Words That Won the War: The Story of the Committee on Public Information, 1917-1919

By James R. Mock; Cedric Larson | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
DELETING THE HYPHEN: THE FOREIGN-BORN

HYPHENATED AMERICANISM" was one of the most familiar phrases of the war years, and, even when stripped of its emotional connotation, represented a vital problem in the mobilization of American manpower and resources for the prosecution of the war. More than 14,- 500,000 residents of the country in 1917 had been born in foreign countries, and many others were but one generation removed from the status of immigrants. Foreign groups lived a life that was in many respects apart from that of the country as a whole-they held to their national customs, they spoke in a foreign tongue, they had their own churches (in many of which English was never spoken), and they had their own newspapers. The problem was to enlist the help of all these people in the common enterprise.

Large as this task was, it seemed even more forbidding to many people in 1917, because the most important group was that of the German-Americans whose homeland was the very country they were being asked to oppose. Further, Americans were reminded daily of the machinations of German agents on our soil before the war, and it was widely believed that the German-American Alliance had established a tight network of propaganda agents who had not only invaded centers of German population but also poisoned schools and colleges and the press. German interest in the brewing industry also served, with the growing number of temperance advocates, to reinforce the general wartime hatred of anything connected with the name of Germany.

Even American citizenship was held to be no proof of loyalty. As Senator William H. King wrote to Creel on March

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