UIS prof traces modern war propaganda to World War I
Even the casual observer knows that wars we fight now come with ready-made PR themes. But they may not realize Operation Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom have tapped roots of advertising propaganda nearly a century old. World War I posters (many can be seen at www.firstworldwar.com) were designed to persuade America to enter a conflict many felt did not concern us. Their not-so-subtle message, that we were going "over there" to defend what was precious to us over here, is one of the themes explored in At Home, At War: Domesticity and World War I in American Literature, a new book of literary criticism by UIS Professor Jennifer Haytock.
Haytock examines two kinds of fiction, the domestic novel and the war novel. The former, often categorized as books by and for women, were devalued over time, labeled as "sentimental" or "patriotic potboilers." Haytock mines works by Temple Bailey, Ellen Glasgow, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, John Dos Passos, Thomas Boyd, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty. What she unearths is both illuminating and disturbing. Her close reading reveals that the idea of home, and the domestic rituals that were practiced inside it, contributed to the creation of war propaganda. Home and all that the term implied colored the soldier's experience of war. Haytock, refusing to accept the implicit superiority of one category of novel over the other, steps back and takes a different view. In doing so, she sees what these novels share, and how their similarities strengthen them both. This is feminist criticism with a twist. Haytock covers new ground when she rejects the separation of writing by men and women, in this particular case, their writing about war.
Haytock first looks at the ideologies of domesticity and war, how certain novels equate the home front and the front line. The sacrifices women make at home such as dealing with food shortages are compared with the deprivations and loss of life suffered by the soldier. The situations and characters in these novels pose disturbing questions. How can women remain outside the violence while it is implied that they are part of the fighting force? What distinguishes the public and the private realm? If home creates civilization and war destroys it, why are women at home fueling the propaganda machine?
World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Jennifer Haytock and the authors she considers give us a better understanding of why it was not. l
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