WAR OF WORDS

How pro­pa­ganda was used to sway pub­lic opin­ion.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - –– Brooke Camp­bell

Pro­pa­ganda posters were a key tool used by the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment to sell the war to the pub­lic. And when vol­un­teer en­list­ments waned, the gov­ern­ment em­ployed shame tac­tics to force men to “do their bit.”

“Send more men.” “Back him up.” “This is your flag. Fight for it.”

Over a cen­tury ago, posters with these mes­sages plas­tered the streets of Cana­dian towns and cities, ral­ly­ing sup­port for the war ef­fort.

Dur­ing the First World War, pro­pa­ganda was an ef­fec­tive tool to in­spire, in­form, and per­suade the pub­lic. Cana­dian posters were mostly text-based with sim­ple im­ages. They pro­vided clear and di­rect mes­sages, whether it be to pur­chase vic­tory bonds, ra­tion food, or join your lo­cal bat­tal­ion.

For the first two years of the war, the Cana­dian mil­i­tary con­sisted en­tirely of vol­un­teers. Evok­ing feel­ings of pride and hon­our, pro­pa­ganda posters en­cour­aged young men to en­list, sug­gest­ing that it was their duty to do so. Some posters cited spe­cific bat­tles where Cana­di­ans were rec­og­nized for their brav­ery, such as St. Julien (Ypres) and Fes­tu­bert, as a way of boost­ing morale. Since re­cruit­ment was car­ried out lo­cally, pro­pa­ganda was of­ten per­son­al­ized. Posters tar­geted spe­cific groups, such as French Cana­di­ans and Ir­ish Cana­di­ans, by in­clud­ing rec­og­niz­able im­agery, ref­er­ences, and slo­gans.

As the war dragged on, en­list­ment waned. Pro­pa­ganda posters be­came in­creas­ingly im­por­tant to try to fill this gap. Ear­lier in the war, posters were more en­thu­si­as­tic in tone. Now they dis­played a sense of ur­gency. Fea­tur­ing im­ages of ex­plod­ing shells, trenches, and wounded sol­diers, it was clear that the sit­u­a­tion was grave.

Pro­pa­ganda also be­came more ag­gres­sive. Po­lit­i­cal car­toons, posters, and edi­to­ri­als ques­tioned men’s loy­alty and mas­culin­ity. Those who re­fused to vol­un­teer were la­belled shirk­ers and de­scribed as cow­ards and weak. Pro­pa­ganda posters also urged women to use their in­flu­ence to sway men into en­list­ing. Some women even handed out white feath­ers, a sym­bol of cow­ardice, to shame men into ser­vice.

De­spite the mas­sive pro­pa­ganda ef­fort, by 1917, the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment was forced to en­act con­scrip­tion to fill the ranks.

Clock­wise from above: A poster asks men to en­list out of a sense of friend­ship with those who are al­ready serv­ing. A French-lan­guage poster urges French Cana­di­ans to buy vic­tory bonds. A poster sug­gests ra­tioning meat. A poster urges par­ents to in­vest in Vic­tory Bonds. A Navy re­cruit­ing poster.

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