Was World War One Truly That Lovely?
“Oh! What A Lovely War”, the title of a play, appears to have quite the sarcastic or rather false perception behind it’s meaning. One does not usually think of a war to be “lovely”. Therefore one could ask what it is that makes a war seem lovely? Propaganda has a way of making war seem more glamorous and heroic than it actually is. The play Oh! What A Lovely War shows the deception behind propaganda with the use the character Maggie Hall. Maggie Smith represents the deception of propaganda through music, costumes, and sex appeal.
Within the musical Oh! What A Lovely War is a scene where a chorus line of girls arrives on a Theatre stage singing “Are We Downhearted? No!” The chorus line brings the audience into singing with them and gets them all pumped up about the war and it’s efforts. After the chorus has finished the song with the audience, they begin another song titled, “We don’t want to loose you, but we think you ought to go.” At this point Maggie arrives on stage for her solo. Within the song, she is picking out men in the audience and singling them out to join the army. As if the title of the songs weren’t suggestive and to the point, the songs have a very upbeat and catchy tune that easily get’s an audience member excited, they lyrics Maggie sings are supportive of men leaving their lives and families to serve in the military, and are suggestive that it will be the best time of their lives. Maggie herself is a former airborne soldier with experiences in war on her side. Though she knows the realities of war, Maggie has led a life that was more comfortable for her on the war front than having a regular life at home with a family. Therefore Maggie has no problem signing propagandist songs to a group of men with the intentions of convincing them to get up and join the war. Though war is not the ideal time of anybody’s life as Maggie well knows, Maggie sings courage into the hearts of men who know little of what they are getting themselves into.
The costumes that Maggie wears also serve in the deception that propaganda can play. War is a brutal time; World War I was fought in muddy and dark trenches, yet Maggie draws people to towards the war with glamour and elegance in the costumes she wears in her performances. As she is singing and performing for her war efforts, she is also suggesting through her outfits that war is full of the high life. Maggie’s outfits are attractive, expensive looking, and desirable. Maggie’s costumes suggest an image for what war may look like; even some suggested a character of innocence and good doing. During World War I, people were encouraged to save left over materials to provide to the war for the soldier’s clothing. The soldier’s outfits, including those who served in other areas of the war were not elegant, glamorous, innocent, or suggested good doing. The clothing was built for survival in dark times and places. The clothes Maggie wore gave appeal to people entertaining the thought of joining the war, though the outfits that those serving in the war would wear were far from that of the high life.
Sex appeal played a great deal in war propaganda. As Maggie’s clothing was just discussed, there were costumes of hers that fit and revealed her body in certain ways. This caught the men’s attention and gave the impression that war would give them access to beautiful women. Not only that, but Maggie herself is very attractive and puts the face of a war veteran aside for the face of an alluring and confident woman who gives men the impression that if they join the war voluntarily, women like her will be available for men such as them. The use of chorus girls also applies towards the sex appeal. The target audiences were men. If Maggie had brought a bunch of men on stage with her to convince other men that war was going to be the best choice for them, the appeal of war wouldn’t have been there. The use of beautiful women and characters like Maggie dressing them to appear more attractive to men, gave the false idea that war was full of heroism, beautiful women, and sex. Maggie’s costumes show her figure and expose cleavage. Men joining the war were led under false pretenses that the women encouraging them to go to war would shower them with their love and admiration. Though the kindness and love from women was scarce in times of war for men who served in the trenches. Maggie knowing this, still continued to use her alluring sex appeal to convince the men otherwise and to leave their homes and comfort to serve in the war. Maggie herself was quitting the war efforts to take her turn at being a mother and homebody and bodies for the war were necessary. Though war was where Maggie has lived her life, she felt it was time to convince others of the comforts of war and try the home life for herself.
Oh! What A Lovely War’s character of Maggie Smith is a character who definitely brought the idea to men that war could be “lovely” through the deception of propaganda. Maggie definitely found her self-living her life in the war front and decided it was time to give it up for a comfortable life at home. She knew the truths about war but with songs, flashy costumes, and sex appeal as propaganda, Maggie convinced men that the comfort she found in the life of war would always be there and even greater.
The musical “Oh! What A Lovely War” by Charles Chilton