Media Influence on the People
The US government used media in various ways during the First World War, to manipulate the public to support their purpose. The reason that the majority of people in the US had common views throughout the First World War was because of the media influence. When the US was under the neutrality agreement, the media helped people feel good about being neutral.
However, when the time came for the US to join the war, the media suddenly changed and tried to gain public support in favor of joining the war. During the war, however, to keep the home front happy, the media had to portray the war in a way that made the people forget the previous reasons for not joining the war. The newspapers were also highly censored so that the people would not know the entire truth about where their families had been sent to. This was to keep people from revolting after they had joined the war.
The US, being one of the most diverse nations, needed a way in to portray the war in a way that would gain the approval of the majority of the people, to prevent civil unrest. The US media ended up sugar-coating the war so much that the common people did not know that the war had as devastating effects as it did. Only after the war had completely ended, did the common people of the US realize the effects it had had on the country and on the rest of the world. Although some argue that the media hid the truth from the people, it was all done for the general good.
The US had chosen a way that would not worry the people and protect the home front, instead of a way that would let the people know the reality of the war, but worry them about something that was inevitable. President Wilson established the Committee on Public information, an organization which, under the direction of a journalist named George Creel, became unlike any organization before conceived in warfare. Wilson had chosen Creel, on the basis of a letter which he had written to him. In this letter, Creel addressed the debate: how much ensorship to impose on the media. Creel said that he was against censorship, other than what the newspapers would enforced on themselves, after they had been convinced of the need for it. Creel wanted to bring the media into “unparalleled openness”. Meaning, the kind of information they would allow the public to see, would have never been shown before. However, Creel was against the publication of anything that he considered being enemy propaganda. He was only in favor of the publication of information that would help unite the people in the country.
In Creel’s own words, he wrote that he wished for an opportunity to create “a publicity proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, and the world’s greatest adventure in advertising. ” At this, President Wilson put the whole censorship propaganda question under Creel’s supervision in 1917. It was because of this decision that the purpose of the American propaganda, the media, was to shape the American public opinion and unify the people’s views. At the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914, the United States president, Woodrow Wilson, declared the United States neutral.
The government used the newspapers the most to publicize information. Newspapers were the most influential form of media at this time. There were about 2,500 newspapers available in the country, at this time. Almost everybody could read. The costs of periodicals were low so almost everybody could afford them, radio and movies were still in experimental stages and television was two decades away. President Wilson’s decision on remaining neutral claimed popular amongst the public, especially the German-American and the Irish-American population.
The people viewed the First World War as a European civil war, and they felt that there was no reason for the US to interfere. The US media had to support this decision by making the war seem futile. As soon as the news of the horrors of the world war reached the United States, the government was assured that they had made the right decision in remaining neutral. By showing the horrors of the war to the US public, the government gained support in their decision of remaining neutral. The propaganda techniques used at this time were publishing numbers of dead people due to the war etc.
Also, to make the US public feel supported in this decision, the government of the US revealed that 105 nations had chosen to favor the Allies, only 20 had favored the Central Powers and over 240 nations had declared neutrality. Even though the war had started in 1914, the US only joined in 1917 because the media portrayed it so that it looked like the US did not have an earlier involvement in the war. The propaganda when the US joined the war portrayed ideals that nobody could disagree upon such as Freedom, Justice, Democracy and Christianity.
The United States army was quite small in the spring of 1917. However, when the US had decided to join the war, they had to use propaganda to get men to enlist for service in the army. There were various posters displayed across the country, in newspapers, magazines, and posted in various public areas. To get men to enlist, the posters portrayed military service as heroic. There were images in which they made the men who stayed back look like cowards. In one of the posters, for example, there was a man looking out the window at the army marching.
On the poster, it was written “On which side of the window are you? ” This technique made the men feel obligated to sign up because if they didn’t, society would look down upon them. The men who didn’t sign up would feel like they were left out of the glory, as the victorious soldiers would proudly march. Even though it seems like a harsh way to make people join, the government was only thinking about the good of the public, as having a weak army would eventually fall heavy on the people. Another example of propaganda is the “Uncle Sam” poster which was first introduced during WW1.
It says “I want YOU for the U. S. Army”. This technique of propaganda made the message personal, so that when somebody looked at it, they felt that the message was personally directed towards them. The media went so far in some posters, as to portray the war as an “opportunity to explore foreign lands”, that they would otherwise, not get to see. Although some argue that some propaganda techniques were immoral and were lies to the people, this is not true. The US media never lied to the people; it only modified the truth so that the negative aspects were not shown to the people.
This was all done in the best interest of the people because if the negative aspects of the war were shown, there would nobody who enlisted for the military and the US would lose the war, resulting in a negative way for the people. Also, publishing every aspect of the war for the public would lead to many split opinions and civil disturbances. After joining the war, the United States propaganda had next to no limits. Men, Women, even children, were subjects in all propaganda techniques, in an effort to bring the country together.
