To War with Words: British Propaganda in the United States during the Phoney War, September 1939 to May 1940
Both winning the war and the prospects for a stable free world afterwards depend ultimately on whether we win and keep the sympathy of the 130,000,000 Americans.
Lord Lothian, September 19391
At 11:15 on the morning of Sunday, September 3, 1939, Neville Chamberlain broadcast to the people of Britain. In somber tones he delivered the long-dreaded message: Britain was at war with Germany. Moments later, air raid sirens wailed across the city. A German preemptive strike seemed at hand. Inside the Ministry of Information, members of the staff were clustered around office radio sets. At the sound of the siren, they moved en masse into the specially prepared basement shelter. At Broadcasting House, the American correspondents waited, ready for the story that many believed would transform the foreign policy of their country. But the deluge didn't come that day. The siren was a false alarm, and the war at first proved little more substantial. Allied forces assumed their defensive positions in France and waited. In the meantime, Hitler devastated Poland.
London's reprieve gave little respite to the MoI's American specialists. Life could never be easy for a propaganda office pledged to conduct no propaganda. In basing its strategy for wooing American public opinion on a steady flow of news, the Ministry planners had assumed that the war would be worth reporting, but in place of high drama in France the MoI had only the "Bore War." Their American work, moreover, suffered from the lack of a clear objective. The American Division officially worked toward "the creation of general goodwill," while the BBC American Liaison Unit was supposed to be "familiarising American listeners with the situation in this country and thus enlisting their