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  • 1 Caption: “IN HAMBURG, FOUR DAYS BEFORE GERMANY’S UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER, a corporal of the British (...)
  • 2 Other Revue LISA / LISA e-journal (CLEO, CNRS, EHESS) numbers discussing the transmission of ideas (...)

1The photograph chosen to illustrate the homepage of this Revue LISA/LISA e-journal number gives a foretaste of the reflection underlying this collection of contributions chosen for their multiplicity of approaches, of visions, of testimonies and of points of view, all intertwined in the subtle intricacies of the various narratives of History. Published after the end of hostilities in the Second World War, but apparently dating from some three weeks earlier, before the unconditional surrender, it offers a vision of victory and defeat deliberately intended to appeal to the readers of The War Illustrated, allowing them tocontrast their satisfaction at the outcome of the war with the humiliation suffered by their enemies, and thus to feel justifiably proud at this supreme moment of national achievement. The caption1 plays its part in capturing this joyous mood, reinforcing the message of what was, of course, hardly a casual snapshot taken on the spur of the moment but rather a carefully composed presentation to celebrate Victory. On closer examination, however, certain grey areas emerge, attributable no doubt to the confusion which may reign in the “fog of war”. The street seems surprisingly clean and tidy ina city which had suffered concentrated bombardment, although this may be due to (carefully omitted) German efficiency, and it is frankly astonishing that aerial observation had been unable to detect that some strategic sites in Hamburg had been left relatively unscathed. The photograph may thus lead us to the conclusion that in war no events are ever quite as unambiguous as they seem, and, more generally, that the consequences and implications of conflict are frequently hard to unravel, which is one of the themes of the articles in this collection.2

  • 3 The exact human costs of wars can never be known. Different sources give broadly similar figures fo (...)

2All deal with what could legitimately be dubbed the century of ever more sophisticated wars. In 1900, the Second Boer War was taking place in South Africa, while the turn of the 21st century saw US and other forces engaged in Afghanistan, a sequel to the first Gulf War and the prelude to another cycle of hostilities which was to lead from the 9.11 attacks on New York and Washington to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Like poverty and disease, violence is one of the major scourges of humanity and it would be hard to deny that the 20th century has every claim to have been the most marked by war, whether calculated in terms of lives lost or irrevocably blighted, or of financial cost, material damage and associated hardships or suffering, at least in absolute terms.3 Equally, it witnessed an exponential acceleration in the development of new weapons from gas attacks to napalm and to the brink of strategic nuclear capacity, accompanied by more sophisticated tactics including concealment by camouflage, subterfuge and disinformation.

3But, despite its horrific consequences, war has long exerted a terrible fascination. In the oral tradition, the legends and myths of ancestral combats were recounted and embellished, in order to inspire new generations to match or surpass the exploits of their forebears. Both the telling and the hearing of these warriors’ deeds preserved and reinforced popular memory. Paintings and more modern media — journals, magazines, newspapers, photographs, radio, newsreels, feature films, and, finally, television and the internet — abound with accounts or images of wars. These are related or transmitted, often with just as little accuracy as their predecessors but with the same objective both of recording the details and of mediating the heroism or nobility of war at the expense of the suffering it brings, while ignoring the lesson of history that it frequently causes as many problems as it solves.

4The title of this volume, Varieties of Experience of Modern Warfare, a free translation of the French Regards croisés sur des guerres contemporaines, suggests the complexity offered by different views of (a) war, depending on the position or stance of the observer: victor, chance victim, defeated combatant, or detached, neutral commentator. On examining 20th century wars, we are therefore faced with a multiplicity of contradictory, complementary or overlapping perspectives. Indeed this period offers so many examples and forms of conflicts that the differences between war and other forms of violence become blurred.

  • 4 This example serves as a reminder that choice of terminology can be an expression of point of view. (...)
  • 5 This ironical term is borrowed from Bertold Brecht’s play Mutter Courage und Ihre Kinder (Mother Co (...)

