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