Skip to content

Response to Review of Organized Patriotism and the Crucible of War: Popular Imperialism in Britain, 1914-1932

I would like to respond to the review by David Monger of my book Organized Patriotism and the Crucible of War: Popular Imperialism in Britain, 1914–1932. Dr. Monger has a wide knowledge of the First World War and has recently published his own study of the wartime patriotism and propaganda of the National War Aims Committee.(1a) He has written a lengthy review of my book and has made some insightful points. My response to his review is prompted in part by the tone of some of his remarks as well as its content.

I concur with some of his observations on seeking greater connections between the Victoria League and other wartime organizations. Dr. Monger points to the fact that Edward Cook, a Victoria League stalwart, was also a key figure in the Press Bureau which helped censor wartime material. This shared allegiance may well have led to co-operation or collusion between the Victoria League and the press although I did not find any overt references to it in my archival sources. He also points to possible links between the National War Aims Committee (NWAC) and the Victoria League which also may have existed but were not documented in any sources that I have found. The fact that the Victoria League published 23 of its 24 wartime pamphlets before 1916, a year before the NWAC was founded makes extensive links in publications unlikely. Dr. Monger also notes that my explanation of the post-war survival of the League of the Empire and Victoria League would have been more complete with a ‘wider and more consistent comparison with other organizations’. I think that is a fair comment as well.

In the above comments, Dr. Monger has provided a fair-minded critique anchored in his thorough knowledge of the NWAC and First World War. The tone and criticism leveled at other parts of my book are perhaps less even handed. I present the National Service League (NSL) as a case study of how a pre-war patriotic organization could not adapt to the war. Dr. Monger rather snidely remarks that ‘At times, the discussion arguably casts the NSL as a pantomime villain, conspicuously failing in its schemes thanks to flaws evident to everyone but itself’. In addition to being insulting this criticism is not accurate. In this chapter I point to the NSL’s efforts to re-make itself (including its failed negotiations at merging with the Royal Colonial Institute, an outreach to the British Workers National League and Lord Curzon’s idea of transforming the League into ‘The British Imperial Veterans Association’). I also document an internal debate about the League’s continuation. I indicate that a good number of NSL members were well aware of its flaws but show that it was the organization itself that could not adapt.

Dr. Monger also takes aim at my book’s efforts to be informed by gender analysis. However, he passes lightly over my discussions of domesticated imagery and the success of groups like the Victoria League and League of the Empire at parlaying pre-war success in traditionally ‘feminine’ pursuits like philanthropy and education into post-war survival. He also might have looked more carefully at my section on the League of the Empire arranging teacher exchanges of overwhelmingly female elementary teachers and their responses to this initiative. Instead, he focuses on my ‘slightly curious habit’ of using surnames. He highlights this ‘habit’ to note that my use of gender history ‘sometimes appears a rather reductive version of a much more complex approach’. It is true that I refer to women involved in the organizations of my study by their title and surname or husband’s name – because that is how the organizations themselves referred to these women in all their archival records and publications. However, for Monger to put surname usage at the heart of his critique and insufficiently acknowledge my other uses of gender analysis seems rather narrow in itself.

Dr. Monger also says that I should define ‘patriotism’ and ‘imperialism’ more precisely. Maybe. It is notable that most monographs in Manchester University Press’s Studies in Imperialism series take the existence of imperialism as a given. Dr. Monger gets closer to the heart of my approach by noting that I argue that ‘the successful organizations avoided too narrow a definition’. I also argue that successful groups in my study used their language of patriotism and imperialism with domesticated metaphors centered on family, home and kinship. Their ‘domesticated’ form of popular imperialism was rooted in education and hospitality initiatives. If anything, I am trying to show the power of domesticated imperialism in the post-war culture of Britain.

My book is essentially a micro-study comparing three specific patriotic and imperialist organizations. These organizations were most notable for the activities they participated in rather than for creating any well-defined imperialist manifestos. My groups emerged from civil society in Britain before 1914, had strongly female memberships and are examples of the importance of an emerging associational culture in the early 20th century. Dr. Monger’s own book has looked at a national organization (the NWAC) which was solely a wartime creation and which though anchored in civil society was government-funded with a well-set propagandist function. To understand the full richness of the political culture of wartime Britain a well-tempered consideration of both types of organizations is necessary.

Notes

  1. David Monger, Patriotism and Propaganda in First World War Britain: The National War Aims Committee and Civilian Morale (Liverpool, 2012).Back to (1a)