5To take an obvious example, let us consider for a moment the experience of Ireland. The Easter Rising in 1916, coming after almost a century of struggle for self-determination (“home rule”), occurred at a critical stage of the Great War and was treated as an act of treason by the British authorities, who saw fit to mete out harsh treatment against the rebels. This (over-)reaction provoked fierce opposition and proved to be a catalyst for the Irish War of Independence (aka the Anglo-Irish War).4 This ended with the 1922 partition of the island of Ireland, only to be followed almost immediately by the Irish Civil War, although in both cases the reality was more confusing that the simple term “war” might suggest. Although in 1919-1921 fighting was between two recognisable sides, the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries, on the one hand, and the Irish Republican Army on the other, these forces were irregularly composed and had recourse to tit-for-tat violence and guerrilla tactics. The Civil War saw former Republican allies opposing each other over how best to achieve full independence, perpetrating acts of terrorism or repression and exacting revenge for aggression committed against them. When peace broke out,5 continued partition could only give rise to dissatisfaction and the IRA did not disband but stayed in underground existence ready to fight again another day. The moment duly came when the creation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association led to the birth of the Provisional IRA (1969), which actively sought the unification of Ireland by force of arms, and to the euphemistically named “troubles”, which continued until the end of the 1990s and still rumble on in sectarian acts of terror and violence today.

  • 6 It could nevertheless be argued that the centuries-old ties between Great Britain and Ireland inval (...)

6The troubles can be seen as another kind of civil war between sections of a population occupying, more or less, the same territory, but they could also be considered differently, for instance as anti-colonial in origin since both Republicans (frequently) and Loyalists (occasionally) attacked the British army and the civilian services supposedly acting to protect them.6 There are, of course, other interpretations. The troubles were rooted in sectarian difference, which would make them successors to the long line of religious wars rife in the western world since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century or to the unending if sporadic hostilities between Christians, Jews and Muslims dating much further back in history. Northern Ireland throughout the troubles was (and largely remains) a segregated community with Catholics and Protestants living in their own areas, working for different employers and being educated separately, to the detriment of community relations. The media systematically labelled as Catholic or Protestant both the victims of murders or other acts of aggression and the districts where they occurred, perhaps because these terms were judged less inflammatory than their ideological equivalents Nationalist/ Republican or Unionist / Loyalist. What is certain is that the weight of centuries of religious oppression in Ireland fuelled the troubles and that acts of violence committed by one side inevitably brought a desire for vengeance which made the spiral of aggression and brutality ever harder to break. Of course, differences in Ulster went deeper than religious allegiance. They were also a matter of wealth or the relative possibilities of professional or personal advancement, with the Protestants / Unionists enjoying advantages denied to their Catholic / Nationalist counterparts. Moreover, the paramilitary groups on both sides were far from the altruistic defenders of their communities that they claimed to be, for they did not hesitate to punish (i.e. attack, maim or kill) those who stepped out of line by betraying the common cause, by committing acts of criminality or of civil disobedience, or merely by speaking out of turn. The troubles could thus be considered as an extended series of “turf wars,” not unlike those systematically fought by rival criminal gangs seeking to extend, or at least preserve, their influence over their captive populations.

  • 7 Even Winston Churchill, not exactly one of the 20th century’s more notable pacifists, observed at a (...)

7The case of Ireland, though not unique, can therefore serve as a paradigm for the complexities of 20th century wars, evoking some of the questions developed by the contributors to this volume: conflict of one kind or another continued there for over a century, the spiral of violence seemed unending and took various forms which can be identified with different categories of war. Moreover, the notion of perspective is particularly pertinent with both combatants and observers having their own very definite opinions about such questions as guilt, responsibility, legality and the use of violence. If nothing else, the Irish example suggests that, although manicheistically patriotic or ideological pronouncements may have their place in motivating a desire for revenge or victory, hindsight tells us that some wars simply cannot be won and due reflection may thus lead us to conclude that war is such a deadly business that it should only be engaged in as a last resort.7

  • 8 Margaret Thatcher’s sending of a “Task Force” to the South Atlantic had echoes of 19th century gunb (...)
  • 9 From today’s perspective, the causal link between the two events is clear, but there were misgiving (...)
  • 10 The damage caused by the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945 is arguably the most infamous example.

