Our new topic in the Ideas category is devoted specifically to military propaganda, its quality in the United States and Russia, and the ability of journalists and the audience to resist it. We start this topic with a new essay by our regular author Vasily Molodyakov, who tells how British and German propagandists competed in the pages of the American press during the First World War. By the way, a little later we will tell about Russian propagandists who tried to attract American society to the side of the Entente. It would be interesting to find out who is now working in the American press for the interests of other countries and how influential certain international journalistic lobbies are in the United States today.
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“The Great War differed from previous conflicts primarily in the recognition of the power of public opinion,” argued George Creel, the chief military officer of Wilson America in 1920, head of the Public Information Committee. “It was a struggle for people's consciousness.”
“There was no more fertile field for propaganda than the United States in the early years of the war,” added British politician Arthur Ponsonbi eight years later, at the height of a debate about “propaganda” and its role in the recent war.
Both the central powers and the countries of the Entente (“allies”) tried to attract the sympathies of the Americans to their side, but their strategic goals were fundamentally different. The possibility of the United States entering the war on the side of the former was excluded, therefore the goal of German propaganda was threefold: "strengthen the forces of Germany, weaken its opponents, keep America out of the war." This formulation belongs to the leading pro-German propagandist in the US, George Sylvester Virek. The Entente sought the participation of the "great overseas democracy" in the struggle against "despotic Kaiserism" and "Prussian militarism."
“No one stands up for the Germans,” Russian Ambassador to Washington Yury Bakhmetev told Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov about 28 of August 1914, “or at least no one dares to speak out against such an overwhelming majority, and not a single newspaper found it would even remain completely neutral: they all united against Germany. " The foregoing referred primarily to the New York press - the monopolist in the field of international information.
Why did it happen?
“American newspapers receive news mainly from English sources,” William Randolph Hurst reminded 4 of August. “The“ military news ”arriving here is filtered through the British press and therefore, willy-nilly, they are painted in favor of England, France and Russia against Germany and Austria.”
“From year to year, the American public saw Europe every day in a distinctly British perspective,” Walter Mills noted in his book The Way to War (1935). - Few of our newspapers had their offices there, and those who had had too few trained correspondents. In Berlin there were one or two sensible American newspapers, in Petersburg, perhaps, not one, and news from Paris came mainly of secular or cultural, but not of political content. Our newspapers and news agencies covered European politics from London. London bureaus took care of correspondents on the continent, collected and transmitted messages, generously borrowing news and information from British newspapers and magazines, simply because their sources were better. The common language and lack of qualified personnel often prompted Americans to hire the British. ”
“During the years of neutrality, American newspapers were the main target of the British propaganda campaign,” Horas Peterson wrote in his book “Propaganda for War” (1939). - In almost all cases, they agreed with her position. Therefore, the American press of these years should not be viewed as a mirror reflecting the attitude of compatriots to the war, but as the main means of British influence on the Americans. ”
A poll conducted in November among 1914 editors of American newspapers in November 367 showed that supporters of the Entente exceeded supporters of the Central Powers five times (105 versus 20), but two thirds of the respondents (242) were in favor of neutrality.
“Strictly speaking,” the British intelligence officer Norman Tuejs remarked to Virek at the end of the 1920's, “before the entry of America into the war there was no British propaganda”. “Recognize,” he said, “that British propaganda in the United States began in 1776 and continues to this day.” “This is counter-propaganda,” retorted the former opponent. - We corrected the mistakes. We did not try to spread pro-British opinions through the press. ”
For some reason I could not believe it. Charles Nagel, the taft administration's trade minister, said in 1922 that British propaganda had sowed "distrust, disagreement and discord" among Americans, adding: "Who says the same offices are not working today?" Ex-Congressman Richard Barthold exclaimed in his memoirs:
“Too many honest Americans unwisely turned a blind eye to the danger of a many-headed monster named British Propaganda. Today, as for decades, this octopus hangs over our continent from ocean to ocean. Under his pernicious influence история falsified, and the consciousness of our children of non-English descent is poisoned by the poison of hatred against their kinsmen. ”
From the first days of the war, British propaganda in the United States was led by former Sir Gilbert Parker, a writer and traveler. He compiled regular reviews of the local press and public opinion for the cabinet, distributed tens of thousands of addresses to the Wellington House government propaganda bureau, sent a weekly news and commentary to the 360 newspapers reflecting London’s position, organized lecture tours and interviews of famous British, supported correspondence with thousands of people, trying to influence their position and at the same time collecting information.
“The cards included in the books contained only the name and address of Sir Gilbert and no indication of Wellington House,” noted James Squires, one of the first researchers of British military propaganda, in 1935. “It created the impression that the caring and kind Englishman was just doing a simple duty to American friends, sending them literature and inviting them to speak about it or about the war in general.”