By the time the United States joined the war, all newspapers and magazines in the country that prosecuted the war or supported the British or French governments, were forced to close down. The government was granted this power under the “Title 1, section 1, 2, and 3 of Title 12 of the Espionage Act” (signed by President Wilson on June 13, 1917). The previous brutality of the war was censored and the people were unaware of what happened on the actual battlefields, during the war. More of the country was made to encourage the war.
Apart from the men who had been recruited as soldiers, the people back home were also called upon to help with the war. Women were encouraged to generate feelings of patriotism throughout the United States. This was carried out by making women knit socks for the soldiers in the war. Even though the textile factories made the uniforms for the soldiers, the women were encouraged to knit so that they could feel a part of the US pride. Posters with writings such as “Our boys need sox, knit your bit” were put up.
The women, who knit these socks, did not actually know that they were not knitting for the army, but just to feel patriotic—this was just a propaganda technique. Women were offered other jobs such as being nurses and phone operators. Men, who had not enlisted for the war also, had work to do. Through posters, radio, newspapers etc. the men who did not enlist in the war were convinced to come and work in the industrial aspects, building ships or tanks for the army. The posters that were made for this purpose showed pictures of tanks and ships and the message they gave was that industrial work was just as important as military service.
The government of the United States also needed a lot of help from its people, financially, during the war. To finance the war, the US government borrowed money from its people by selling “Liberty Bonds”. These bonds would be paid back to the people with interest. The first bond drive was short of its goals, so the government began an aggressive campaign to convince the Americans to subscribe. The propaganda used to make people buy bonds was quite dreadful, at times. Many posters showed pictures of dying European children and how buying bonds will help end their misery.
Posters played garishly on the guilt people should feel on the home front. They displayed pictures of dead soldiers and wrote “They made their last great sacrifice, Are we, as Americans, doing our part? ” The Liberty Bond propaganda campaigns focused closely on the immigrants in the US. America had given them liberty, the poster reminded them; now it was their duty to buy bonds to help preserve it. Children could not afford to buy liberty bonds, so to encourage them to support the war, the government sold war savings stamps that were only worth ten cent.
Similar to war bonds, the stamps paid interest. This taught the children not only about patriotism, but also about the importance of saving, so it benefitted the youth. Media censorship was a huge part of the government tactics during the First World War. Even the people knew that there would be changes in their liberties, in a state of war. Images that might have revealed troop movements or military capabilities, pictures that were liable to be used in enemy propaganda or documents that could affect the military or public morale were completely censored.
Propaganda is most effective if public access to truth is severely restricted, as it was in the war. In the early stages of the war, the government controlled the amount of information available to the press, since newspaper correspondents were not allowed to the front and military leaders did not think the public had a right to know about military activities. The government had to prevent their military secrets from reaching the enemies. If military strategies leaked out, they would obviously become ineffective.
Censorship was seen as “protecting free speech from tyranny”. Information was not only restricted, it was also structured. Much of what reached the public was distorted and exaggerated for propagandist ends, through activities of newspaper editors. They often subordinated their responsibility of providing accurate information to other obligations which were to do with carrying out their patriotic duty: the duty to persuade men to fight, to keep up morale, to inspire patriotism and continually denigrate the enemy.
Information was structured to fit the widespread demand at the time, which was to justify the war and assist with recruitment of soldiers. Freedom of speech was also limited. The Sedition Act, passed in May 1918 extended punishable speech, including punishment for any who “shall willfully utter, print, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States. Under this law, 2200 people were charged, 1055 were convicted. None of them served full terms in jail. The sentences were only a threat to people and it worked in everyone’s benefit because if anybody spoke against the nation, they did not want the negative word to spread. By excluding publication details of the war so that they would affect civilian or military morale, or could provide useful information to the enemy, censorship contributed to a distorted picture of the war, which ended up benefitting the people in the US.
Propaganda in the US during world war one may have seemed extreme to many people, but with all the ways that it helped unify the country, get men to enlist and give hope to everyone, it was not such a bad thing. It is better to use propaganda than to force the men to enlist in the army. Propaganda is just a technique to convince someone to do something—it is much better than forcing the government’s will onto people by law. One of the core reasons for propaganda in America during the First World War was to provide indisputable justification for the war.
The media helped build up a denigrating image of the enemy so that the entire nation could have a unified voice of hatred against them. Educational Socialist Propaganda, used in schools, also taught about the enemy and promoted the war. Furthermore, censorship was used during the war was to protect the people. The military kept many things confidential and secret during the war, so that America would not have to suffer a loss. Overall, the effect of propaganda in the media during the First World War, in the United States, had a positive impact on the people, and helped with the final victory of the Allied Powers.