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Artistic Expressions and the Great War, A Hundred Years On


Edited By Sally Debra Charnow

The Great War set in motion all of the subsequent violence of the twentieth century. The war took millions of lives, led to the fall of four empires, established new nations, and negatively affected others. During and after the war, individuals and communities struggled to find expression for their wartime encounters and communal as well as individual mourning. Throughout this time of enormous upheaval, many artists redefined their role in society, among them writers, performers, painters, and composers. Some sought to renew or re-establish their place in the postwar climate, while others longed for an irretrievable past, and still others tried to break with the past entirely.

This volume offers a significant interdisciplinary contribution to the study of modern war, exploring the ways that artists contributed to wartime culture – both representing and shaping it – as well as the ways in which wartime culture influenced artistic expressions. Artists’ places within and against reconstruction efforts illuminate the struggles of the day. The essays included represent a transnational perspective and seek to examine how artists dealt with the experience of conflict and mourning and their role in (re-)establishing creative practices in the changing climate of the interwar years.

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5. Artists as Censors: The Case of the Vigilantes (George Robb)



Artists as Censors: The Case of the Vigilantes


The Vigilantes were a private patriotic organization of some 400 American writers and artists active during World War I. Over the course of the war, the Vigilantes published thousands of articles in American newspapers through a press syndicate they created. In addition to urging civilians to support the war by joining the Red Cross, buying war bonds, and planting victory gardens, the Vigilantes also espoused a more strident and jingoist propaganda than was typical or advocated by the United States’ government. The Vigilantes pushed for the Americanization of immigrants, denounced pacifists, and worked to suppress any publications they deemed pro-German or insufficiently pro-American. The Vigilantes’ censorship campaigns included calling for the arrest of dissident writers, urging the government to suppress German-American newspapers, and demanding that public libraries remove from their shelves any books critical of the Allied war effort.

The Vigilantes were a patriotic organization of American writers and artists active during World War I. Organized by Hermann Hagedorn, the group consisted of around 400 men and women, including such prominent and popular literary and artistic figures as Bliss Carman, Kate Douglas Wiggan, George Barr McCutcheon, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Charles Dana Gibson, and James Montgomery Flagg.1 Over the course of the war, the Vigilantes published thousands of patriotic articles and poems in American newspapers.2 Many of these pieces urged civilians ←111 | 112→to support the war by joining the Red Cross,...

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