Demonization of the enemy in the military propaganda of the countries participating in the First World War

Demonization of the enemy in the military propaganda of the countries participating in the First World War

The First World War was a turning point in the development of war propaganda as a means of mobilizing public opinion. Many researchers come to the conclusion that it was during the Great War that modern methods of propaganda began, and it was then that the first attempt was made to mobilize the entire society to wage a total war. One of the key elements of propaganda was the creation of an image of the enemy [1].

On the eve of the First World War, almost each of the great powers that subsequently took part in it instilled in the population a propaganda myth about their own love of peace and about their neighbors seeking aggression. After the start of the war, the propaganda efforts of the great powers only intensified.

As historian A. Ivanov notes, at the initial stage of the war, special attention was paid to evidence of the guilt of the enemy country in starting an armed conflict, since each government sought to appear in the eyes of its people as waging a just war against a treacherous and cruel instigator who was responsible for everything her burdens and sorrows. To this end, the propaganda of the warring states pointed to the unjust, aggressive goals of the enemy and attributed exclusively noble and fair intentions to their country [2].

Thus, one of the key functions of propaganda was the demonization of the enemy or, as Harold Lasswell wrote, the mobilization of hatred towards the enemy. The question of how the participants in the First World War achieved this will be discussed in this material.

Formation of the image of the enemy in the propaganda of the powers participating in the Great War

During the First World War, for the first time in stories the propaganda apparatus began to work on such a large scale and intensively. The propaganda machine of all countries called for fighting the enemy in the name of the homeland, freedom, protection of the fatherland, civilization and humanity. The media constantly pointed to examples of the enemy’s arrogance, depravity, greed and criminality. Caricatured images of enemies were often made in the form of wild animals, barbarians, monsters, and the enemy’s belonging to the civilized cultural world was denied [2].

As American social psychologist Elliot Aronson rightly notes:

“One of the most pernicious functions of war propaganda is to make it easier for members of one nation to exterminate members of another nation through psychological impunity. War causes enormous destruction and damage, often to civilians and children. The cognition “I and my country are decent, fair and reasonable” contradicts the cognition “I and my country have harmed innocent people.” If the harm is obvious, you cannot reduce the dissonance by arguing that it was not done or was not actual violence. In such a situation, the most effective way to reduce dissonance is to minimize the humanity or exaggerate the culpability of the victim of your actions - to convince yourself that the victims deserved what they got.

In the media, the Great War almost immediately began to be interpreted not as another conflict between great powers, but as a fundamental confrontation between civilization and barbarism, good and evil. This was the beginning of the formation of the image of the enemy in propaganda [1].

Historian Elena Senyavskaya forms the concept of “enemy image” this way: these are ideas that arise in a social (mass or individual) subject about another subject, perceived as posing a threat to his interests, values ​​or very social and physical existence, and are formed on the cumulative basis of socio-historical and individual experiences, stereotypes and advocacy. The image of the enemy, as a rule, has a symbolic expression and a dynamic nature, depending on new external influences of the information type [6].

The press of the Entente countries, including Russia, widely published materials about the “eternal aggressiveness” of the Germans, their atrocities, deceit and savagery: reprisals against civilians, gross violation of the customs of war (attacks on civilian ships, the use of poisonous gases and explosive bullets, torture and bullying over prisoners, murder of sisters of mercy, etc.), deliberate destruction of architectural monuments and cultural values. “Propaganda of horrors” (real or imaginary) had a great influence on mass consciousness, causing a flurry of public indignation and a feeling of hatred towards the dehumanized enemy [2].

In general, the propaganda image of the war was guilty of deliberate simplification: the cause of the world war was not presented as a complex system of international relations and contradictions, but solely as the predatory instincts of the enemy. This made it possible not only to “explain” the nature of the war to the broad masses, but also to shift dissatisfaction for its negative consequences to the enemy who had disrupted the usual peaceful life.

British war propaganda

In the first months of the war, the warring parties realized the importance of the information war and the need to create an appropriate propaganda apparatus staffed with trained personnel to carry it out. A powerful propaganda machine began to take shape in Great Britain; none of the Entente countries could compare with London in this regard [5].

