World War I “The War to End All Wars”

In conjunction with our WWI exhibit, we will be publishing a short brochure on the causes and history of WWI.  The text is from American Political and Social History by Harold Underwood Faulkner, published in May 1937, by F.S. Crofts & Co., New York

Part III – WHY WE FOUGHT

While economic interests were tying the United States more closely to the Allied nations, organized propaganda was effectively used.  Propaganda agencies, both of the Triple Entente and of the Central Powers, exerted themselves to the utmost to influence public opinion, but in this the Entente were far more successful.

“Entente propaganda in the United States,” wrote Professor Hayes, “was even more general than that of the Teutons; it was also more adroit, more sympathetic, and more conformable to American prejudices and American wishes.”

Above all, it was more successful because Great Britain, through control of the cables and strict censorship, was able to color the news that reached America.  Honest, unbiased news largely disappeared from American papers after August, 1914.

With this great advantage to start with, propaganda was adroitly pushed through weekly reviews of the war distributed to hundreds of newspapers, moving pictures, articles in newspapers and magazines (written when possible by sympathetic Americans), contacts with influential men in all professions, speeches, debates, and lectures by American citizens-in brief, by every known method of influencing public opinion.

While the British talked of saving the world from barbarism and the French played up their contributions to American independence, famous men like James Bryce, highly respected in America, lent their names to the most incredible stories of German atrocities.

Against the skillful Allied propaganda the blundering efforts of Germany to subsidize the American press and influence American opinion made little progress and were eventually utterly discredited when, in 1915, President Wilson demanded the recall of the Austrian ambassador, Dumba, and the German attaches, von Papen and Boy-Ed.  These men had exceeded their official rights in pushing German interests in war time and were without doubt involved in plots to sabotage the production of munitions for the Allies.

That the presentation of the Entente case was far more efficient than that of the German, there can be no question.  This does not mean, however, that the United States was thus tricked into the war on one side.  It undoubtedly helped to build up sympathy for the Entente Powers and hostility toward Germany, but the continual blunders in the policy of the Central Powers were quite sufficient to accomplish that without other aid.

Furthermore, the traditions and culture of the American people were largely based on those of Great Britain; language, literature, and legal and constitutional institutions stemmed from the British Isles.  If this country was to enter the war at all – and there were many influences that appeared to be driving her inevitably into that course – the choice she made as to sides was the natural one.

Most Americans felt very definitely that they were fighting on the side of civilization and liberal institutions, an attitude enunciated by leaders in all walks of life and an attitude effectively and repeatedly expressed by Woodrow Wilson.