The First World War introduced the widespread use of lethal chemical weapons. In its aftermath, the British government, like that of many states, had to prepare civilians to confront such weapons in a future war. Over the course of the interwar period, it developed individual anti-gas protection as a cornerstone of civil defence. Susan R. Grayzel traces the fascinating history of one object – the civilian gas mask – through the years 1915–1945 and, in so doing, reveals the reach of modern, total war and the limits of the state trying to safeguard civilian life in an extensive empire. Drawing on records from Britain's Colonial, Foreign, War and Home Offices and other archives alongside newspapers, journals, personal accounts and cultural sources, she connects the histories of the First and Second World Wars, combatants and civilians, men and women, metropole and colony, illuminating how new technologies of warfare shaped culture, politics, and society.
"Gas Mask Nation explores Japanese daily life during the widespread culture of civil defense that emerged through fifteen years of war, beginning with Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and only ending with Japan's decisive defeat in WWII. This fifteen-year period involved intense social mobilization and the militarization of citizens. As in nearly every war since the invention of the airplane, surveillance, secrecy, and physical safety became visual symbols of national preparedness and anxiety. Everybody was vulnerable, always. And everybody had a role to play. Prevailing scholarship tends to portray the war years in Japan as a landscape of privation where consumer and popular culture were suppressed under the massive censorship of the war machine. Weisenfeld claims otherwise: while not denying the horrors of war, she shows that pleasure, desire, wonder, creativity, and humor were all still abundantly present. Even amidst the fear, tasty caramels were sold to children with paper gas masks as promotional giveaways, and popular magazines featured everything from attractive models in the latest civil defense fashions to futuristic wartime weapons. Gas Mask Nation examines the multilayered construction of an anxious yet perversely pleasurable culture of civil air defense through a diverse range of art works and media including experimental and documentary photographs, newsreels, popular magazine illustrations, advertising, cartoons, and state propaganda"--