Home Front: A Culture of War

Patriotism and honor spurred the rise of War Fever during the First World War. Men signed up to fight and women proudly waved them good luck and goodbye. Yet as the war dragged on, War Fever waned. It was replaced by a culture of war which may not have eliminated the need for conscription but did place a stigma upon those who did not support the nation’s efforts to defeat the enemy. Censorship and propaganda aided in the development of a culture focused on patriotic valor, sacrifice, and mourning.

Governments felt a strong need to censor bad news. It took President Wilson less than a month after the declaration of war to create the Committee on Public Information (CPI) which was tasked with the censorship of telegraphs and radio stations. The CPI was not only tasked with restricting the negative news from reaching the public, but it was also tasked with promoting a war that seemed to have little direct impact on the United States as a whole. The United States was not alone in its need for the promotion of war when direct threat did not seem imminent. Great Britain had faced such a conundrum as well. Politicians and military leaders may have been convinced of the dangers the enemy posed to national interest and defense, but the common public had to be convinced. The United States faced an even greater challenge in convincing the public than the British had faced. Proximity to the enemy was not an arguable justification for the United States to go to war. Additionally, evidence of sabotage and espionage did not generate the kind of call to war that invasion and occupation did for nations like France. Propaganda needed to rely on inspiring the nation to develop a culture of war; not one based on immediate threat, but based upon the defense of ideology – the defense of liberty and democratic principles.

Fighting a war based upon the belief that the enemy did not seek territory but sought to destroy the virtuous fiber of the nation was accomplished by the demonizing of the enemy. In every war, demons would emerge, but it was not enough to demonize an individual or a military unit, the enemy’s society, as a whole, needed to be shown as demons seeking to exterminate all that a nation held dear. Over time, propaganda would help the public develop a hatred for an enemy who seemed to loath the virtues of liberty, freedom, and human dignity. In the name of these virtues, the home front embraced a culture of war even as they mourned the costs of war.

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