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Mobilisation or armistice commemoration: Public war memories in the interwar period in the Netherlands

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Abstract

The First World War is considered by many historians to have produced the great cultural turn of the twentieth century. The boom in memory which occurred across Europe after the war is part of its impact. Dutch historians have argued that the Netherlands, as a neutral country, never fully experienced the far-reaching intellectual and cultural consequences of the war. This article questions this proposition by examining how the memory of the First World War appeared in the Netherlands. The author argues that in the interwar period the First World War was remembered publicly in a number of different ways. First, the commemoration of national mobilisation (1924) emphasised the military achievements of this period. Later, in the second half of the 1920s, a memory more oriented towards peace and internationalism dominated the public sphere. Initialized by the No More War Federation, this memory was promoted in particular by means of a Dutch armistice commemoration.

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Article
While the Netherlands tried to maintain neutrality during World War I, the belligerent nations watched the country and its public opinion closely. At the same time, the French, English, and German authorities used propaganda to influence Dutch public opinion. The famous documentary film The Battle of the Somme (1916) is seen as a prime example. Its critical reception in the Netherlands has been studied before, but its challenge to the cause of neutrality has escaped close attention. Not only did Dutch ministers, mayors, film distributors, and cinema owners get involved in the marketing and regulation of war propaganda, but so did the intelligence services and propaganda departments of the warring countries. This article shows that at least three films about the battle of the Somme were shown in Dutch cinemas - French, English, and German - and that all of them were part of a struggle to secure the public's favour.