8The 20th century thus offers examples of the substantial variety of forms that war can take and the opacity of the ostensible or ulterior motives behind them. Moreover, even if it is hard to demonstrate cause and effect, it would be erroneous to consider wars as unconnected with other events or even with one another. The objectives behind some conflicts are more evident than others, especially with hindsight. The Boer Wars, at the time of the “scramble for Africa” were a clear example of the desire for military colonial expansion, but the later battles against independence movements had some of the same imperialist motivations if not the same characteristics, while the Falklands War of 1982 seemed to be an anachronistic throwback to the attitudes of an earlier period.8 As one of the lessons of history is that all wars have consequences, most often in stoking up resentment which may break out in new violence, it is no surprise that more or less reluctant moves towards decolonisation should have been accompanied and hastened by wars of liberation, and followed by the complications left over from the imperial division of territories. The two world conflicts cast war in a new and horrific light. The Great War, optimistically labelled the “war to end all wars”, was expected to be over by Christmas (1914). By the time it ended, after more than four years of mechanised horror on battlefields still directed by leaders more at home with the cavalry and infantry tactics of a bygone era, the hollow ring of the initial boast was all too clear. Winning the peace now became a priority, but this proved equally illusive. Not only were major warring nations economically weakened and politically destabilised, but the punitive peace treaty imposed by the victors at Versailles was to ignite the long-term fuse for World War II.9 This conflict confirmed what was already known to those unfortunate enough to be close to previous battlegrounds, namely that civilians as well as military personnel could be the targets for attacks. The Second World War was an even more total war than the First with often ill-directed, indiscriminate or maliciously targeted bombing killing or injuring ordinary civilians in their own homes, towns and cities, in an attempt to sap morale, to wilfully destroy architectural heritage10 and to disrupt production. There was no boast of the “surgical strikes” allegedly made possible by today’s high technology, but a lot of what was to become euphemistically known as “collateral damage” during the Vietnam War and after. World War II was a people’s war in another sense too: the battle for production continued despite the bombings, with women replacing men conscripted into the armed forces, and citizens were urged to fight on the home front by economising, saving precious materials and avoiding careless talk.

  • 11 Hence the Truman Doctrine and subsequent domino theory which emphasised the need for US military in (...)
  • 12 In other words, opinion might tend to favour US General and Senator Carl Schurz’s more reflective “ (...)

9Nevertheless, fighting in the two world wars did take place for the most part on readily distinguishable battlegrounds with recognisable battle lines, an identifiable enemy and relatively clear military or strategic objectives, which has hardly been the case since. After 1945, as the Cold War between the two superpowers developed, major conflicts took on new origins: ideological motivations to defend socialism or the free world, the desire to contain the expansionist activities of the enemy,11 or an unavowed thirst for aggrandisement as the old colonial powers became unable to halt the disintegration of their empires. Meanwhile, the rise of new nationalisms led to more localised, but nonetheless devastating, wars around the globe, with especially disastrous consequences for civilian populations, and ultimately to the horrors of “ethnic cleansing”. Even when they took no direct part in such hostilities, major powers proved all too willing to conduct proxy wars, promoting the causes of their preferred client states and their own self-interest through financial and technical assistance (notably the supply of arms).  In this context, the notion of point of view assumed a new significance. While for the peoples trying to shake off the shackles of colonialism, or for nations striving to combat infiltration by stronger neighbours or their backers, the wars were deadly serious, the threat to more powerful countries was less immediate. As a result, the patriotic impulse to fight for the national cause could be lost and new questions were liable to arise about what could or should be done in times of conflict: doubts about what constituted a just or unjust war, what level of civilian or military losses were acceptable and what represented reasonable or excessive force, compounded with the need to take into consideration not only public opinion at home12 but international reactions. Without the imperative of national defence, wars conducted in far-away lands could all too easily become unpopular and / or unwinnable, as the US discovered in Vietnam and the USSR in Afghanistan.

  • 13 Notably The Roll Call (Calling the Roll after an Engagement) which was purchased by Queen Victoria (...)
  • 14 The lesson was quickly learned. As Bruce Cumings puts it, “Both the Falklands and Grenada were brou (...)
  • 15 On this subject, see, for instance, Simon Goldsworthy, “Advertising as the fall guy for consumerism (...)
  • 16 Bruce Allen calls the 1990-1991 Gulf War “our first television war [which] perfected the full capac (...)

