World War 1 Propaganda

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world war 1 propaganda





"Lead this people into war, and they'll forget there was ever such a thing as tolerance. To fight, you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fiber of national life, infecting the Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, the man in the street."
It is one of history's crazy things that Woodrow Wilson, who was re- elected as a peace candidate in 1916, led America into the First World War. With the help of a propaganda device that was unmatched in world history, Wilson forged a nation of immigrants into a fighting whole. A check of public opinion before the war, propaganda efforts during the war and the endurance of propaganda in peacetime raise significant questions about the viability of democracy as a governing regulation.
Like an undercurrent, America's motion toward war was subtle and powerful. According to the peace lover Randolph Bourne, war sentiment spread gradually among various intelligent groups. "With the aid of Roosevelt," wrote Bourne, "the murmurs became a monotonous chant, and finally a chorus so mighty that to be out of it was at first to be disreputable, and finally almost obscene." Once the war was underway, conflict was basically impossible. "If you believed our going into this war was a mistake," wrote The Nation in a post-war editorial, "if you held, as President Wilson did early in 1917, that the ideal outcome would be 'peace without victory,' you were a traitor." Forced to stand quietly on the sidelines while their neighbors ran towards war, many pacifists would have agreed with Bertrand Russell that "the greatest difficulty was the mental one of resisting mass suggestion, of which the force becomes terrific when the whole nation is in a state of violent excitement."
This wild support for the war was specifically distinguished in light of the fact that Wilson's re-election had been widely seen and understood as a vote for peace. After all, in January of 1916, Wilson stated that "so far as I can remember, this is a government of the people, and this people is not going to choose war." Looking back, it is clear that the vote for Wilson covered up extreme cleavages in public opinion. At the time of his inauguration, immigrants made up one third of the population. More than 8 million German-Americans lived in this country, and many were sensitive to the cause of their homeland. Meanwhile, anti-German feeling was strong among the upper classes on the Atlantic coast, and was fierce among those with social and business connections to Britain.
The absence of public unity was a primary concern when America entered the war on April 6, 1917. In Washington, constant public support was considered to be necessary to the cause. On April 13, 1917, Wilson created the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to promote the war in the United States while publicizing American war aims abroad. Under the leadership of a journalist named George Creel, the CPI recruited heavily from business, media, academia, and the art world. The CPI blended advertising techniques with a sophisticated understanding of human psychology, and its efforts represent the first time that a modern government disseminated propaganda on such a large scale. It is fascinating that this phenomenon, often linked with tyrannical regimes, emerged in a democratic state.
Although George Creel was an outspoken critic of censorship at the hands of public servants, the CPI took immediate steps to limit damaging information (Thum). Invoking the threat of German propaganda, the CPI outfitted "voluntary guidelines" for the news media and helped to pass the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. The CPI did not have clear enforcement power, but it enjoyed censorship power, which was equal to direct legal force. Like modern reporters who participate in Pentagon press pools, journalists grudgingly complied with the official guidelines in order to stay connected to the information loop. Radical newspapers, such as the socialist Appeal to Reason, were almost completely still by wartime limitations on conflict. The CPI was not a censor in the strictest sense, but it came as close to performing that function as any government agency in the US has ever done. Censorship was only one element of the CPI's efforts (Edwards). With all the need of simplicity of a modern advertising agency, the CPI thought over the different ways that information flowed to the population and soaked this tangle with pro-war stuff. The CPI's domestic division was composed of 19 sub-divisions, and each focused on a particular type of propaganda. A extensive survey is beyond the scope of this paper, but the use of newspapers, academics, artists, and filmmakers will be discussed. One of the most important elements of the CPI was the Division of News, which distributed more than 6,000 press releases and acted as the primary conduit for war-related information. According to Creel, on any given week, more than 20,000 newspaper columns were filled with material gleaned from CPI handouts. Realizing that many Americans glided right past the front page and headed straight for the features section, the CPI also created the Division of Syndicated Features and recruited the help of leading novelists, short story writers, and essayists. These popular American writers presented the official line in an easily edible form, and their work was said to have reached twelve million people every month.
The Division of Civic and Educational Cooperation relied heavily on scholars who churned out pamphlets with titles such as The German Whisper, German War Practices, and Conquest and Kultur. The academic rigor of many of these pieces was questionable, but more respectable thinkers, such as John Dewey and Walter Lippmann, also voiced their support for the war. Even in the face of this trend, however, a few scholars refused to fall in line. Randolph Bourne had been one of John Dewey's star students, and he felt betrayed by his mentor's agreement with the war effort. In one of several well-spoken wartime essays, Bourne attacked his colleagues for self-consciously guiding the country into the conflict. "The German intellectuals went to war to save their culture from barbarization," wrote Bourne. "And the French went to war to save their beautiful France! Are not our intellectuals equally fatuous when they tell us that our war of all wars is stainless and thrillingly achieving for good?"
The CPI did not limit its promotional efforts to the written word. The Division of Pictorial Publicity had at its disposal many of the most talented advertising illustrators and cartoonists of the time, and these artists worked closely with publicity experts in the Advertising Division. Newspapers and magazines gave out advertising space, and it was almost impossible to pick up a periodical without facing CPI material. Powerful posters, painted in red white and blue, were plastered on billboards across the country. Even from the hostile vantage point of the mid 1990s, there is something powerful about these images that leaps across the decades and stirs a deep yearning to buy liberty bonds or enlist in the navy (Edwards).
Moving images were even more popular than still ones, and the Division of Films ensured that the war was promoted in the cinema. The film industry suffered from a cheap character, and producers sought decency by lending wholehearted support to the war effort. Hollywood's mood was summed up in a 1917 editorial in The Motion Picture News which proclaimed that every individual at work in this industry wants to do his share and promised that through slides, film leaders and trailers, posters, and newspaper publicity they will spread that propaganda so necessary to the mobilization of the country's great resources. Movies with titles like The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin, Wolves of Kultur, and Pershing's Crusaders flooded American theaters. One picture, To Hell With The Kaiser, was so popular that Massachusetts riot police were summoned to deal with an angry mob that had been denied entry.

