American Propaganda And The Suppression Of Dissent In World War I

3493 words - 14 pages

American Propaganda and the Suppression of Dissent in World War I

“May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion. “
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

On June 28, 1914, the Archduke of Austria-Hungary, Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated. That event marked the first phase of World War I (Grayzel 10). Soon afterward nations throughout Europe announced declarations of war. By the end of October countries as far away as Japan, China and Brazil had become involved (Grayzel 11).  Susan R. Grayzel in the “Introduction: The First World War and the Making of a Modern, Global Conflict” from The First World War: A Brief History with Documents”, explores a variety of contributing reasons ...view middle of the document...

Furthermore, having based his entire presidential candidacy and career on a platform of neutrality, Wilson now needed to assure all-out public cooperation for a pro-war stand. Chiefly, he needed a national propaganda campaign.

            Subsequently, propaganda took on a whole new form during World War I. Susan R. Grayzel points out in her book, The First World War, A Brief History with Documents, the organization and deployment of government sponsored propaganda modernized itself during World War I (Kealey 57). For the first time in history, mass media wed the experience of total war to a national program of propaganda. Carefully crafted propaganda messages filtered through the news and film industries. Billboard advertisements, posters and handbills inundated the public. Factory workers found themselves enlisted to join forces with a nationwide industrial effort to assure cooperation between the industrialized side of society and the armed serices. Plastered on the factory walls throughout America were posters encouraging pride, honor, patriotism, and a sense of duty to one’s own country (Kingsbury 35). Although proponents say that this kind of propaganda during a time of crises was not necessarily a bad thing, there was an ugly side to the manipulation of war enthusiasms during this period.

            World War I was not only a watershed event in history in how the US employed its propaganda efforts, it also expanded important legal precedents allowing the government to restrict civil liberties, particularly the rights of citizens to oppose and dissent (McElroy par. 5). Furthermore, key acts of legislation allowed for the mistreatment and forcible deportation of both foreign and American born nationals. Government agency activity was extensive in suppressing dissent. As a rule, specific groups opposing the war, or holding different political views, were singled out and censored. The mobilizing incentives that allowed local authorities and private organizations to carry out some of the worst abuses of that time are also troubling. Governments employ censorship to suppress dissent, but suppression does not invariably take the form of censorship. Cases of overt suppression, which present challenges of their own, are comparatively non-problematic compared to self-censorship. Self-censorship occurs when people remain silent in fear of losing their jobs, their place in the community, even their lives. Or, because they have adopted beliefs to what they believe is the acceptable norm. Understanding how the American people and their government tried to suppress dissent during World War I is important. It is significant because it offers a clue how the pressures of censorship and coercion during times of crises bring about major changes in a nation’s mind and attitudes about an entire range of cherished democratic values including the principles of due process, and free speech.

               In order to appreciate why the US...

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