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 11
CROSSING THE ENEMY LINES

THE first and most obvious purpose of American propaganda abroad was to reach the enemy country itself, for military leaders have long recognized that in a struggle between foes at all equally matched the victory is not finally won until the war-will of one civilian population is destroyed. Since the beginning of the World War the Allies and the Central Powers had tried various means of accomplishing this purpose. As early as August 1914, the very first month of the war, both the French and the Germans were dropping propaganda leaflets, but it was not until the German drive gathered in the spring of 1918 that the Allies recognized the full importance of propaganda warfare and gave it the earnest attention which it had received from Germany all along. Not until the tide of battle was actually turning in the summer of 1918 did the Allies plan a unified and large-scale attack on the propaganda front, and, in the opinion of Americans at least, actual unification was never achieved.

The United States, as a late-comer to the war, lacked even the somewhat limited experience of the Allies, and, except in the very last weeks, this country's chief function was to assist the British, French, and Italians. Even when American propaganda material was used, it was frequently transmitted to the Germans by Allied, not American, agencies. Apparently because of the opprobrium attaching to the word "propaganda," as well as honest skepticism in certain quarters regarding its effectiveness, American representatives were not at first permitted to join wholeheartedly in the work, though the symbols of Wilson and America were used in all Allied appeals to the peoples of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

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