Initially, in 1914, under the auspices of the British Foreign Office, the War Propaganda Bureau was created, headed by C. Masterman. By the summer of 1915, the bureau had produced more than 2,5 million books, leaflets and official documents. Many figures of British culture collaborated with the bureau, including R. Kipling and G. Wells. Then the Office of War Propaganda was formed, which united the Ministry of Information, which carried out information wars outside the British Empire, and the National Committee for War Objectives, which was engaged in propaganda work within the Empire.

Since September 1914, the most widely circulated stories in the Entente press have been stories about German atrocities against civilians in the occupied territories of Belgium and France and against prisoners of war. This type of publication, often containing either simply falsified or highly distorted information, became one of the main weapons of Entente propaganda, aimed both at mobilizing the population within the Entente countries and influencing public opinion in neutral countries, primarily the United States [1].

Belgium in principle played a significant role in British propaganda as it was portrayed as a "victim of German aggression". The Belgian plot was aimed at attracting the attention of the general public, mainly the male population of military age, and awakening their interest in the armed conflict. The main task was to motivate the British to fight the “external threat” represented by Germany [7].

As a result of the propaganda campaign, Belgium acquired a personified "image of a woman" who was attacked by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Thus, in the satirical magazine Punch, the female image of Belgium is reflected in two caricatures - in the first, the artist depicted a woman being dragged into prison by the Kaiser; in the other, Belgium in the “image of a captive woman” was already chained by Wilhelm II. In both cases, the Kaiser personified the "evil jailer" while the "woman" was portrayed as "his captive" [7].

As British politician and writer Arthur Ponsonby noted in his book Lies in Time of War:

“Whatever the causes of the Great War, the German invasion of Belgium was certainly not one of them. This was one of the first consequences of the war. In 1887, when the threat of war between France and Germany arose, the press impartially and calmly discussed the possibility of Germany passing through Belgium to attack France.
The Standard newspaper argued that it would be madness for Great Britain to oppose the passage of German troops through Belgium, and The Spectator wrote that “Great Britain will not and cannot prevent the passage of German troops.”
We were no more sensitive to our treaty obligations in 1914 than we were in 1887. But it so happened that in 1887 we were on good terms with Germany and tense ones with France” [4].

Germany was also demonized in every possible way in France - for example, the writer Anatole France denounced not only the power of the Kaiser, but also German culture, history and even wine. The religious newspaper Croix d'Isère even declared a cleansing war, “sent to France for the sins of the Third Republic.” There was an opinion that the war would “clean the atmosphere and serve renewal and improvement.” The socialist newspaper Le Droit du people adopted the phrase “war for peace” [8].

American social psychologist Elliot Aronson has emphasized that the most striking aspect of British and American propaganda were the “atrocity stories”—reports of atrocities allegedly committed by the enemy against innocent civilians or captured soldiers. The purpose of such stories was to strengthen the resolve to fight (we cannot allow this cruel monster to win) and to convince citizens that this war is morally justified.

“For example, rumors spread that the Germans were boiling the corpses of enemy soldiers to make soap, and that they were brutalizing the citizens of occupied Belgium. A big fuss was made about the execution of an English nurse who served in Brussels and helped Allied soldiers return to the front, and in connection with the sinking by the Germans of the luxury liner Lusitania, which “accidentally” carried weapon and military supplies. Although some of these stories of atrocities contained a grain of truth, others were greatly exaggerated, and still others were pure fiction."[3]

War propaganda of the German Empire

The Entente began to use propaganda much earlier, and most importantly, more successfully (than the Germans), as one of the most effective means of waging modern warfare. After the German army violated the neutrality of Belgium, Allied military units not only began military operations on the territory of this country, they hid behind the League of Nations and pompous phrases about the liberation of Belgium. The military propaganda of the British and French consisted not only of government memoranda, but also statements of authoritative politicians. Against the background of these agitations, German jingoistic articles seemed banal and boring [8].

As a result, a vague, contradictory, and most importantly, unofficial public opinion emerged regarding why Germany was conducting military operations. Instead of unequivocal statements and declarations of the program goals of the war, the German side continuously proclaimed that, against its will, it was forced to enter the war in order to preserve its sovereignty and defend its rights. Systematic, competently managed military propaganda was aimed, as a rule, at neutral foreign countries, but not at all at its own people, in order to serve the cause of their unity [8].

