Convinced to die

“Words like ‘watershed’ or ‘turning point’ are easy to deploy but hard to justify—except in the case of World War I. Like few other episodes—the fall of Rome, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution—it really did leave a different world in its wake. The technology of mass destruction was perhaps the most obvious respect. Barbed wire, trench warfare, the machine gun, the tank, poison gas, artillery barrages, and aerial bombardment all meant that war would no longer evoke enthusiastic reactions like that of one characteristically brainless young aristocrat in the first weeks of the war: ‘It is all the best fun. I have never felt so well, or so happy, or enjoyed anything so much.’ Such upper-class twits were killed off even more rapidly than the plowboys and factory workers who followed them into the maw of the new industrial killing machines. War would no longer be noble sport; it was professionalized. And so, more subtly but no less fatefully, was government. The technology of mass persuasion (otherwise known as propaganda or indoctrination) was first introduced not by the totalitarian regimes of the interwar period but by the democracies during World War I. As John Buchan, the British Empire’s tireless propagandist-in-chief, put it: ‘So far as Britain is concerned, the war could not have been fought for one month without its newspapers.’ The same was true of Germany and France. The first total war imposed unprecedented burdens on the population and therefore required unprecedented lying and coercion on the part of governments to preempt or suppress dissent. They rose to this challenge brilliantly, cajoling newspaper owners, cultivating friendly journalists, subsidizing ‘patriotic’ writers, speakers, and film-makers, prohibiting or sabotaging antiwar meetings and publications, and harassing or, when necessary, imprisoning critics. Government was no longer largely a hobby for the more earnest, non-fox-hunting members of the aristocracy. It became public administration, one of the social sciences.” – George Scialabba, “To End All Wars” (emphasis in original)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.