This Essay Talks About Wartime Propaganda In World War I.

3412 words - 14 pages

Wartime Propaganda: World War IThe Drift Towards War"Lead this people into war, and they'll forget there was ever such athing as tolerance. To fight, you must be brutal and ruthless, andthe spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fiber ofnational life, infecting the Congress, the courts, the policeman onthe beat, the man in the street."It is one of history's great ironies that Woodrow Wilson, who was re- elected as apeace candidate in 1916, led America into the first world war. With the help of apropaganda apparatus that was unparalleled in world history, Wilson forged a nation ofimmigrants into a fighting whole. An examination of public opinion before the war,propaganda efforts during the war, and the endurance of propaganda in peacetime raisessignificant questions about the viability of democracy as a governing principle.Like an undertow, America's drift toward war was subtle and forceful. Accordingto the outspoken pacifist Randolph Bourne, war sentiment spread gradually amongvarious intellectual groups. "With the aid of Roosevelt," wrote Bourne, "the murmursbecame a monotonous chant, and finally a chorus so mighty that to be out of it was at firstto be disreputable, and finally almost obscene." Once the war was underway, dissent waspractically impossible. "If you believed our going into this war was a mistake," wrote TheNation in a post-war editorial, "if you held, as President Wilson did early in 1917, that theideal outcome would be 'peace without victory,' you were a traitor." Forced to standquietly on the sidelines while their neighbors stampeded towards war, many pacifistswould have agreed with Bertrand Russell that "the greatest difficulty was the purelypsychological one of resisting mass suggestion, of which the force becomes terrific whenthe whole nation is in a state of violent collective excitement."This frenzied support for the war was particularly remarkable in light of the factthat Wilson's re-election had been widely interpreted as a vote for peace. After all, inJanuary of 1916, Wilson stated that "so far as I can remember, this is a government of thepeople, and this people is not going to choose war." In retrospect, it is apparent that thevote for Wilson cloaked profound cleavages in public opinion. At the time of hisinauguration, immigrants constituted one third of the population. Allied and Germanpropaganda revived old-world loyalties among "hyphenated" European- Americans, andopinions about US intervention were sharply polarized. More than 8 millionGerman-Americans lived in this country, and many were sympathetic to the cause of theirhomeland. Meanwhile, anti-German feeling was strong among the upper classes on theAtlantic coast, and was particularly intense among those with social and businessconnections to Britain.The Committee on Public InformationThe absence of public unity was a primary concern when America entered the waron April 6, 1917. In Washington, unwavering public support was considered to be...

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