During the war, German magazines were gradually filled with photographs and sketches of soldiers and weapons. Almost everything in the newspapers news replaced by military reports - rather vague. As the researchers noted:

“In Germany, newspapers only wrote about the brilliant victories of German weapons and the continuous defeats of their opponents. Judging by what was published, one could be afraid that in a very short time the Germans would be not only on the banks of the Seine, but also on the banks of the Neva” [9].

Propaganda work in the German Empire was carried out not only by posting information and disinformation in newspapers and magazines, but also with the help of cartoons, illustrations, and films, for which a special graphic department and a department of posters and films were created. Along with this, propaganda was carried out using telegrams, radio broadcasts, brochures, reports, and leaflets.

Speaking about German propaganda, Arthur Ponsonby wrote:

“Dumbing people is a necessary complement to war throughout the world. The serious mistake (of Germany - author's note) was that the situation was portrayed in rosy tones and with exaggerated optimism until the very end. The real truth about the course of events was hidden, every enemy success was downplayed, the effect of American intervention was downplayed, the state of German resources was exaggerated, so that when the final disaster came, many were taken by surprise.

Propaganda of the Russian Empire

As researchers note, in the Russian Empire the propaganda war was conducted unsystematically, chaotically, without a single controlling principle. Military newspapers were often headed by people who were not prepared for this work. The War Ministry and the General Staff issued various propaganda publications [5].

The media spread information that Germany and Austria, surrounded on all sides, would be forced to surrender in 1915 at the latest. At daily press conferences that the Main Directorate of the General Staff held from the beginning of August 1914, a specially sent General Staff officer (Colonel A. M. Mochulsky) reported on the situation at the fronts, on the state of the allied and enemy armies [11].

At first, press conferences focused more on military action, but from the end of August 1914, news about the dire economic situation of the Central Powers increased significantly. The selection of news from the enemy’s camp was also corresponding: panic on the German stock exchanges, rising food prices, rising unemployment, resumption of party struggle, dissatisfaction with the government [11].

Much attention was paid to the problems of the German and Austrian armies. Front-line correspondents spoke in detail about “parapets from the dead”, about the destruction of entire enemy divisions and corps [10]. The PTA and the General Staff supplemented these pictures with dry statistics and regularly reported that almost the entire male population of Germany and Austria-Hungary had been drafted to the front, and that children, the elderly, the crippled and the mentally ill had already begun to be drafted [11].

Constant themes were the lack of weapons, food and uniforms, the desire for peace and dreams of being captured. The reader should have seen hints of the imminent collapse of the Central Powers in literally every detail; every fact should have spoken about this - from entries in a soldier’s diary to the nervousness of the generals [11].

Discussions about the enemy's combat capability intensified during the period of the “great retreat,” which in itself refuted most of the propaganda theses.

Another element of propaganda was the popularization of exploits that were set as an example for the army. So, for example, the feat of the Cossack K.F. Kryuchkov, accomplished at the very beginning of the war, received the widest coverage in the press, was depicted on many popular prints, portraits of the Cossack hero were printed on cigarette packages, candy wrappers, etc.

As the situation at the front changed, the image of the hero also evolved. If before the spring of 1915, the most famous were heroic warriors who performed daring feats, captured many enemies or especially distinguished themselves in fierce battles with the enemy, then after the “great retreat” of the Russian army and the enemy’s occupation of part of Russian territories (i.e., in conditions when there was nothing special to brag about), propaganda began to exalt a different type of heroism: martyrdom for the homeland, courageous endurance of torture and refusal to reveal military secrets to the enemy [2].

The theme of captivity received a special place in propaganda. The warring parties, trying to prevent the capitulation of their soldiers, depicted the horrors of captivity awaiting them (which did not always take place in reality). In addition, it is important to consider that the ideas about these horrors in that era were sometimes very different from the horrors of World War II.

