed to the British public. The plight of Belgium featured prominently in the British press during the first few months of war. Visual propaganda from both public and private concerns used rhetorical frameworks of national loyalty, gender and the family to manipulate public opinion. War advertising was instrumental in providing a link between the state and the masses. Also used by charities and other interest groups, it was perceived as a crucial and effective link to the public. Drawing from a collection of war advertising held at the Imperial War Museum, the author traces the way that both public and private concerns targeted the wave of ‘Belgianitis’ that was spreading across Britain at the time of their production, notably to justify and garner support for the war, to raise funds and promote recruitment.

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Anderson D Araujo

Jessie Pope, Wilfred Owen, and the politics of pro patria mori in World War I poetry

This article undertakes a close comparative reading of the work of two key World War I English poets: Jessie Pope, a then immensely popular Home Front poet–journalist and staunch supporter of the Allied war effort; and Wilfred Owen, a soldier–poet whose verse would evolve from its Romantic-Georgian and pastoral roots to yield some of the most scathing indictments of the war. In focus are the poets’ chief compositions, Pope’s jingoist ballad, ‘The Lads of the Maple Leaf’ (1915), and the several drafts of Owen’s antiwar trench lyric, ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ (1917–1920). The author argues that although the poems are diametrically opposed – politically and ideologically – they nonetheless share a set of cultural, historical, and literary markers which converge on Horace’s ancient slogan in praise of an honourable death in battle, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Significantly, the article locates for the first time Pope’s forgotten ballad as the most likely catalyst for Owen’s famous gas poem. With Pope’s poetry as a nexus, the discussion takes Owen’s original mock-dedication of ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ to her and other pro-war poets as a point of departure for examining Pope’s investment in the tropes and memes of Britain’s imperial project, especially in relation to Canada. The aim is to explore Pope’s mythopoeic glorification of Canadian troops in light of the non-partisan hellish vision of Owen’s warrior poet. Given that Pope’s poem establishes at the outset Canadians’ submissive loyalty to the British Empire, the article enlists Canadian combatant and non-combatant poetry to illustrate the colonial–imperial traffic of ideas informing the belligerent poetic–aesthetic turn the war provoked in Canada and Britain. The argument thus sheds new light on one of the best-known war poems, whilst bringing Pope’s long-neglected agitprop ballad out of the shadows.

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Marie-France Courriol

Looking back on the myth of the Great War: Anti-rhetoric, war culture and film in Fascist Italy

The First World War (WWI) constituted a fundamental event for the stabilisation of Fascism both as an ideology and as a regime. However, 1930s Italian cinema resisted the Fascist vision of the conflict to a certain extent. In this article, the author argues that Italian war films of the period avoided in part the Fascist myth of the Great War, while being fully inserted in the official film circuits of the time. Examining the films’ commercial imperatives and production history, the author demonstrates that the event constituted a paradoxical form of taboo in fiction cinema. Contrary to other film forms (newsreels and documentary), the industrial nature of fiction cinema and its link with international film production allowed for a relative space of freedom. Based on film analysis as well as archival material and textual sources, the article shows how this film production conflicts with the Fascist celebration of WWI. Concerned with understanding their initial reception context, it focuses in particular on the problematic nature of these films as put forward by certain observers at the time. Characterised by a lack of triumphalism and rhetoric, the cinematic representation of WWI was instead associated with extrinsic values that ran parallel to or even conflicted with the selective memory of the conflict imposed by Fascism. Despite this, these films contributed to the war culture of the regime, consequently testifying to the weakness of Fascist militant cinema, perceptible at the very heart of the image of WWI it created.

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Book reviews

Sarah Myers West

Book review: Citizen Witnessing: Revisioning Journalism in Times of Crisis

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Nicolette Barsdorf-Liebchen

Book review: Holy Bible

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