Hamline News

April 27, 2012

War Propaganda and the Soldier's Duty: Exploring the Evolving World War One Mentality of Sassoon and Graves Through Their Writing

Michael Bearmon, Advisor: David Hudson

It is no exaggeration to say that British political thought during World War I was greatly influenced by propaganda. Under its sway, millions of men joined the army and marched off to fight for the glory of Britain. Two such individuals, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, famously wrote of their experiences. Their continuously evolving opinions about the war make them a worthy target for analysis of the influence of propaganda on the individual soldier. To this end, this essay will trace the impact of propaganda on Sassoon's and Graves’ consciousness through three points. These are the manner in which both men joined the service, their respective rejections of the war and the mentality behind it, and finally, the moment when they concede to the inevitability of having to fight, and thus resolve to see the war through to the end. These issues are explored using specific writings from both authors pertaining to their experiences, particularly Graves’ Good-bye To All That and Sassoon’s The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston. The production and consumption of British war propaganda is explored with the help of Buitenhuis’ The Great War of Words, and linked with selections from Jacques Ellul’s study of propaganda theory, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. Through careful textual analysis, this essay advances the idea that even as Sassoon and Graves rebelled against World War I propaganda and rejected the psyche of the war, they were still embroiled in it, were motivated by it, and were unsuccessful in escaping its grasp, even to the end of the war.