In this regard, the story of a Russian prisoner of war who escaped from a German camp, published for propaganda purposes and intended to demonstrate the “inhumanity” and “atrocities” of the enemy, is indicative. Talking about the horrors of captivity (“angry with stubborn resistance, the Germans beat the prisoners with rifle butts, scolded them and mocked them in every possible way”), the Russian ensign was indignant at the fact that the prisoners were poorly fed (but at the same time notes that the Germans delivered parcels to the prisoners from their relatives), and was indignant at the fact that that the sentry sells tobacco to prisoners at exorbitant prices (that is, some prisoners of war had money to buy smoke) and complains that the Germans do not pay them for their work [2].

The war, which dragged on for years, inevitably led to the fact that propaganda cliches began to conflict with data obtained from personal experience [2].


American political scientist Harold Lasswell, in his famous book “Propaganda Techniques in the World War,” written in 1927, noted:

“The psychological resistance to war in modern nations is so great that every war must look like a defensive war against an evil, bloodthirsty aggressor. There should be no ambiguity about who the public should hate. War in her eyes should not be caused by the world system of conducting international affairs, not by the stupidity or evil intent of all the ruling classes, but by the bloodthirstiness of the enemy. Guilt and innocence must be delineated geographically, and all guilt must end up on the other side of the border. In order to arouse hatred among the people, the propagandist must ensure that everything is in circulation that establishes the exclusive responsibility of the enemy” [11].

Lasswell identified four areas of propaganda: mobilizing hatred of the enemy, creating a positive image of an ally, winning the sympathy of neutral states and demoralizing the enemy.

In the first place he put precisely the mobilization of hatred towards the enemy, that is, the demonization of the enemy. This is precisely what the propaganda of most of the powers participating in the First World War focused on.

Использованная литература:
[1]. Yudin N.V. Creation of the image of the enemy in the propaganda of the Entente countries at the beginning of the First World War (August - December 1914). // News of Saratov University. Series History, International Relations. T. 12. Issue 3. Saratov: Publishing House of SSU named after N. G. Chernyshevsky,” 2012. P. 50–59.
[2]. Ivanov A. A. Communicative space of war: propaganda and public sentiment: Educational manual. – St. Petersburg, 2017.
[3]. Aronson E., Pratkanis E.R. The Age of Propaganda: Mechanisms of Persuasion, Everyday Use and Abuse. St. Petersburg: Prime-Eurosign, 2003.
[4]. Ponsonby Arthur. Falsehood in War-Time: Propaganda Lies of the First World War. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1928.
[5]. Abdrashitov E.E. Formation of the propaganda apparatus during the First World War (the experience of Russia and foreign countries) // Humanitarian and legal studies. 2015. No. 3. P. 5–9.
[6]. Senyavskaya E. S. Opponents of Russia in the wars of the 2006th century: the evolution of the “image of the enemy” in the consciousness of the army and society. M., 20. P. XNUMX.
[7]. Ulyanov, P.V. The image of Belgium as a “victim” in British propaganda during the First World War / P.V. Ulyanov // Izv. Alt. state un-ta. – Barnaul, 2019. – No. 2 (106). – pp. 75–79.
[8]. Möller van den Broek A., Vasilchenko A. The Myth of the Eternal Empire and the Third Reich. – M.: Veche, 2009.
[9]. Agapov V.L. The First World War and Printing. Part 1: the experience of England, Germany, France and European Russia // News of the Eastern Institute. 2019. No. 1 (41). pp. 6–20.
[10]. Sketches of combat life near Lodz // Russian Word. – 1914. – December 10.
[eleven]. Lasswell G.D. Propaganda techniques in the world war: translation from English. /RAN. INION. Social Center scientific information Research, Dept. Political Science, Dept. sociology and social psychology; comp. and translator V. G. Nikolaev; resp. ed. D. V. Efremenko; entry article by D. V. Efremenko, I. K. Bogomolov. – Moscow, 11.
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  1. +2
    18 September 2023 04: 28

    Mobilization in Russia. German propaganda poster

    A German imperial eagle plucks a French rooster (The rooster is the unofficial symbol of France). German propaganda poster
    1. +1
      4 November 2023 17: 49
      Quote: Luminman
      Mobilization in Russia. German propaganda poster

      The poster encourages Germans to be horrified or envious? drinks
  2. +5
    18 September 2023 04: 46
    About Russian official propaganda right in the eye, not in the eye! The main thing is not to confuse the date...
    1. +3
      18 September 2023 05: 00
      In the 1st photo: brave boys, with guns and the whole gang...
    2. 0
      18 September 2023 12: 07
      Quote: Vladimir_2U
      About Russian official propaganda right in the eye, not in the eye! The main thing is not to confuse the date...

