Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Combat as Imagined in U.S. Recruiting Posters (First Anniversary Posting)

Our First Anniversary Posting

Celebrating 365 Consecutive Days of Presenting at Least One New Article to Our Loyal Readers

Last Sunday, I spent a couple of hours looking over the Library of Congress collection of American posters from World War I. I was struck by the standardized motif in recruiting posters for showing the type of combat the new soldier could expect when he got to France. Naturally such posters wouldn't want to be too realistic, but the uniformity of the depictions is what struck me:  mass, densely packed charges behind waving flags with no incoming fire from the enemy — an irresistible, and, apparently, unopposed force. One poor German soldier showed up (2nd image from bottom), but he appears to be totally defenseless, a lamb awaiting his slaughter. Note also that the top and bottom are the same composition, but in two-tone and full-color versions.

Only one poster in the collection really captured the essential bottom line of combat. It was produced for fund raising rather than for recruiting men to the ranks. Here it is without comment.


  1. Interestingly I spent much of the past week at the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Spotsylvania. That battle involved significant earthworks and close combat that was a precursor to the type of fighting that often occurred in WWI. These posters for the most part played on the hoped for enthusiasm and emotions of people who did not know or forgot the realities of the Civil War in Virginia during 1864-65. Of course with heavier and more rapid fire weaponry, WWI was even worse. How quickly people forget the truth of war.

  2. Congrats on your one year anniversary! Keep it up!