As I mentioned briefly in my post on The Home Front propaganda posters were a highly visible means to evoke emotive responses, to extol the benefits of civil sacrifice towards military efforts or to either inspire or shame men into enlisting. The public was very keen on war news and any such that would be available would be consumed ravenously whether it was a news article, a letter from a relative at the front (which were also heavily edited) or works of art. Many of these, like the paintings of Richard Jack, a Briton commissioned as an official Canadian War Artist, were more evocative than representational considering they were produced after the events depicted and without the artist having seen the battle area. In all media, the one thing that could not be kept secret were the casualty lists which were published as they became available. This, tempered against incomplete and rhetorically positive print led to a great confusion and the beginning of doubt of public opinion.
The advent of motion picture film gave a completely new dimension to the way in which civilians would witness war. Films like "The Battle of the Somme" allowed those at home to visit cinemas and see for themselves what those on the Western Front were experiencing. Some front line footage was shot and remained part of the final edit, but the majority of the movie was compiled through shooting staged scenes well behind the line. Regardless, it was a propaganda success:
In 1916 the film was a media phenomenon, featuring the first documentary war footage....it remains the most viewed feature in British cinema history....It was the War Minister's (Lloyd George) belief that viewing the film would develop civilians' sympathy with the cause...would encourage men to enlist; and would engage women's support for the war.
Philpott, Bloody Victory pp 301-02
After the war, however, there was a dichotic switch as privately published novels, memoirs, histories and anthologies made their way into the mainstream. From the same hunger to want to know what war is like to those not experienced of it, these publications became incredibly popular. In the same way that propaganda during the war swayed opinion in favour of the war the prevailing anti-war sentiment of the post-war media has done a great deal to public conciousness in regards to World War One that remains with us to a large extent today. It is important to acknowledge the source and influence of these opinions, however. Many were written by those who had no professional attachment to the armed forces beyond their war experience, and were being related to a civil population that had no understanding of military affairs. Graves, Owen and Sassoon, three of the most influential British writers in the post war era and as such responsible for the detractive sentiments that became widely believed all had incredibly negative war experiences to the extent that each one had received treatment at one point or another for neurological ailments, then known as "shell shock" and little understood, but their bias speaks from very dark places. Even official histories, such as those written by Sir Basil Liddell Hart contain harsh opinions on the conduct of the war that were personally held and now have become inseparable from the ideology of the conflict.
It was of crucial importance during the war to keep control of the media and public opinion, otherwise the notion of "total war" may have collapsed. Afterword, the public shift in anti-war thinking, propagated by persuasive writers and personalities so adjusted the view of armed conflicts as to lead many nations to an unpreparedness for the next world war to follow.