      At least we are repeating the German one, there are also victories everywhere and no defeats.
  3. +1
    18 September 2023 04: 48
    The interesting thing is that even now nothing new has been invented. You read it as if it were modern reports and news.
  4. +3
    18 September 2023 05: 00
    I remember a novel about Schweik. There was also a propaganda pamphlet that described the feat of an Austrian soldier whose head was torn off by an explosion, but his head rolled on the ground and screamed - Glory to one and indivisible Austria, and the headless body took aim with a rifle and shot down a Russian airplane! This is a real hero! wink
    1. +1
      18 September 2023 14: 22
      Quote: Luminman
      There was also a propaganda brochure that described the feat of an Austrian soldier, whose head was torn off by an explosion, but the head rolled on the ground and shouted - Glory to one and indivisible Austria, and the headless body took aim with a rifle and shot down a Russian airplane! This is a real hero!
      These were the fantasies of the wave-determining Marek. Even for official propaganda this would be too much laughing hi
      1. +1
        18 September 2023 17: 43
        Quote: Stirbjorn
        These were the fantasies of the wave-determining Marek

        It is clear that this is fiction, but it is still interesting to read! And then laugh... wink
  5. +4
    18 September 2023 05: 28
    Now, little has changed since then in the field of propaganda. The same pears, only sideways.
  6. +2
    18 September 2023 06: 06
    Very good stuff, Victor. And it's good that you used Ponsoinby. This is a classic of the genre, from this book all later politicians learned the art of fooling the masses.
  7. +3
    18 September 2023 07: 58
    Dear Author!
    Maybe the Crimean War should have started?
    In the cartoons of that time there are Russian bears mobilized into the army and a Russian double-headed eagle plucked by French infantry!
    Europeans, and especially the British, were no strangers to depicting and seeing their opponents in the form of animals, wild barbarians or monsters!!!
    1. 0
      18 September 2023 09: 15
      Quote: hohol95
      Maybe the Crimean War should have started?

      Then we need to start with the Egyptian pyramids, Assyrian tablets and the Bible, there are a lot of examples where enemies were demonized before, during and after the conflict.
      Although you can probably get to Cain, when his brain provoked him to kill.
      Or more correctly, before the Edenic expulsion, when the tempting serpent told Adam this!!! ... well, you know.
      It turns out that propaganda is even more ancient than the oldest profession, and accordingly even “cooler”.
  8. +1
    18 September 2023 08: 26
    The books:

    Your cards are good, Rasputin, but those of the [German] General Staff are better

    PS: Any fact comparable to this description could only be fortuitous.
    1. +3
      18 September 2023 08: 32
      I can't scan the whole book but you need to know the history of the Kadaver factory: The English services had accused the Germans of burning the corpses of their soldiers in the blast furnaces and making tallow and soap from them. ....Generally speaking, the Allies emerged victorious from this pencil war.
      1. +5
        18 September 2023 08: 41
        Quote from: zorglub bulgroz
        The English services had accused the Germans of burning the corpses of their soldiers in the blast furnaces and making tallow and soap from them

        Even German soldiers in Belgium took babies away from their mothers and, in front of their eyes, took the babies by the legs and smashed their heads against the wall. I saw this British poster, but now I can’t find it...
        1. +1
          18 September 2023 08: 48
          I heard this story...a French conscript during the Algerian War tested to the inhumanity of that war: He did it!
          t is propaganda, secular and religious, that causes inhumanity during wars.
          I have seen engravings concerning the Thirty Years' War (religious) showing the well-stocked hanging trees

