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Munitions of the Mind Posts

Serial Propaganda: Replicating the Trope of ‘Barbarous’ Germans in British Boys’ Story Papers during the First World War

Written by Thomas Stephens.

British boys’ authors writing during the First World War embraced the conflict as a new arena for their fictional heroes. Stories about the war were at a premium from 1914 onwards, and many authors also took the opportunity to use their publications to mobilise youth to help in the war effort. Those writing about the war for boys got information about the conflict using information from a combination of newspapers, official propaganda, personal knowledge, rumour, and imagination. In 1914 and 1915, a flood of stories focusing on the conflict appeared in boys’ literature. But by 1916, many story papers such as the Boys’ Own Paper, Magnet, and Boys’ Friend returned to primarily running humorous public-school stories or colonial adventures. These topics gave readers an escape from the sombre matter of industrialised warfare. Wartime inflation and loss of staff also made returning to easily reprintable stories a sensible idea. Many novels and some adventure serials, like Chums, continued to feature narratives about the front throughout the conflict.

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Imperialists Like Us: British Pamphlet Propaganda to the USA in the Great War

Written by Rebecca Berens Matzke.

In the Great War, the British government modernised and systematised propaganda for the first time. From the beginning in 1914, it aimed not only at domestic and enemy audiences, but also at the most powerful neutral country: the United States. The Propaganda Bureau, operating secretly from Wellington House, recruited popular British authors to write or compile persuasive information in pamphlets. Their provenance disguised, these pamphlets were then mailed directly to thousands of ‘opinion makers’ in the USA—professionals, political and church leaders, academics, and journalists. They aimed to influence American public opinion toward preserving the nation’s benevolent neutrality and later to recruit the USA to Britain’s cause.

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Heligoland, Propaganda and the Anglo-German Relationship

Written by Jan Rüger.

What role did Heligoland, Britain’s smallest colony for much of the nineteenth century and a German naval stronghold in two world wars, play in Nazi propaganda? The island outpost, 50 miles off the North German coast, signalled Germany’s determination to turn past defeat into future victory, but it left open the question what sort of a war the Nazis were preparing for. Behind the bold front, Hitler’s attitude towards Britain remained ambivalent. He was keen to keep Britain at least initially out of a war in which he anticipated Germany would suppress Western Europe and conquer much of Eastern Europe. His belief in the possibility of an Anglo-German accommodation was premised on ideological and strategic assumptions about Britain and Germany which were shared not only amongst the Nazi leadership: ideas about cultural and racial affinities; fantasies about the division of the world between a land-based Nazi empire and a sea-based British empire. The Anglo-German naval agreement, signed by Joachim von Ribbentrop and Sir Samuel Hoare on 18 June 1935, was welcomed by Hitler as an important step in that direction. This was little more than an arms limitation treaty, establishing that the German navy would not expand beyond 35 per cent of the Royal Navy’s tonnage. Still, the agreement was hailed in the German press as putting to rest the historic rivalry between the two nations. According to Ribbentrop, Hitler called the 18th of June ‘the happiest day of his life’.

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Great Britain’s Danger: The Navalist Propaganda Campaign of 1888

Captain Lord Charles Beresford speaking in the Commons in 1888 (Memoirs, 1914, Volume II, p. 160)

Written by Peter Keeling.

On 10 May 1888 a notice headed ‘STRICTLY NON-POLITICAL – GREAT BRITAIN’S DANGER’ appeared in The Times. Placed there by a group of naval officers and city businessmen led by Captain Lord Charles Beresford and Admiral Sir Geoffrey Phipps Hornby, it asked ‘Englishmen of all classes and politics’ to consider the truth of the following statements:

The Naval and coast defences are quite inadequate to the absolute requirements of the nation.

The country is to-day unprepared for war, and would risk a serious reverse were such to occur.

Our commerce would be at the mercy of an enemy in the present weak state of the Navy.

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Across the Pyrenees: Medical Care of the Defeated in French and Spanish Concentration Camps and Prisons following the Spanish Civil War

Written by J. Sebastian Browne.

On 26 January 1939, the Catalan capital of Barcelona fell to the advancing troops of General Franco. The occupation of Barcelona was the last major battle of the Spanish Civil War, with the Republic forced into unconditional surrender two months later. The Insurgent offensive against the Republican Army in Catalunya begun on 23 December 1938 prompted the beginning of an exodus that was to result in the flight of 470,000 refugees into France, with the greatest number crossing the frontier in the two weeks that preceded Franco’s closure of the border on 10 February 1939. Republican forces in fact fought a well-organised retreat and much of the army of the Levant passed over into France where it was disarmed and its soldiers incarcerated in concentration camps, with initially little or no shelter or sanitary facilities and treated as prisoners of war.

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Spanish Civil Wars in Comparison: 1833-1840 and 1936-1939

Written by Mark Lawrence. Few wars have captured the imagination as much as the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). A conflict which legend has cast as an epic struggle between right and wrong was actually a complex series of conflicts pitting Republicans against Monarchists, the periphery against the centre, Catholics against anti-clericals, modernists against landowners, farmers against workers, and towns against villages. Above all, the Spanish Civil War was internationalised. Indeed, many historians go further, arguing…

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Medicine in Exile after the Spanish Civil War: A Clinical Trial in a French Concentration Camp, 1939-1940


Auscultation of an internee at the Bram Concentration Camp (Aude, France, 1939).
Image courtesy of: ESPAÑA. MINISTERIO DE EDUCACIÓN, CULTURA Y DEPORTE, Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica. Archivo Centelles. Foto.9380

Written by Àlvar Martínez-Vidal and Xavier García-Ferrandis.

In concentration camps organised in France to intern refugees who had fled Spain at the end of the Civil War (February 1939), a number of clinical trials were performed by Catalan doctors in order to provide health assistance to their compatriots in the most rational way possible.

This short paper focuses on one of these human experiments, which combined health care, clinical supervision and scientific research. It was not the only clinical trial of this kind performed in such strange circumstances, but it was the most significant.

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Considering Intangible Propaganda

Written by Edward Corse. The study of propaganda is usually about the study of tangible objects and the message those objects are trying to convey to the intended audience. Films can be viewed, radio broadcasts can be listened to, and leaflets and newspapers can be read – multiple times if necessary – many years after they were originally deployed. Whilst the messages contained within the propaganda may take time to understand and interpret, there is…

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Close to the Enemy, Close to the Truth?

Written by Charlie Hall.   Close to the Enemy is a seven-part British TV drama series, penned by screenwriter Stephen Poliakoff (Dancing on the Edge, Capturing Mary), which aired on BBC2 throughout November and December 2016 (fear not, this is a spoiler-free article!). Set in Britain directly after the Second World War, Close to the Enemy explores many themes which were relevant to post-war British society, including the mental health struggles of returning servicemen, the…

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