Shift to propaganda

One of Ross’s last reports from the Italian war theater shows how easily he could shift his allegedly objective account of events on the battlefield for propagandistic purposes.

After Ross’s injury and treatment in military hospitals he delivered a highly appreciated, patriotic talk in Berlin (see The military strategist). This prompted the Verein junger Kaufleute Berlin (Association of young merchants of Berlin) to organize a lecture tour that took Ross to Berlin, Karlsruhe, and Mannheim. For these lectures Ross combined his Berlin talk with references to his book Wir draußen (Us out there).1 Besides self-marketing, these public appearances may well have served propagandistic aims, too. The lecture tour and its indoctrinating style can be seen as preparations for Ross’s next assignment as a liaison officer in Ukraine.2

The referenced article was written on the occasion of one of the last victories of the Central Powers in 1917, the 12th and last battle of the Isonzo. The patriotic pathos and hyperbolic rhetoric of the article is obvious. Unlike earlier reports on military developments or the overall physical and mental condition of the armies, the description of the battle seems to be of secondary importance here. For propaganda purposes the events and the eventual victory are set within ever wider contexts: from the war’s history and general military strategies to Germany’s history.3 Its high-pitched, confidential style, Ross’s emphasis on his status as experienced soldier, and the increased presence of political speculations are in sharp contrast to his earlier, more modestly keyed newspaper reports.4

In 1938, on the 20th anniversary of war’s ending, Ross published a collection of his war reports under the title Vier Jahre am Feind (Four years at the enemy). Although it opened with his articles on the war in the Balkan, the referenced report was not included. At least two reasons can be adduced for this. Firstly, after the Versailles Treaty its confident, victorious tone had become an anachronism; secondly, a propagandistic piece would have been inappropriate  amid the book’s selection of reports that focused on atmospheric depictions of the armed conflict.

Katalin Teller

Colin Ross. Sieg in Italien. Vossische Zeitung: 1917 Nov 13;  581 Abend-Ausgabe; [1-2].

Topic: The Great War
Case: Speaking engagements


1 See Brief[e] von Colin Ross an Verein Junger Kaufleute Berlin. Theaterwissenschaftliche Sammlung, Institut für Medienkultur und Theater, Universität zu Köln; Sign. Au 9327.

2 See Bodo-Michael Baumunk. Colin Ross. Ein deutscher Revolutionär und Reisender 1885-1945. rev. edn. Berlin; 2015; 16-23. See Library. See also Bundesarchiv PH 3/110,Transporte auf dem Balkan. Ergebnisse von Dienstreisen und Besprechungen (Handakten von Genlt. a. D. Behschnitt 1918).

3 For this common narrative practice see Sabine Autsch. Zum Deutungskonstrukt der Reise in biographischen Quellen. In: Sabine Autsch ed. Der Krieg als Reise. Der Erste Weltkrieg – Innenansichten. Siegen: Böschen; 1999; 64-81.

4 However, the shift is remarkable only when seen within Ross’s entire oeuvre. Articles written by contemporaries (for instance, Austrian war reporters Alice Schalek or Roda Roda, who also published extensively in the Vossische Zeitung, or Ross’s German colleagues Max Osborn, Max Nordau or Eugen Lenhoff), demonstrate the same unconditional servility to official policies throughout the war.

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