How World War I Ended "the Glamour of Battle" and Made Pacifism Attractive


Over at Medium, former Reason editor Virginia Postrel has a sharp item up about how the utter ghastliness of World War I ended a centuries-long delusion of war as romantic and glamorous:

"Are you going to tell your children the truth about what you endured," an American challenged fellow veterans in 1921, "or gild your reminiscences with glamour that will make them want to have a merry war experience of their own?" In 1919, the British painter Paul Nash wrote that the purpose of The Menin Road, his bleak portrait of a desolate and blasted landscape, was "to rob war of the last shred of glory[,] the last shine of glamour."

The postwar disillusionment did more than create a more realistic perception of warfare. It engendered a successful campaign to make pacifism fashionable. "I do not believe that politicians and financiers could drive men into war unless they first succeeded in hypnotising them with the glamour of noble ideals. It is 'up to' the Pacifist to throw the same glamour round his ideals of peace," wrote an activist in 1917. By 1933, the British journalist Nerina Shute recalled in her memoirs, "the glamour of pacifism had twined itself round the ideals of the writers and preachers and thinkers whose names were best known to the public. Pacifism filled the newspapers."

Postrel notes how in the 1930s, the pacifism of actresses such as Deanna Durbin became an "in" thing.

Read the whole thing.

Reason TV caught up with Postrel last fall to talk about her excellent book The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion. Take a look:

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  1. I myself dabble in pacifism once. Not in ‘nam of course.


    It is impossible for an deaudibleated bass player to experience pain, pleasure, memory, dreams, or thought of any kind.

  3. And what an effective, meaningful, lasting pacifist movement it was! Because, as we all know, no war was ever fought after 1918. Least of all by Americans.

  4. Um WWII?

    And pretty much the only Hollywood pacifist to take it seriously during WWII was Lew Ayres.

  5. Bloodbaths like Waterloo and Gettysburg were a clear indication of what was coming to anyone paying attention.

    The 10 million dead soldiers of WWI might have made pacifism attractive.

    The 100 million civilians dead at the hands of leftist dictators in the 20th Century made pacifism look pretty stupid.

  6. And ever since then the world has seen an unrivalled outpouring of peace in our time.

  7. Right away, Postrel reveals herself wrong. Glamour does not rhetoric nor does glamour mean communication.

    Glamour means enchantment.

    To be glamorous is to be enchanting, to have that quality, which others find alluring, seductive, tempting, inviting, baited.

    It’s a Scottish word that entered into English in 1720.

  8. It engendered a successful campaign to make pacifism fashionable

    But they are all fascists according to Orwell.

    Never mind that he was a nationalist socialist himself.

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