Poster Children

 

Image result for world war 1 posterswww.library.louisville.edu

President Wilson’s Committee on Public Information for promoting America’s role in World War 1 was headed by George Kreel, a Missouri newspaperman, who directed its 37 different divisions.  One of these, “Pictoral Publicity,” produced more than 1,000 designs for posters, cartoons and sculptures that are left for us to ponder a century later.

Image result for world war 1 posters with children

www.ethanlewis.org

A wide variety of artists worked on the posters, many of which are stunning examples of Art Nouveau.  Hues of varying shade and intensity jump from the paper, advertising the draft, bond drives, rationing and victory gardens.

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http://www.ww1propaganda.com

There are so many, I chose to look at some with children as their subjects.  The colors used here are soft and happy.  Messages are lighter than the rest: help Uncle Sam (whose image was just making its debut) win, ask your daddy to buy war bonds, or help our daddy “over there” by doing the same.

Image result for world war 1 posters with children

http://www.learnnc.org

What can we learn from this artwork, emphemera of history?  Certainly the design of these and more stark examples can be studied and even admired.  But the real lesson is in their intent.  Americans must do their duty.  Americans must help.  War is necessary for the good of all.

http://www.rareposter.com

By using childish images to persuade adults, and making appeals to the youngest of audiences, did Creel cross the line?

The children of 1917 are gone.  Their children are almost gone.  The number and kinds of media which target today’s kids have exploded.  It takes even more care now to protect young minds from things on which adults have trouble making up their own.

A grave task it is, educating others about the ploys of mass media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Summer Before the War

Polished reviews I saw online for The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson’s second novel (Random House 2016), did not wholly mesh with what I was thinking when I put it down.  If I had based my decision to read the hefty 450+ page work of historical fiction about 1914 England on what they said, I may have opened it later than sooner.  It’s a good thing my sister gave me a hardback copy for my birthday.

Image result for the summer before the war

The war is World War I, of course, then known as The Great War.  A young Latin teacher named Beatrice Nash leaves the clutches of her extended family to take a job in the small town of Rye in East Sussex.  Because an aunt controls the trust left by her father, it has been next to impossible for the 23 year-old unmarried woman to live on her own.

Beatrice does break away, riding by rail to Rye.  She is up against human walls on several sides: the mayor (and his farcical wife), the landlady, the town gossips, and the barrister who would take a percentage of her small income for himself.  But her savior is Agatha Kent, a middle-aged woman who had pushed for her hiring.

Another protagonist of the story is Agatha’s nephew, Hugh, a young doctor; among several antagonists is a nobleman who blames the death of his son on Agatha’s other nephew, poet Daniel.

I suppose it was to engage more readers that reviewers of The Summer Before the War invoked the memory of small and large screens for comparison: Downton Abbey (at least three) and Star Wars (!) (one).  This is an injustice to the printed page.  Readers do not need wardrobe departments or special effects men to make them want to know about the world of the past.  They count on authors like Simonson to draw them to it.

We do agree that Simonson’s exquisitely orchestrated word pictures equal those in her first book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, also set in her homeland but in modern times (She now lives in Manhattan).  “The Wheaton’s garden could not be anything but a felicitous scene: the emerald of the lawn, the rightly pitched white marquee heads of summer flowers, nodding above the ladies’ linen and cotton dresses.  The uniformed servants, a small navy, ferried trays of sandwiches and buckets of ice across a green sea…”

http://www.helensimonson.com

Most social remarks made by the critics about this book touched on discrimination of women of the time and a public oblivious to the horrors of modern warfare just ahead.  “‘I avoid the papers altogether,’ said Daniel.  ‘I’m pretty sure wars would be shorter if we weren’t eager to read about them.'”

But nobody mentions the father/daughter relationships key to the plot.  Poignant but pathetic, it was/is often the way love is shown.  I can’t understand it, having had a pretty fair-minded dad, but I know it exists.  Beatrice’s father thought the best way to help her was by leaving older family members to control her inheritance, even though she capably took care of him in his last years.  A Belgian refugee professor treats his young daughter with tenderness but abandons her at the worst possible time to save his university’s books.  Mr. Tillingham, a character suggestive of Henry James and supposed surrogate father to both, is ultimately concerned most with his own writing.

Another very interesting part of the tale is the presence of the Romanies, commonly known as gypsies.  From reading about the Edwardian Period in Indiana I also found news articles about these mysterious people.  “In a small clearing, two lean dogs emerged barking from under a dark wooden caravan with a black tar roof.  A shaggy horse tethered to a long rope looked sideways from one large eye but did not bother to take his mouth from the long grass.  The old woman sitting on the caravan steps was as wizened as a dried apple and, though the day was hot, was wrapped in several shawls.”

The gypsy lady, an unlikely friend of prominent citizen Agatha, has a main role along with her great-grandson, a bright boy whom Beatrice tutors before school begins.  The injustices he suffers are unnerving, tragic and catastrophic to the future of the town.  The irony is that few people realize what he could have become and done for them.  Doctor?  Barrister?  Scientist?  Author?  They will never know.

I appreciate Simonson’s notes about her research at the end of the novel.  She was raised in the places she describes, so knows how to relay feelings her characters would have had and expressed.  She read actual copies of hundred year-old newspapers; shortly afterward these were morphed into microfiche.

“Microfiche and searchable digital content cannot replace the thrill and serendipity of reading a full newspaper just as my characters would have done…”  I feel the same way.

The sting of this year’s election lingers with those who know women are on an equal plane with men to lead, govern, and plan for the future.  Beatrice’s summer before the war a century ago is a harbinger of the same.

 

 

Thanksgiving in Training Camp

It was a menu much like one we’ll all have this week.  Cooks in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, were serving up roast turkey, mashed potatoes, celery, pickles, and pie.  But the soldiers on the other side of the table 98 years ago were wondering where they would celebrate the next holiday, or if they’d still be alive, after going across the pond to help the Allies in battle.

One troop, my grandfather, wrote to his sweetheart from Camp Shelby.  Besides a quick review of the food, he told her of horseback training, officer’s school, and a football game he and his buddies had been to that afternoon between the teams of Indiana University and Army.  It was “hard-fought from start to finish.”

 

 

The 25-year old captain would write often and receive many more letters himself at the southern town, so different from his Indiana farm home.  He traveled to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for artillery school; and Camp Mills, Long Island, with his division, bound for France.  But then, to his disappointment, he was called back to Mississippi to help train a development battalion.

 

After the war’s end he mustered out of the army, returning to the life of a farmer, married his sweetheart, and raised a family.  Today he would be proud of his grandson who graduated from West Point, and great-grandson who finished four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let us all be thankful for each soldier, retired, in training, or in active duty, who represents America on our behalf.