The Last Crusade?: British Propaganda and the Palestine Campaign, 1917-18

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Irrespective of its genuine strategic objectives or its complex historical consequences, the campaign in Palestine during the first world war was seen by the British government as an invaluable exercise in propaganda. Keen to capitalize on the romantic appeal of victory in the Holy Land, British propagandists repeatedly alluded to Richard Coeur de Lion's failure to win Jerusalem, thus generating the widely disseminated image of the 1917-18 Palestine campaign as the 'Last' or the 'New' Crusade. This representation, in turn, with its anti-Moslem overtones, introduced complicated problems for the British propaganda apparatus, to the point (demonstrated here through an array of official documentation, press accounts and popular works) of becoming enmeshed in a hopeless web of contradictory directives. This article argues that the ambiguity underlying the representation of the Palestine campaign in British wartime propaganda was not a coincidence, but rather an inevitable result of the complex, often incompatible, historical and religious images associated with this particular front. By exploring the cultural currency of the Crusading motif and its multiple significations, the article suggests that the almost instinctive evocation of the Crusade in this context exposed inherent faultlines and tensions which normally remained obscured within the self-assured ethos of imperial order. This applied not only to the relationship between Britain and its Moslem subjects abroad, but also to rifts within metropolitan British society, where the resonance of the Crusading theme depended on class position, thus vitiating its projected propagandistic effects even among the British soldiers themselves.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-109+204-205
JournalJournal of Contemporary History
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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