Archive from August, 2019
Aug 16, 2019 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Whipping Up the People’s Righteous Wrath

Whipping Up the People’s Righteous Wrath

After promising that no American boys would die on Europe’s battlefields, Woodrow Wilson’s War inspired insufficient men to fight for the cause of England and France. After Lincoln manufactured the clash at Fort Sumter, Northern men did join his army for the better part of a year, and until the casualty numbers and Northern military setbacks brought enlistments to a near halt. Both Lincoln and Wilson had to resort to conscription to fill the ranks; both controlled the press in order to demonize the enemy.

Whipping Up the People’s Righteous Wrath

“Even when war had been declared, the American people showed a marked reluctance to take up arms. Enlistments were so poor – in the first six weeks only 73,000 men volunteered – that it became necessary for the government to raise a conscript army.

To inspire the nation to fight, a new, home-grown propaganda campaign was needed in order to whip up what President Wilson’s private secretary, Joseph Tumulty, called “the people’s righteous wrath.”

To this end, President Wilson set up, on April 14, a Committee on Public Information, under the chairmanship of a journalist, George Creel, which was financed to the extent of $5 million from a $100 million fund granted to the President for the general defense of the country.

Hatred of Germans was now whipped to a fever pitch. All the propaganda stories that had worked best in Europe were revived: Germany’s sole responsibility [for the war], the rape of Belgium, the outraging of nuns, the unmentionable atrocities, the criminal Kaiser.

New stories were created; one, a book called Christine, by Alice Cholmondeley, a collection of letters purporting to have been written by a music student in Germany to her mother in Britain until her death in Stuttgart on August 8, 1914, mingled a damning catalogue of German character faults with emotional gush about music and filial feeling. The book had a wide circulation, and the Germans rated it as perhaps the best individual piece of propaganda during the war.

The Creel committee sponsored 75,000 speakers, who . . . in 5,000 American cities and towns, aroused the “righteous wrath” of the people against the Hun and the Boche.

The influence of the barrage of propaganda on the American public cannot be overemphasized. The war historian J.F.C. Fuller writes of a “propaganda-demented people” and says flatly that there can be little doubt that President Wilson would have remained neutral “had it not been for the octopus of propaganda, whose tentacles gripped him like a [vise].”

Raymond B. Fosdick, in an article titled “America at War,” summarized the ecstasy of hate that gripped the American people. “We hated with a common hate that was exhilarating. The writer of this review remembers attending a great meeting in New England [church] . . . A speaker demanded that the Kaiser, when captured, be boiled in oil, and the entire audience stood on chairs to scream its hysterical approval. This was the mood we were in. This is the kind of madness that had seized us.”

(The First Casualty. From the Crimea to Vietnam: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker, Phillip Knightly, Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1975, excerpts pp. 322-323)

Aug 15, 2019 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Embattled Democracies

Embattled Democracies

The Western Allies in the First World War framed the conflict in ideological terms, as Lincoln did in the mid-1860s. The content of the latter’s short Gettysburg speech, probably not delivered as later written by his secretaries and published, was that of the triumph of good over evil – and portrayed as an embattled democracy fighting for its existence.

The leaders of the Western democracies in 1917 were determined to crush an assumed German militarism which they viewed as an evil, while Russians were involved in a political crisis of their own and could care less about the trenches, death and destruction of the World War. Their leadership was practical and local, while the West was messianic globalism.

Embattled Democracies

“How different this was in the Western countries! Here, war fervor had by 1917 attained a terrific intensity. The Western democracies had by this time convinced themselves, as embattled democracies have a tendency to do, that the entire future of civilization depended on the outcome of the military struggle.

There is, let me assure you, nothing in nature more egocentrical than the embattled democracy. It soon becomes the victim of its own war propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts its own vision on everything else.

Its enemy becomes the embodiment of all evil. Its own side, on the other hand, is the center of all virtue. The contest comes to be viewed as having a final, apocalyptic quality. If we lose, all is lost; life will no longer be worth living; there will be nothing to be salvaged. If we win, then everything will be possible; all problems will become soluble; the one great source of evil – our enemy – will have been crushed; the forces of good will then sweep forward unimpeded; all worthy aspirations will be satisfied.

It will readily be seen that people who have got themselves into this frame of mind have little understanding for the issues of any contest other than the one in which they are involved. The idea of people wasting time and substance on any other issue seems to them preposterous. This explains why Allied statesmen were simply unable to comprehend how people in Russia could be interested in an internal Russian political crisis when there was a war on in the West.

There was, to be sure, an effort on the Allied side . . . to portray the contest as one of political ideology: as a struggle between democracy and autocracy. To this, I think, we Americans were particularly prone.

Wilhelminian Germany at its worst was much closer to Western parliamentarianism and to Western concepts of justice than was the Tsarist Russia whose collaboration the Western Allies so gladly accepted in the early stages of the war.

The truth is that the war was being waged against Germany, not because of the ideology of her government but because of her national aspirations. The ideological issue was an afterthought.”

(Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin, George F. Kennan, Little, Brown and Company, 1960, excerpts pp. 5-7)