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War Propaganda

Essay by   •  June 6, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  3,623 Words (15 Pages)  •  1,468 Views

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"If we understand the mechanisms of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it." -Edward Bernays. During World War I, the United States government manipulated citizens to specific thoughts and beliefs by the use of propaganda through various types of media. On the matter of the war, many Americans had no interest in joining the war effort and that the United States should remain isolated from the affairs of other countries. Propaganda was used to push fear into their minds and the belief that war involvement was necessary for the country. As the propaganda methods spread, Americans allowed the government to persuade them into wanting war. Even through the course of the war, the propaganda kept Americans feeling patriotic. America trusted authority to provide them accurate information and ideas about the wars while in truth it was edited to carry out any specific, intended message.

Propaganda is the use of communications and media to influence public opinion by, in this case, the government. By taking information regardless of whether it is of truth or it is completely false for a specific political effect. The information used and the style in which it is used is a carefully selected process taken by officials to be displayed onto the public so that they may be persuaded to a certain opinion and way of thinking (Kiyantseva). During WWI, media was widely used for these purposes. Such as newspapers, posters, art, the radio, and music.

World War I began in 1914 and lasted until 1918. The United States stayed out of war involvement until the government felt it was needed to step in in 1917. Propaganda was used during World War I for nationalism, recruitment, motivation, to increase production of items such as weapons, for conservation, security, and also to receive funds for the war effort (American Propaganda, Duffy). When World War II came around in 1939, Americans were not happy at all. They wanted to stay out of the war, main reason being from the large amount of debt that still remained from the first world war. But the government felt it was necessary for the United States to play a role in this war and therefore used mass amounts of propaganda to convince Americans that they were needed in the war. Mostly similar to the needs for World War I, propaganda for World War II also called for the increase of production, the increase of labor, the buying of war bonds, enlistment into the army, and conservation. Though much propaganda aimed towards creating the idea of Germans, specifically the Nazi party, to be evil monsters, for the calling of women to step up and work for the countries needs however possible, and also to strike down any frivolous talk of the war (American Propaganda, Duffy).

Woodrow Wilson used his place in office to keep America out of war. With this being the mutual wish of the American people, he was elected to office a second time in hopes that he would once again prevent war involvement. Though almost immediately after his election, he campaigned for America to enter the war. With knowledge that it would be difficult to get Americans to consider entering the war, Wilson established on April 13, 1917, the Committee on Public Information (CPI) (Mashak, Streich). This committee consisted of Edward Bernays, Walter Litman, Frank Cobbs, and George Creel. Each of these men were journalists called upon by Wilson to change the public opinion of the war through the use of propaganda and censorship (Mashak.) George Creel acted as the head of this committee with two primary goals, "..building support for the war in a pluralistic society and portraying the enemy in the worst possible manner" (Streich). Even though Creel was a muckraker and was profoundly a critic of censorship, he used advertising and knowledge of psychology to hinder Americans from opposing the war effort. From businesses, to the media, to education, and art, the CPI managed to incorporate propaganda. Usage of censorship was a great deal as the CPI was afraid of any leakage of German propaganda onto the United States. Accordingly, information needed to be carefully selected and monitored as it was presented to Americans (Osborn). The Espionage Act of 1917 was passed to prohibit interference with military recruitment and operations, the support of any U.S. enemies, and to promote insubordination within the military. Likewise, the CPI worked for the passage of the Sedition Act of 1918 which forbade the usage of foul language or to speak in a demeaning manor about the United States government, the United States flag, and the United States military. As part of the censorship, the CPI portrayed a savage image of the Germans that stuck to most Americans. Eventually the teaching of the German language became prohibited. Even German names were forced to be changed, from German citizens to everyday food items such as the frankfurter, replaced with the term hotdog, and sauerkraut, replaced with liberty cabbage (Streich).

The Committee on Public Information did not only use censorship as a tool for propaganda. Media such as songs, posters, film, and press were used as tools for propaganda. There were speakers known as the Four Minute Men who gave small speeches throughout the country to stimulate Americans into the war (Streich, Mashak). 19 sub-divisions made up the CPI as a whole, and each division had focus on one specific kind of propaganda (Ford 98). Some of those divisions included newspapers, academics, art, and films. The Division of News was one of the most important divisions. It acted as the main source of war-related information with more than 6,000 press releases distributed. As Creel ordered, more than 20,000 newspaper columns contained CPI monitored information. They knew that many readers looked past the front page and went immediately for the features section. This led to the creation of the Division of Syndicated Features. This division consisted of essayists, short story writers, and novelists who wrote easy to understand works that grabbed the attention around 12 million people every month (Osborn, Ford 98). There was the Division of Civic and Educational Cooperation made up of scholars. The CPI used many well known thinkers such as John Dewey and Walter Lippmann to speak out in favor of the war. Pamphlets were also created and passed among Americans speaking out against Germans and telling how they were savage beasts in need of taming. Many artists came together to form the Division of Pictorial Publicity. These artists created cartoons and illustrations that newspapers and magazines saved plenty of space for, that it was practically impossible to read any kind of periodical and not run into some kind of CPI created material. Profound posters covered in patriotic colors were plastered all around the country (Delwiche). The Division of Films was even more popular

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