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11-08-2015, 17:01

CENSORSHIP AND THE WAR AGAINST DISSENT

A more universal hardship also came as governments curtailed the rights of their citizens in order to fight the war more effectively. On August 8, 1914, four days after Britain had entered the conflict. Parliament passed the Defense of the Realm Act (or DORA). Its original aim was to protect the country against espionage, but it expanded as the war went on, and the British population was increasingly limited in what it could say, where it could travel, and how much restraint it could expect from its policemen. Such a suspension of the population's civil liberties for the duration of the conflict was only one product of DORA, which was expanded to regulate the operation of industry and to control Britain's food supply. The need to boost ammunition production led to unprecedented restrictions on workers. David Lloyd George, Britain's new minister of munitions, used the Munitions of War Act (July 1915) to discipline his labor force. Strikes were outlawed, and the right of the individual to seek another job elsewhere was curtailed. In both France and Germany, countries where individual liberties were less rooted in national traditions, measures like DORA, declaring the country in a state of siege, had much the same effect. In Germany, the entire civil administration, including supervision of newspapers, came under direct military control with the start of the war. For military news, the approved sources were statements given out twice weekly at the General Staff's Press Department meetings with editors. Civilian government officials provided directions for the coverage of other issues. A similar system carried the day in France. In Britain, the military role in censorship was less in evidence. The government's Press Bureau issued official war news and censorecK other stories on the war that newspapers proposed to print. The incentive to submit stories for clearance was strong: the sanctions ofDORA, including suspension of publication, could fall on any newspaper that printed a story that was later disapproved. Newspapers and magazines joined voluntarily in the effort to promote the war. As J. M. Winter put it, "For the duration of the war most editors and their staffs were willing to forgo the critical function of the press"; he cites "the German satirical magazine Simplicissimus [which] shelved its traditionally acerbic wit and adopted a patriotic line."2 On the other side of the lines, British newspapers likewise became cheerleaders for the war effort, according to Winter using euphemisms so that "a retreat was called a rectification of the line" to soften the impact of bad news. When Lord Lansdowne, a prominent former cabinet minister now horrified by the human cost of the war, tried to appeal publicly for a negotiated peace, the Times of London refused to publish his letter on the subject. But the Times enthusiastically reported wild stories of German atrocities. In Britain, restrictions on passing information to the press concerning government activities preceded the war; the Official Secrets Act was passed in 191 1 . When DORA lapsed after the end of the war, however, the government perpetuated some of its wartime powers to restrict the flow of information with the additional provisions of the Official Secrets Act of 1920. It was necessary to have such a law against leaking official documents, as one government spokesman argued in the parliamentary debate of 1920, because "experience during the war has made it quite plain that a provision of that kind is necessary if the work of foreign agents is to be checked.''

 

 

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