          1. Fat
            18 September 2023 18: 08
            You are being led to the author's position. And she is initially flawed.
            A poster is not propaganda! This is Agitation.
            I don’t care what horrors you saw in the engravings, but you don’t have a single sign to confirm the authenticity...
  9. +5
    18 September 2023 10: 03
    Yes, actually, nothing new. Napoleon during the Patriotic War of 1812 was presented as the Antichrist..
  10. +2
    18 September 2023 11: 42
    The PTA and the General Staff supplemented these pictures with dry statistics and regularly reported that almost the entire male population of Germany and Austria-Hungary had been drafted to the front, and that children, the elderly, the disabled and the mentally ill had already begun to be drafted.
    No, but why invent something new? Goebbels' notes... Ugh! The traditions of fooling the electorate are not only centuries-old - they are millennia-old!
  11. +1
    18 September 2023 12: 35
    Somehow all this is familiar.
    You remember our media before and after the 24th, and you see all these techniques....
    and even the propaganda moves of the Germans from books about intelligence officers in the Second World War - “Saturn is almost invisible”, “Shield and Sword” ....
  12. -4
    18 September 2023 12: 38
    This was the rise of a humanitarian idea, the swan song of those who would later be called political strategists))
    A rise, followed by a fall, which the instantly emerging propaganda industry chose not to notice)
    The fact is that this was the first and last big war, during the beginning and middle of which people believed the authorities and the official media. This moment in history has never been repeated. Never. Yes, people have a lot of wrong opinions, which is due to their upbringing, education, skills and desires in working with information.
    But there are NO LONGER people who believe government propaganda! It's been gone for a long time! Many decades! Whether popular opinion is true or not, official propaganda has nothing to do with this. Yes, huge masses of people, especially older generations, tell you exactly what the official mouthpieces tell you.
    But make no mistake, they are not saying all this because they mean it. It’s just that they understand much better than you exactly how the repressive organs of the state work when the pressure is on.
    I understand the jubilant humanitarians, who were previously kicked into the war in the front row, seeing no use from them in the rear, and now they can grab fat places and reservations for themselves. Which, in fact, explains the flood of materials extolling propaganda as some kind of superweapon. But actually... ))
  13. Fat
    18 September 2023 13: 26
    Thank you, Victor. It was very educational. Excellent selection!
    But no matter how posters and slogans are demonstrated, to “propaganda” itself, this has a somewhat indirect meaning... Posters and biting slogans are direct propaganda (it is forbidden to highlight it in font) You know this
    Let's say I just don't like this small manipulation...
    But I consider it unacceptable to confuse the two stages of manipulating public opinion into one pile. “Propagandist and agitator”, you may find it for the required period... In the archive! This is unlikely online. But in the basements of the CPSU committees there is a presence, if everyone was not allowed into the kindling
  14. +1
    19 September 2023 12: 03
    English anti-German propaganda during that war was the best! There are many references to specific facts of German war crimes (reliable or not is another question). Maybe, indeed, Kipling and Wells the science fiction writer tried their best...
    The rest of the warring countries' propaganda consists mainly of nasty caricatures of their enemies' faces, portraying them as idiots and cowards.

    The arrogant Saxons portrayed their enemies like this:

    Knowing the Krauts, it seems convincing.

    Americans have their own way, sign up to serve in the US Navy - there are a lot of bad women there...
    1. +1
      19 September 2023 21: 07
      Quote: Timofey Charuta
      English anti-German propaganda during that war was the best! There are many references to specific facts of German war crimes (reliable or not is another question).

      The arrogant Saxons portrayed their enemies like this:

      Knowing the Krauts, it seems convincing.
      The idea behind this poster comes from the suppression of the Sikh uprising in India. 1872g - execution "Devil's Wind"
      Here is a painting by V. Vereshchagin from 1884, “Execution from Cannons in British India.”
      The film is based on the real events of British war crimes in India.
  15. 0
    19 September 2023 22: 15
    The Austrian was on his way to the Radzivils
    Yes, I fell into a woman's pitchfork.

    Words V. Mayakovsky. Picture K. Malevich.
    Eh, Sultan, I would sit in Porto
    Don't damage the snout with a fight.

    Words by V. Mayakovsky. Image by K. Malevich.
    Franz listened to Wilhelm
    And Wilhelm, he let me down, he’s a scoundrel.
    Lo and behold, the bear is right there!
    And buddies are kaput!!
    "The Great European War".
    For the Russian Empire - Second Patriotic War.