Authorities: Generals, censors, government ministers

This hook presents two official posters that aim to persuade citizens to agree with the government’s position regarding the war.

British patriotic and recruitment poster, 1916, depicting the Union Jack.(external link)

British patriotic and recruitment poster, 1916, depicting the Union Jack, national flag of the United Kingdom. Australian War Memorial. (Public domain). bit.ly/1HPr7Sy

New Zealand Government recruiting poster, Auckland War Memorial Museum.(external link)

New Zealand Government recruiting poster, Auckland War Memorial Museum. bit.ly/1HH6ACZ

Context

The official voice of government ministers and generals about the First World War is well documented in newspapers, posters, letters, and speeches. This official voice expresses a clearly understandable set of views about the rationale and consequences of New Zealand’s involvement. The posters above use images and words to persuade New Zealand and British citizens of the merit of the authorities’ views.

The War Regulations Act, passed in New Zealand in 1914, imposed a set of rules and regulations concerning wartime matters. The Act included controlling the way other viewpoints were transmitted by banning or censoring publications “likely to interfere with the recruiting, training, discipline, or administration of HM’s forces in NZ or abroad [or] injurious to the public interest in respect of the present war.” (www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/index-wartime-laws-and-regulations-1914-21(external link)). These regulations meant that the official voices dominated while others were silenced.

Possible discussion questions

  • What was the purpose of these posters? What values or perspectives do they show? Do you think the posters express biased or impartial views? Why do you think this?
  • How does the wording chosen for these posters help to communicate the official perspective? How do you think the official perspective (and the wording used to express it) would differ if government posters were published for a current war?
  • How easy might it have been for people to check the accuracy of what the government told them during the First World War? How easy is it today? How can people today do this?
  • How can you know what is true about the First World War? How do you decide which voice is telling the truth?
  • How has technology changed the way truths are told about war?
  • In what ways do the “authorities” try to influence your thoughts, views, beliefs, and actions today?
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