A Pile of Donated Christmas Presents Destined for US Troops
This photo from 1917 shows a “Christmas Box Hospital” where boxes containing gifts for U.S. troops donated by the general public were repaired before being shipped to the front line troops. Here we see a pile of boxes containing Christmas gifts awaiting inspection and repair. Statistics from the United States Committee on Public Information indicates that about 11,000 boxes arrived in poor condition and needed to be repaired.
Collection drives for necessities and luxury items for the soldiers were important propaganda tools, helping to maintain the morale of the troops and also create a sense of solidarity between the soldiers and civilians on the homefront.
A 1917 German propaganda poster depicting Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg. Below is a quote from Hindenberg in which he assures the German people that the Rhine river will never be crossed by the enemy as long as the Army and the Navy work together. The title of the poster reads: On His 70th birthday.
In fact, the Rhine was not crossed by the Allies during World War 1 until after the German surrender. Despite its defeat, all fighting took place outside the national territory of Germany. However by the time of the German armistice Germany’s ability to carry on the war effort was at an end, and collapse was imminent. The Allies were preparing for a final, deep penetration into the heart of Germany and the German armed forces could offer little resistance. However the fact that Germany surrendered while its armies were still on French soil led to the myth, later exploited by Hitler, that Germany had been betrayed and could have fought on.
Marchers in a Preparedness Parade, 1916
America was initially neutral at the outset of World War 1. Even while the war raged in Europe, President Wilson actually tried to reduce the military budget as he had no intention of being dragged into the conflict.
However popular war mongers such as former President Theodore Roosevelt and various industrial and military elites argued that the United States should join the war and that it needed to be better prepared militarily. They advocated vastly increased military spending as well as a program of conscription and training of an officer corps.
In order to whip up public support for war, Roosevelt and his war loving associates organized the Preparedness Movement, which among other things held parades through out the country to raise public awareness and support. After all, every one loves a parade, and sending your sons and fathers to die on a foreign battlefield is so much easier to swallow when it is dressed up with flags and jolly marching music.
Unfortunate events such as the German sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania increased the public’s demand for war, and the Preparedeness Movement grew. President Wilson was eventually forced to agree to some of their demands and gear the country up for war, which eventually came for the United States, in 1917.
Closeup of the Marchers at the Head of the Parade
There are basically two ways of winning a war: crushing (i.e. killing) the enemy militarily or breaking his will to fight to so that he gives up and goes home. Sometimes the two go hand in hand: military defeats tend to demoralize troops and make them less willing to continue fighting and face more defeat and risk of death. But in order for the enemy to give up the fight, they must believe that surrender is better than fighting. If they believe that they will be tortured or executed if captured, even demoralized men will fight to the death. Propagandists on both sides understood this simple equation, and worked hard to convince the other side that that they should give up.
Here is an interesting propaganda leaflet dropped by the allies from airplanes over Bulgarian forces during World War 1. The leaflet consists of an idyllic picture of Bulgarian prisoners of war enjoying warm food and easy circumstances at the hands of their allied captors, and there is also a letter describing how the allies treat their Bulgarian prisoners. The idea was to convince the Bulgarians to give up and escape the horrors of war for the relative comfort of a prisoner of war camp run by the humane Brits and French.
World War 1 Propaganda
In fact the allied powers were not known for their gentle treatment of POWs. The Russians transported their Austrian and German POWs to Siberian prison camps where many died from disease and malnutrition, brought on by shortages affecting the disintegrating Russian Empire, which made feeding prisoners of war difficult and certainly not a high priority. The French and Germans used prisoners of war for forced labour, even using them to work in active military zones where they faced death at the hand of “friendly” fire from their former comrades.