10No doubt this may be one reason why many of the localised wars in the second half of the 20th century aroused little lasting international interest and remained largely neglected by the worldwide media, which raises a more general issue in wartime, that of the coverage and mediatisation of events. In days when communications were less developed, it was easy for leaders to control the presentation of wars without any pretence to objectivity and without today’s constraints of instantaneity. Carvings, monuments, tapestries, murals, music, poetry, drama and the print media could all serve the dual aims of narrating one conflict and preparing the population for future campaigns of conquest or revenge. Better transport and faster transmission of information from the 19th century onwards facilitated rapid reaction to events and brought with them the beginning of reporting direct from the battlefield, with unwelcome consequences for governments. The dispatches by Times correspondent William Russell, direct from the Crimean War, are generally considered as the first example of this new style of journalism. Less than 20 years later, Elizabeth Thompson (the future Lady Butler) broke with long-standing artistic tradition by emphasising the “pathos and heroism” of war, rather than its glory, in paintings of scenes inspired by the same conflict.13  Thus a new stage was reached in the evolution of the “wars of words” or “wars of images” which were to become an essential adjunct to the successful pursuit of military campaigns by maintaining public support. In due course, the use of the printed word as a tool to report and manipulate events was supplemented by the spoken word, and Vietnam became the first televised war, whose outcome brought home to governments the absolute need to control the type and quantity of information destined for the domestic audience.14 Censorship had always served this purpose and would continue to do so, overtly in totalitarian states, more insidiously in democracies through “political communication”,15 news management and tactics such as embedding reporters with fighting units in an ongoing attempt to ensure that if satellite communications make it is impossible to stem the flow of news, then at least the details that do emerge should be as favourably presented or sanitised as possible.16

  • 17 Horace’s widely quoted Dulci et decorum est pro patria mori (it is a sweet and seemly thing to die (...)
  • 18 Of course, the propaganda impact of such images was fully exploited at the time and afterwards. A c (...)
  • 19 As cited from a US Senate speech by Hiram W. Johnson in 1918 in J. M. and M. J. Cohen, The New Peng (...)

11Behaviour in times of war gives a fascinating insight into the complexities and paradoxes of human nature. The willingness to fight may be attributable both to nobler and to baser instincts: a duty or even a desire17 to fight for one’s home(land), to defend the weak and the helpless or a readiness to sacrifice oneself for a higher cause, on the one hand, a thirst for violence, revenge and power, on the other. Serving one’s nation may be viewed simply as an unpleasant obligation bringing with it the risk of death or injury which may appear as inevitable as they are arbitrary. Wars have been and still are fought out of ignorance or deference, out of feelings of loyalty to one’s friends and comrades, out of fear of being stigmatised or accused of cowardice, and conducted with due regard for humanity and a sense of chivalry, or with brutality or utter ruthlessness. An examination of any particular conflict will almost invariably show several of these motivations at work simultaneously. Although, with almost a hundred years of hindsight, it is hard to understand the enthusiasm which prevailed in Europe prior to and at the start of the First World War — the rejoicing crowds in Berlin and Vienna, the queues of volunteers waiting to enlist at hastily established recruitment offices in London, the French soldiers showered with flowers as they marched off to war, etc.18 — the patriotism was real enough and only slowly began to wane when the ghastly truth about events at the front eventually began to filter back home. Many subsequent wars have witnessed a greater sense of resignation at the prospect of conflict, which would seem to be a clear indication that preparation for war cannot be limited merely to military, material or strategic considerations, but frequently requires short- and long-term use of specially selected information in order for individuals and the community to be aware of the challenges to be met and the objectives which may be achieved. Equally, sustaining morale and encouraging commitment is a process which needs to be continued as the conflict develops and as good or bad news becomes known, by propaganda, censorship or other means, for the “first casualty when war comes is truth”.19

12Once a war is over, it is necessary to come to terms with victory or defeat, with what has been won or lost. Immediate reactions are almost always polarised and lack any sense of critical distance, but collective sorrow or pride are real enough as is the need to commit events to memory, “lest we forget”. History is written, (or painted, sung or screened) with the aim of glorifying achievements or of salvaging national dignity often with scant regard for the facts, but with the notion of sacrifice as a common denominator, which allows space for religious sentiments setting the grief of the moment in a more comforting perspective. The rewriting comes later; as reconstruction begins and the scars of conflict start to heal it becomes possible to recognise that other points of view and the actions or emotions of others, former enemies, have their place in a more reasoned reflection. There is scope too for individual recollection of personal contributions, great or small, to history in the making. There may even come the awareness that combatants on both sides share not just a common humanity but the same history and that, in the end, what unites them is greater than what divides them. But, then again, such a conclusion may appear too optimistic in the light of the defects of human nature, or just too simplistic, for, after any war, nagging questions remain. How can those who fought cope with the trauma of memory, of horrors and unthinkable deeds they have witnessed or even participated in? How can we who have been touched by a war, directly or indirectly, come to terms with the injustices suffered or committed, in thought or deed, or simply with the apparently arbitrary fortunes and misfortunes of war? Are there extenuating circumstances which may excuse those branded as traitors or collaborators?

