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Formed in 1917, the Committee on Public Information (the Creel Committee) is often cited as ushering the dawn of modern wartime propaganda. World War I was the first conflict sold to the American public using the techniques of the modern public relations campaign. The Creel Committee, the central hub of official wartime communications, saturated all media simultaneously with a consistent narrative designed to rally the public. While this general historical point is often repeated, the specifics of the message set in motion by the Creel Committee is less frequently visited. Celia Malone Kingsbury takes up this task in her book For Home and Country: World War I Propaganda on the Home Front. While her stated focus is the media campaigns of all the major belligerent nations, Kingsbury primarily documents wartime messages packaged for American consumption during WWI (and secondarily, those in Britain). Her real goal—and scholarly contribution—is to highlight the centrality of women, children, and the family in the propaganda of "the Great War." As she writes, "Women, and by extension children, play an essential role in propaganda as subjects and as targets" (9). She traces her theme in a truly interdisciplinary fashion, reminding readers that wartime jingoism did not solely flow from the state; rather, a massive civil society effort emerged, encompassing all facets of popular culture, which took on a life of its own. She traces wartime deployments of [End Page 807] domesticity through popular literature, state-commissioned posters, sheet music, cookbooks, children's stories, as well as through un-mined artifacts of material culture such as cigarette cards and toys.
Home and Country turns back the clock to a time before World War I was associated with disenchantment, and more importantly, before literary modernists like Ernest Hemingway set the tone for all subsequent war literature as a genre of disillusionment, trauma, and alienation (as Philip Beidler argued in his book The Good War's Greatest Hits: World War II and American Remembering, even writers of the WWII generation who supported the war framed their experiences in the Hemingway mode). Chapter 1, on the role of "domestic science" in mobilizing Americans for war, is the strongest chapter. Kingsbury nicely shows how Herbert Hoover, then director of the United States Food Administration, used the emergent field of domestic science as part of a national campaign to mobilize women for war. Through food conservation programs and the promotion of recipes deemed to be in the national interest (that avoided scarce resources like wheat and encouraged the use of unexportable foods like potatoes), women at home were enlisted as "culinary soldiers" (35). In showing how a specific narrative of the war was institutionally mobilized in concrete and historically precise ways, this chapter does what good cultural studies scholarship should.
The book's survey of popular literature in chapters 2 and 3—culled mostly from serial novels and from magazine fiction in periodicals such as Ladies Home Journal, McClure's Magazine, and The Metropolitan—holds much interest. These chapters survey popular British and American wartime fiction, mostly stories by or about women. These chapters traverse the proto-Nancy Drew heroines of the Ruth Fielding and Martha Trent series. They cover forgotten works by authors such as Porter Emerson Browne, Dana Gatlin, and Lechmere Worrall, but also hit on the writings of more familiar figures like Willa Cather, Theodore Roosevelt, and Edna Ferber. What emerges from these chapters is that popular women writers used the war as an opportunity to create strong female characters that pushed the boundaries of their assigned roles, yet did so in the service of patriarchal, violent nation-states that they did not explicitly question. Perhaps the most disturbing revelations come in chapter 4, where Kingsbury surveys youth literature, posters, advertisements, sheet music, and toys to show how children were symbolically conscripted into the war effort. And finally, chapter 5 covers some more familiar names, like author Rudyard Kipling and filmmakers D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. De Mille, to convincingly illustrate how the protection of women and...