The Global First World War

The Global First World War: African, East Asian, Latin American and Iberian Mediators is a collection of essays edited by Ana Paula Pires, Jan Schmidt and María Inés Tato published in 2021.

A review of the book seems inappropriate given that there are only essays on Africa, one by myself – looking at how the press reported the news in Africa and from Africa in Britain. For the latter, two newspapers are compared – The Globe distributed in London and The Driffield Times, Yorkshire. Within Africa, a range of newspapers and territories is considered allowing for a comparison of reporting related to the different interests for each country or group concerned.

The other by Ana Paula Pires and Rita Nunes considering Portuguese humanitarian efforts during the war. In particular they consider the role of the Red Cross in mainland Portugal, the two African territories, Portuguese East Africa and Angola, and other territories. The range of function the Red Cross assumed ensured it was a mediator of information between various players.

And this is the theme of the book – how individuals and groups mediated the war for others who could not be present at a given space and time. Now at last my copy of the book has arrived, I can safely tell you about it – it’s been a while holding back the excitement as I had a preview, the result of proofing and editing the text with the editors.

What a refreshing range of topics and there are a few other similar collections recently released or due soon – and I say this not only because I have a chapter in them. These are all books where the editors have taken an innovative look at the First World War and addressed what could be called obscure aspects. What these show, however, is the wide-ranging impact and influence the war of 1914-1918 had on the world.

I’ll be looking at each of the publications in turn highlighting what appealed to me in terms of my narrower interest of Africa – it might inspire you to take a wider look at non-traditional aspects of the war too.

Chinese involvement in the war is a rarely mentioned topic, these two essays being welcome contributions to the slow growing literature on their involvement. Although Chinese labour was to serve in East Africa too, the two essays concern life in Europe and in China. Xu Guoqi considers the Chinese workers on the Western Front and the art works they produced. Poetry, trench art using old shell casings and how they welcomed the British king are all considered. The other essay by Kwong Chi Man looks at Chinese intellectuals understanding of war in the interwar period and how their interpretation of the war led to the China developing into the country it did. The realisation that mass mobilisation of a population was possible and what it could achieve. I could see parallels with the development of African nationalism post-war.

Near neighbour, Japan, is also the feature of two essays. Japan’s foreign book market by Maj Hartmann shows how even during war a country could maintain relationships with both sides on a scientific and intellectual level. It wasn’t easy due to regulations such as Britain’s Trading with the Enemy Act but it was possible – especially with the help of neutral countries and sufficient justification of purpose. In contrast, Jan Schmidt looked internally at Japanese mass media, bureaucracy, schools and department stores and how teachers interpreted the war for students, as well as a photographic display or exhibition of the war in a large department store. Creativity abounds.

On the other side of the globe, in South America, Stefan Rinke considers Propaganda in Latin America. This fascinating chapter shows how consulates, ambassadors and the press all worked to appeal to different communities. A challenge where countries were ostensibly neutral and had first and second generation expatriates resident from belligerent countries on both sides. How did they distribute their loyalties to their country of heritage and to their country of residence, especially when conflict of interest arose? This theme continues through Guillemette Martin’s essay on The Mexican Press, particularly El Informador in Guadalajara and in María Inés Tato and Luis Esteban Dallas Fontana piece on Lieut Col Emilio Kinkelin who was an Argentine reporter based in Europe during the war years. While we tend to hear more accounts of people escaping the war, a read of this chapter suggests Kinkelin was reluctant to leave the theatre of war despite having his family with him.

Finally, as a companion to Portugal on the Iberian Peninsular, there is a paper on Covert wars in Spain by Carolina Garcia Sanz which considers how foreigners used the territory as a base for spying – themes of James Bond, Le Queux and other such spy thrillers emerge.

As you can tell from this short summary, an eclectic collection of papers revealing for me new aspects of what was a global war.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.