13There are no simple answers to any of these dilemmas. In the end, it must just be admitted that the way different countries or individuals experience different wars depends on such parameters as their modes and concepts of perception and their literary, artistic or political traditions. The richness of this collection of articles lies in their exploration of these various nuances, put forward in three chronological sections, one based on each of the two world wars and the third devoted to conflicts of the second half of the 20th century.

14The first five contributions to this LISA e-journal number all concentrate on material dating from the time of the Great War or just after and can thus be viewed as an authentic record of contemporary attitudes, giving an insight into the emotions, mentalities and motivations of the moment. Fabienne Stahl and Catherine Ambroselli de Bayser discuss the death and devastation of war as pictured by two established French artists, Maurice Denis and George Desvallières. Although their war service was different, both men were inspired by the same patriotic fervour and both were deeply marked by the conflict. Denis wove propagandist strands into his religious and allegorical imagery before he started a mission as war painter in late 1917, while Desvallières (aged 53 at the outbreak of war) commanded a battalion in Alsace, was twice decorated and suffered the loss in battle of one of his sons. They were both sustained by a strong Christian faith which enabled them to transcend scenes of devastation and horror and to compare the soldier’s suffering and sacrifice in war with the passion and death of Christ. After the Armistice they devoted themselves to producing works that captured this inspiring vision and paid due homage to the dead. Christina Theodosiou’s article examines another form of commemoration. For her, civil and religious ceremonies honouring French dead not only enabled the bereaved to come to terms with their loss, but helped others to understand and remain mindful of the patriotic sacrifices being made on their behalf. As the death toll mounted and war weariness set in, remembrance ceremonies served to emphasise the need for the struggle to be continued for the nation to remain faithful to the memory of the fallen. A different, highly personal, perspective is offered by Wojciech Klepuszewski’s reflection on the poetry of Edward Thomas, whose verse became increasingly marked by a melancholic mood and apprehensive tone as the initially distant threat of war became ever more intrusive in his evocation of his beloved English countryside, and as he felt an ever stronger need to serve his country. His allusive technique and muted but genuine patriotism offer a poignant vision of a future veiled in sinister uncertainty. The call of duty and the weight of the national cause is similarly highlighted in Susan Finding’s scrutiny of a little-known example of First World War propaganda, the vision of the United States as a sister republic offering inspiration as well as material and military assistance to France in its time of need. The personnel and literature of the French state education system were instrumental in ensuring the efficient transmission of the government’s message. References to the United States declined abruptly after the Armistice and the withdrawal of troops, when, Susan Finding observes, they had served their morale-boosting purpose.

15The articles dealing with the Second World War treat the subject from diverse angles of approach, being mainly based on contemporary sources. The theme of propaganda or manipulation is central to or underlies several of the contributions, while others evoke more general themes such as wartime expectations, the transmission of memory and the recurrences of war, which do justice to the range of individual and collective experiences and interpretations of the 20th century’s most devastating conflict. Thus, Jeffrey Demsky examines how the contest between isolationists and interventionists was won by the latter who wished the US to fight for the global democratic values expounded in Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” proclamation in January 1941. For the Office of War Information, whose mission it was to connect ordinary citizens to the war effort, drawing public attention to Nazi crimes against humanity was an obvious tactic which ultimately proved successful, but, as Demsky demonstrates, the Office had to overcome both public disbelief and strong political opposition along the way.

