History 482: Brownell
March 9, 2015
Propaganda In America During World War I and World War II Everyday in America, millions of people across the country tune in to watch the news, curious of the things that are going on throughout the world. Between each segment, companies run commercials to persuade viewers to buy their products. Although many of these people don’t realize it, their government does the same thing. The United States government provides information through several media outlets in an effort to sway the American public into having feelings or beliefs about an issue that would benefit what the government wants to do. Their efforts are called propaganda. Propaganda is “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” (google.com). The first large scale use of propaganda within the United States began near the beginning of World War I and is still in use today. Although propaganda within the United States has greatly evolved over the years, there are many similarities between World War I and World War II on the formation of information agencies, the types of propaganda used and its effects on the American public. Propaganda within the United States government officially began shortly after the start of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson knew that it would take full support from the American public in order for the United States to be successful in the war. To help create public support for the war, President Wilson created the Committee on Public Information [CPI] on April 13, 1917 and appointed journalist George Creel to head the committee. In the book titled The United States and the First World War by Jennifer Keene, the author claims that, “Creel in turn surrounded himself with other liberal journalists to inform the public about the war effort...[and] The CPI prided itself on the enormous amount of factual information that it distributed to the press, but the agency added a distinct emotional edge to much of the material it provided for mass consumption” (Keene, 34-35). While the CPI may have spun many of its stories to have an emotional appeal to the American public, the CPI also made it an important standard to be open and honest about the information that the committee had at its regard. The committee would only withhold information that could end up having a negative effect on U.S. military efforts such as troop sailings and the whereabouts of military units. Because of this standard, Creel and the committee did not feel the need to use any forms of censorship. This allowed for easy compliance with the press and a trust from the American people.
With the trust of the American people, the CPI needed to come through with its original task of creating public support for the United States government in its military efforts. In her book Jennifer Keene later stated, “The CPI sponsored lectures by ‘Four-Minute Men’ who spoke before audiences at the movies, in markets, fairs, and churches…CPI propaganda emphasized how immigrants and native-born Americans, labor and capital, farmers and workers ere all working together to win the war” (Keene, 35). This allowed the CPI to create a sense of unity amongst all Americans, making them feel that their efforts would have an important impact on the country’s ability to succeed in the war. Due to this type of approach the committee’s efforts worked, as there became a great level of patriotism from much of the American public on the home front. Although the CPI’s efforts in promoting support for the war were successful, after the wars conclusion President Wilson abolished the committee by executive order on August 21, 1919.
Shortly after the start of World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s created the United States Office of War Information [OWI] and appointed news reporter Elmer Davis as its director on June 13, 1942. Also like the CPI, the OWI