The German-speaking press of the USA could not compete with the English-speaking one because of its small size, lack of organization and lack of support from the Futherland. Even the most prominent German-language newspaper of the New World - the New York Staats attracted the attention of Berlin only with the start of the war.
“The statements of the enemies,” wrote shortly after the war the former ambassador to Washington, Count Johann von Bernstorff, “that German propaganda in the United States was actually organized many years before the war, and therefore we had an organization with branches in 1914. in every part of the country, unfortunately, are completely unfounded. It is regrettable that before the war the German side, despite my repeated warnings, did nothing. We have always lacked money to maintain contacts and cooperation with the American press. Even with the German-American newspapers there was no organized communication. It is well known that in Germany of that time they did not understand the power of public opinion in democratic countries. ”
Creel was of a different opinion: “From the very beginning, Berlin clearly understood the military significance of public opinion and spent millions on conquering or seducing it.”
“The German representatives,” Virek said ironically, “were afraid of responsibility for the million-dollar deal. They felt obliged to take into account every cent spent. One cannot deny the possibility that several millions of dollars invested could save the German Empire from billions of reparations and change the course of history. ”
However, the diplomats didn’t sit with folded hands: since 1905, the German embassy annually spent thousands of stamps on 20 propaganda. In the 1909 year, the first year of Bernstorff’s tenure, 17, thousands of them, were received by international analyst James Davenport Welple for articles that the ambassador considered useful: on Germany’s achievements and peacefulness and on the benefits of friendship with her.
“From the very first days of the crisis, the American public received from their own newspapers the basis of what later became the“ Allied ”version of events,” Mills recalled twenty years after the events described. - However, the British, not content with the already existing dominance in the press and the influence on the reader, decided to physically secure a monopoly on information. On August 2, before officially entering the war, they imposed censorship on their transatlantic telegraph lines, accepting messages in English only. 4 August, a few hours after the declaration of war in Germany, the British fleet cut the cables belonging to the latter, so that they could not be restored. Peterson called it "the first act of censorship and at the same time the first act of propaganda," so the claims that "allied" propaganda lagged behind the German one did not stand up to criticism. Nagel complained:
“Unilateral, biased, false news flooded our country. Public opinion was successfully made prejudiced, because all the information came from one side. Our natural sense of fair play requires information from both sides. We have the right to know, we are obliged to know the truth, ”and even called this measure“ the biggest tactical mistake ”of the British, since“ monopoly is a cunning thing, dangerous primarily for the one who possesses it ”.
The old politician thought in the pre-war categories, and he was not alone.
“The embassy in Washington,” recalled the military attache Franz von Papen, the future chancellor, “was completely inactive. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin was so not ready for war that it did not even reflect on the possibility that the British would block the channels of communication. ”
The only "window to the world" remained radio stations in Sayvill on Long Island, near New York, and in Tuckerton, the State of New Jersey, which supported the communication with Germany. Radio communication between countries was established on 28 on January 1914 of the year; during the first session, the Kaiser congratulated the President on this.
September 5 Wilson ordered the navy department to take control of Tuckerton. Censorship was introduced at the station in Sayville, aired 4 on the air 24 hours a day.
Having won the time, the “allies” filled the press of New World with reports about their victories (there were mainly Belgian and French geographical names, but who among the Americans understood them) and about “German atrocities”. Already 4 August Papen saw the arshin headlines "40 thousands of Germans captured under Liege" and "Kronprits committed suicide." American poet of Irish descent, Seamus O'Shil, who became an anti-British journalist with the beginning of the war, in the pamphlet "A Journey through the Country of Headlines" clearly and with specific examples - six pages of illustrations - showed the bias of American newspapers and the exaggerated nature of many sensations.
The title bar about German successes, the defeats of the "allies" and their violation of US interests was defiantly left blank. The pamphlet was in demand and not just reprinted, but could not change the situation.
“The main thing,” Bernstorff reminded, “which side used to give news, since the first impression remains. The amendments are always in vain, especially because they are printed in small print and not in a prominent place. ”
The statement of the five American correspondents, seconded to the German army on the Western Front, appeared on September 11 on the first page of The New York Times, but it was not it that was remembered, but the fabrications that journalists denied with the word of honor. By focusing on the "atrocities", the Entente propaganda made them a powerful means of influence, which the enemy did not understand and did not appreciate in time.
The German occupation of Belgium and the north of France was indeed tough, with punitive measures against partisans and hostages. However, in the middle of the 1920-s, the English propagandists themselves abandoned the most famous "horror stories" like Belgian children with severed arms, a crucified Canadian, and so on.
"In war, fakes are recognized and very useful weapons- summarized Ponsonby. “All countries deliberately use them to deceive their own people, attract neutrals to their side and mislead the enemy.”
So on the margins and footers of America began the First World War.