16Another example of effective political communication — the posters commissioned by British and American government agencies which used diverse and sometimes contradictory images of Adolf Hitler to sustain the war effort on the home front and belief in the inevitability of final victory — is the object of Cécile Vallée’s analysis. She concludes that their variety of tones enabled these “weapons on the wall” to appeal to a range of useful emotions thus allowing them to adapt to the changing contexts of war. Illustrations with a message are also the subject of Elizabeth de Cacqueray’s article which deals with the works produced by British women artists for the War Artists Advisory Committee, created in 1939 to display paintings showing the effects of war and giving inspiring examples of how ordinary citizens were coping with privations and working to defeat the enemy. Although, as in other fields, this opportunity for them to prove themselves lasted only until the end of hostilities, Elizabeth de Cacqueray contends that the women were at least as talented as their male counterparts and have been unjustly neglected.

17Nicole Terrien’s study concerns another visual interpretation of war, the Overlord Embroidery displayed at the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, UK, which, like the Bayeux Tapestry on which it is modelled, is a hymn to Victory, a commemoration of sacrifice, and a rewriting of events. Nevertheless, she maintains, concentrating only on its ostensibly political or propaganda purpose does a disservice to what should be studied as a modern work of art, whose structure and texture combine to add relief and authenticity to the images and whose interwoven scenes challenge the viewer who is finally invited to reflect on different points of view in order to produce a personal (re)construction of meaning.

18Indeed, the Second World War has left unanswered a number of questions which continue to exercise historians and to offer scope for individual interpretation or opinion. One of the most enduring of these is the reasons for the Holocaust. Roger W. Smith approaches the topic both through the wider context of genocide and by offering a detailed critical assessment of the individualistic views of eminent Jewish literary critic George Steiner. Smith rejects Steiner’s identification of himself as a “survivor” (of the lost Jewish humanistic culture of the 19th and 20th centuries) and contests his explanation of the Holocaust which he judges to be based on a superficial understanding of Freud’s cultural theories, compounded by a disregard for historical fact.

19The subject of remembrance, more particularly evoked by Christina Theodosiou in connection with the First World War, is here analysed by Johanne Villeneuve with specific reference to the perspective of the ordinary soldier. Starting from a discussion of the work produced by Canadian photographer Bertrand Carrière to mark the 60th anniversary of the Allied raid on Dieppe in 1942, she considers the relationship between collectively mediated and individually transmitted memories of war. She argues that, in contrast to the anonymity of formal commemoration, personal accounts of battle serve the immediate desire of soldiers to communicate their testimony and help to satisfy the ongoing need of survivors and descendants for contact with the uniquely individual experience of those who lost their lives.

20The fascinating piece of microhistory explored by Rosemary Peters, the correspondence of a small number of US Navy musicians during World War II, demonstrates that personal insights also have a role in revealing undisclosed aspects of war by highlighting the differences between expectation and reality in military life. Despite promises that they would be assigned to “safe” stations away from battle zones, bandsmen on board ship were called upon not only to perform music but also to carry out combat duties alongside other sailors. Inevitably, tensions arose and were exacerbated when experienced musicians found themselves playing alongside complete novices or encountered difficulties in picking up the threads of civilian life.

21Finally, Yves Chèvrefils Desbiolles places the Second World War in a wider context, by considering the history of Ardenne Abbey near Caen through the prism of the enduring theme of violence. Down through the ages, the Abbey, like many ecclesiastical buildings, had been the focus of conflicts, both secular and religious, and it was to relive the same fate in 1944 owing to its strategic importance in the battle for Caen. Severely damaged, the Abbey witnessed the horror of war when it was the scene of the torture and summary execution of Canadian prisoners of war.

22The last five articles in this collection all deal with literary or cinematographic interpretations of conflicts occurring since 1945. The ending of colonialism and its continuing legacy dominate the first three contributions, but all cast light on the troubling interreferentiality of recent wars and on the traumas associated with violence, memory or loss.

23Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, “the greatest political movie ever made” is the subject of Stephen Whitfield’s analysis which points to the work’s brilliant combination of form and content, and to a degree of even-handedness in presenting conflicting points of view, which explains its abiding fascination and makes it much more than just a propagandist, anti-colonialist piece. Whitfield discusses the international reception of the film at the time of its release in the late 1960s and subsequent screenings, arguing that as well as anticipating the violence against civilians that has marked the 21st century, it raises thorny issues surrounding the (ab)uses of torture and violence, and the moral quandary of how to react to terrorism. Attitudes within former colonial powers to the loss of empire were frequently problematic. Adriana Martins studies the representation and implications of this phenomenon in the Portuguese context by analysing two films by directors of different generations and backgrounds. Manoel de Oliveira’s No, or the Vain Glory of Command (1990) questions the idea of sacrifice for the nation while Margarida Cardoso’s The Murmuring Coast (2004) uses a (woman) outsider’s perspective to suggest the tensions beneath the apparent normality of colonial life. Both works challenge the management of public memory and the official silence which prevented the nation coming to terms its past. For newly independent states, coping with the colonial legacy was no easy task either, as Nikolai Jeffs’ article demonstrates. Pondering on conflicting attitudes to the issues of ethnicity, nationalism and betrayal during the 1967-1970 war between Federal Nigeria and the secessionist province of Biafra, Jeffs evokes the assessment, in three novels by former Biafrans, of Ukpabi Asika, a prominent Igbo intellectual who changed sides to take up high office under the Federal government. He concludes that the novels’ different perspectives on Asika shed light on motivations and confusions of friend and foe in wartime, and on the complexity of postcolonial identities.

24The pervasive impact of the Vietnam War as revealed in Elizabeth Spencer’s novel The Night Travellers (1991), is referred to by Gérald Préher who suggests that the divisions caused by pro- and anti-war attitudes are mirrored in personal relationships which themselves become antagonistic or unsustainable. Recognising the undeniable fact that Vietnam marked a turning point in history, Spencer blends fiction and factual references to depict an uneasy and chaotic period in which the sense of general cohesion and national purpose has disappeared, echoes of which can be found in Ari Folman’s animated documentary Waltz with Bashir (2008), analysed by Devin Harner from both the thematic and the aesthetic points of view. Thus, while noting that this anti-war work explores the fractured memories of Folman and his fellow former Israeli soldiers in Lebanon at the time of the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982 and the traumatic nature of their experiences (an echo of Korea and Vietnam), Harner points to the frequent examples of popular culture that underpin the work, distort the characters’ memories and disrupt historicity, while enabling it to form a collective narrative of universal relevance.

25While attempting to do justice to a range of points of view, this LISA e-journal number can make no claim to exhausting the vast subject of 20th-century warfare. As time passes, opinions change, old questions are revived and reconsidered and new doubts emerge. Were those who refused to fight, the pacifists, conscientious objectors or draft dodgers, correctly treated? Do those who deserted or were executed for mutiny or cowardice in the face of the enemy deserve the same remembrance as other war dead? 2012 and the years that follow will bring a series of anniversaries, 50 years since the end of the Algerian War of Independence, 70 years since the Normandy Landings and, most significantly, 100 years since the start of the Great War … to name but a few. These and many other dates will undoubtedly be occasions for celebration, for commemoration, for the revival of memories and for continued reflection on the still unresolved questions of wars.

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1 Caption: “IN HAMBURG, FOUR DAYS BEFORE GERMANY’S UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER, a corporal of the British 2nd Army, watched closely by a German policeman, erected new street-signs: the Grosse Allee became “Piccadilly Circus”. Germany’s second largest city, with a peacetime population of over 1,700,000, surrendered to General Dempsey’s troops on May 3, 1945; the vast dockyards were less badly crippled than had been anticipated, and many U-boats were found on the stocks.” The War Illustrated, edited by Sir John Hammerton, Vol. 9, n°207, May 25, 1945.

2 Other Revue LISA / LISA e-journal (CLEO, CNRS, EHESS) numbers discussing the transmission of ideas include Vol. IV - n°3 | 2006, Media, Images, Propaganda, <> and Vol. VI – n°1 | 2008, Propagating Ideas and Images, <>.

3 The exact human costs of wars can never be known. Different sources give broadly similar figures for World War II military casualties, but this is not the case for other conflicts and information on civilian victims is notoriously unreliable.

4 This example serves as a reminder that choice of terminology can be an expression of point of view. Further instances can be found elsewhere in this introduction and in the articles that follow.  

5 This ironical term is borrowed from Bertold Brecht’s play Mutter Courage und Ihre Kinder (Mother Courage and Her Children) set during the Thirty Years War. The play was written in 1938-39 and first produced in Zurich in 1941.

6 It could nevertheless be argued that the centuries-old ties between Great Britain and Ireland invalidate the term “colonial“.

7 Even Winston Churchill, not exactly one of the 20th century’s more notable pacifists, observed at a White House luncheon on 26th June 1954, “It is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war”. (Quotation as given by the New York Times).

