HUGHES, Robert. Expatriate Australian art critic on the nature and cultural consequences media and politician lying about the horrors of World War 1

Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, AO (28 July 1938 – 6 August 2012) was a US-based  Australian-born art critic, writer,  maker of television documentaries and author of “The Fatal Shore” (a history of convict transportation to Australia) and “the Shock of the New” (an analysis of modern Art) (see: )


Robert Hughes on the nature and cultural consequences of media and politician lying about the horrors of WW1 (1980): “What would the later history of modern art have been, if the Great war had never been fought? It is impossible to know. The war gutted an entire generation … But one can indicate what war did to culture. The fact that its reality was incommunicable to non-combatants, those home jingoes whom Wilfred Owen dreamed of slaughtering with a tank – “then there’d be no more jokes in music halls/ To mock the shattered bodies round Bapaume” – opened a vast gap of experience between the ones who had fought, mostly young men,, and their civilian elders. Thus the war started the first of the exacerbated conflicts of generation that would mark modern culture right through to the 1960s … After the catastrophes of Verdun and the Somme, this generation – or. at least, those of it who had dome time in the trenches – knew it had been lied to. Its generals, bunglers like Haig and cattle-herders like Joffre, had lied about the nature and length of the war. Its politicians had lied about its causes, and a compliant self-censoring press had seen to it that very little of the realities of war, not even a photo of a corpse, found its ways into any French, German, or British newspaper. Never had there been a wider gap between official language and perceived reality. When the war finally ended, it was necessary for both sides to maintain, indeed to inflate, the myth of sacrifice so that the whole affair would not be seen for what it was: a meaningless waste of millions of lives.  Logically if the flower of youth had been cut down in Flanders, the survivors were not the flower: the dead were superior to the traumatized living. In this way, the virtual destruction of a generation furthering increased the distance between the old and the young, between the official and the unofficial. One result of this was a hatred, among certain artists, of all forms of authority, all traditional modes. But the main result was a longing for a clean slate.” [1].


[1]. Robert Hughes, “The Shock of the New” (Knopf, 1980), pp59-60.