The preceding discussion only hints at the fullness of CPI domestic propaganda activities. From lecture hall podiums and movie screens to the pages of popular fiction and the inside of payroll envelopes, the cause of the Allies was creatively publicized in almost every available communication channel. But this is only part of the story. The propaganda techniques employed by the CPI are also fascinating, and, from the standpoint of democratic government, much more important.
Propagandists usually attempt to influence individuals while leading each one to behave "as though his response were his own decision." Mass communication tools extend the propagandist's reach and make it possible to shape the attitudes of many individuals simultaneously. Because propagandists attempt to "do the other fellow's thinking for him," they prefer indirect messages to overt, logical arguments. During the war, the CPI accomplished this by making passionate appeals, by demonizing Germany, by linking the war to the goals of various social groups, and, when necessary, by lying outright.
CPI propaganda typically appealed to the heart, not to the mind. Emotional excitement is a favorite technique of the propagator, because any emotion may be drained off' into any activity by deceiving. An article which appeared in Scientific Monthly shortly after the war argued that the detailed suffering of a little girl and her kitten can motivate our hatred against the Germans, arouse our sympathy for Armenians, make us enthusiastic for the Red Cross, or lead us to give money for a home for cats. Wartime slogans such as "Bleeding Belgium," "The Criminal Kaiser," and "Make the World Safe For Democracy," suggest that the CPI was no stranger to this idea. Evidence of this technique can be seen in a propaganda poster that depicted an aggressive, bayonet-wielding German soldier above the caption "Beat Back The Hun With Liberty Bonds." In this example, the emotions of hate and fear were redirected toward giving money to the war effort. It is an interesting side-note that many analysts attribute the failure of German propaganda in America to the fact that it emphasized logic over passion. According to Count von Bernstorff, a German diplomat, the outstanding characteristic of the average American is rather a great, though superficial, sentimentality, and German press telegrams completely failed to grasp this fact (Pratkanis).
A second propaganda technique used by the CPI was Demonization of the enemy. "So great are the psychological resistances to war in modern nations," wrote Lasswell "that every war must appear to be a war of defense against a menacing, murderous aggressor. There must be no play on words about who the public is to hate." American propaganda was not the only source of anti-German feeling, but most historians agree that the CPI pamphlets went too far in playing Germans as corrupt, brutal aggressors (Chase). In one CPI publication, Professor Vernon Kellogg asked "will it be any wonder if, after the war, the people of the world, when they recognize any human being as a German, wi

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