8 Margaret Thatcher’s sending of a “Task Force” to the South Atlantic had echoes of 19th century gunboat diplomacy.  

9 From today’s perspective, the causal link between the two events is clear, but there were misgivings even in 1919, in the immediate aftermath of the signing of the Treaty by Clémenceau, Lloyd-George, Orlando and Wilson. Politicians in Germany’s new Weimar Republic warned of severe consequences, but one of the most prophetic reactions was Will Dyson’s cartoon Peace and Future Cannon Fodder, published in the Daily Herald on 13th May 1919.  It depicts the four leaders leaving the peace conference. Clémenceau is surprised to hear sobbing (The Tiger: Curious! I seem to hear a child weeping!). In the corner stands a child in tears, identified as 1940 Class. Dyson’s original drawing, along with derived variants warning of the dangers of similar short-term thinking, can be consulted at the British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK.

10 The damage caused by the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945 is arguably the most infamous example.

11 Hence the Truman Doctrine and subsequent domino theory which emphasised the need for US military intervention in strategically sensitive regions.

12 In other words, opinion might tend to favour US General and Senator Carl Schurz’s more reflective “Our country right or wrong. When right, to be kept right; when wrong to be put right” (1881) over US Navy Captain Stephen Decatur’s original toast (1816) which did not include the second sentence.  

13 Notably The Roll Call (Calling the Roll after an Engagement) which was purchased by Queen Victoria and The Return from Inkerman.

14 The lesson was quickly learned. As Bruce Cumings puts it, “Both the Falklands and Grenada were brought to you by people who thought Vietnam had been lost in the living room”, War and Television, New York: Verso, 1992, 100.

15 On this subject, see, for instance, Simon Goldsworthy, “Advertising as the fall guy for consumerism: the real and perceived roles of public relations and advertising in contemporary ‘propaganda’ ”, Revue LISA / LISA e-journal (CLEO, CNRS, EHESS), Vol. IV - n°3 | 2006, Media, Images, Propaganda,239-259, <>.

16 Bruce Allen calls the 1990-1991 Gulf War “our first television war [which] perfected the full capacities of television for fighting, packaging and selling warfare”, News Culture, Buckingham: Open University Press, 1999, 175. On the other hand, the “Arab Spring” of 2011 suggests that new technology and uncontrollable social networks are making the restriction of information even harder to achieve.

17 Horace’s widely quoted Dulci et decorum est pro patria mori (it is a sweet and seemly thing to die for one’s country)(Odes III ii 13)epitomises this patriotic sentiment. Wilfred Owen’s well-known 1917 poem Dulci Et Decorum Est offers a contrasting opinion.

18 Of course, the propaganda impact of such images was fully exploited at the time and afterwards. A classic example of the latter was the photograph published the day before the German presidential election in 1932 in Der Illustrierte Beobachter, the Nazi weekly newspaper, showing the excited crowd hearing the announcement of war on the Odeonsplatz in Munich on 2nd August 1914. Among the throng was an apparently readily identifiable young Adolf Hitler. The authenticity of the picture has been increasingly questioned over the last ten years, but it was long thought to be genuine and was widely used in the 1930s to emphasise the Nazi leader’s patriotic credentials.

19 As cited from a US Senate speech by Hiram W. Johnson in 1918 in J. M. and M. J. Cohen, The New Penguin Book of Quotations, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998, 218. Other sources ascribe similar sentiments to Aeschylus and Samuel Johnson. The latter’s longer and more informative observation reads:  “Among the calamities of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages”, The Idler, n° 30: 11th November 1758.

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Bibliographical reference

Renée Dickason, “Introduction”Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. X – n° 1 | -1, 1-14.

Electronic reference

Renée Dickason, “Introduction”Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [Online], Vol. X – n° 1 | 2012, Online since 13 March 2012, connection on 19 June 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Renée Dickason

Renée Dickason is Professor at the University of Rennes 2 (France). In 2003, she created Revue LISA/LISA e-journal. Her research work deals with British cultural history, in particular visual media and the representation of contemporary British society through television fictions, political communication, government advertising ; she is also interested in the representation of the ‘real’  and the shaping of reality in films, documentaries and comedy series along with the visual representations of wars.

By this author

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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