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American Propaganda in the World War 1

American Propaganda in the World War 1

Organized societies constitute of persons, each ceding a portion of their liberties for the smooth functioning of the whole. For such a dynamic to work, effective communication is essential in exchange of ideas, as well as making concessions. Even in aristocratic societies, some form of basic communication is essential, where the ruling class has to re-emphasize their control over their subjects. Propaganda is a popular means of reaching the masses, employed by governments to rally the population around a central viewpoint on important national matters. In this context, propaganda constitutes the sum of materials employed aimed at manipulating a society’s opinions on a central theme. The World War I represented a monumental chapter in the world’s history, where different regimes engaged in propaganda aimed at swaying populations towards the war effort. The Uncle Sam poster used in persuading the American people into supporting the war effort is an apt illustration of propaganda application by the government. The poster depicts Uncle Sam, an acronym for the American government, pointing towards the audience, with the words ‘I Want YOU For US Army, nearest recruiting station (Appendix 2).’ This campaign analysis hopes to place this poster as propaganda material in the context of the cultural, political and media dynamics while also illustrating why it is an effective propaganda material in the context of its use.

Review of literature

Behavior of the Mass Media in the United States

Stratification and functioning of societies depend largely on the means of communication employed, especially in maintaining the hierarchical structure of societies. An understanding of how the elite communicates with the common person. The American society is a liberal democratic society, where the liberal pluralist view on political systems suggests the existence of a healthy exchange of ideas. Within this context, there is an abundance of opinions, worldviews, and policy suggestions offering variety for the public (Mullen & Klaehn, 2010). The most popular of the existing propositions inevitably reflect on the public policy adopted, as well as the political systems that govern the society. The significance of media systems in a liberal pluralist society such as the United States exhibits through its role as the ‘fourth estate’, providing control over the exercise of leadership. In understanding the propaganda used during the First World War, an understanding of how the media works is imperative. Marxist ideology, which holds that ‘the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas’ inspires theories examining the role of the media in modern democratic societies (Mullen, 2010). The propaganda model presents a useful framework for understanding the function of media in American societies, where it explores the relationship between the governing public institutions, powerful elite citizens as well as the market. Through the propaganda model, the media comes across as a creation of the operational context of news production, where media serves as propaganda vessels in liberal-democratic societies (McFadden, 2012).

Context of the Propaganda Campaign for World War 1

Posters made an integral part of the propaganda campaign for Americans to join in the war effort. At the beginning of the World War 1, the American Society exhibited a relatively neutral stand to the war going on in Europe. Nonetheless, circumstances abroad forced the president to join the United States in the Allied war effort. Getting the United States into the war presented an enormous challenge, given the democratic liberal-pluralist nature of the society, and especially given that, the underlying national mood was against joining the European war effort. President Wilson, while originally of the opinion against joining the war, needed a quick means of turning pacifist citizens into war mongers, validating America’s entry into the war. Much of the media propaganda material in use during this campaign is attributed to Wilson’s media strategist known as George Creel (McFadden, 2012). Creel’s ability to highlight the major points strengthening his arguments, despite the cause defined him as the ideal journalist and muckraker. The application of propaganda in mobilizing support for the World War 1 was a conscious effort, where its presentation seemed factual, and intended to influence the people into making decisions that the state intended.

The genesis of the propaganda effort in the United States, however, traces to the Great Britain, where the government felt that if it sold its atrocity propaganda to the educated classes in America, they would assist in spreading the propaganda to the other classes. News reaching the United States from Europe suffered the slight misfortune of having to bypass the United Kingdom, to a great deal of corruption (Bick, 2013). When the Germans crossed over into the neutral Belgium, the British relied upon their control of communications with the United States to stir anti-German sentiment into the American people. The imperial and military might of Germany was used against her, where she was portrayed as having breached a poor, little democratic country. The British propaganda capitalized on all German actions of aggression, churning tales that wrenched the heart in disgust against the Germans. The propaganda presented in a realist fashion, where there were accounts of German soldiers spearing babies with their bayonets (Cook, 2014).

Framing the Propaganda Campaign for American Participation in WW1

The campaign witnessed in the United States is traced to the work of propagandist in England, who first sought local support against the Germans, as well as the support of other nations. The strategic importance of the United States was evident to both warring parties, and while Germany sought the impartiality of the United States, Britain, and the Allies needed the United States’ support to ensure victory. A review of Newspaper articles from the period reveals a systemic stirring of anti-German sentiment. In an incident illustrative of systemic, targeted use of propaganda against the German war effort, the Bryce report reiterated of the realness of German atrocities in Belgium, implicating the Germans in not only individual crimes but in instances of premeditated murder (New York Times, 1918). The 1915 sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania presented a golden chance for then propaganda mill to churn material, especially given that 128 of the 1198 dead passengers were Americans (Kennedy, 2004). The British propaganda machine took up the opportunity to release posters featuring the incident, such as one with a drowning woman and child, with the rallying call, ‘ENLIST’ emblazoned (Appendix 1). While materials inspired by the Lusitania incident continued fueling sentiment against the Germans, the ship carried contraband, and Germans had posted the ship in New York as wanted.

Getting the propaganda to work did not rely upon the dissemination of facts, but rather, sentiments aimed at stirring the emotions of the non-partisan populace towards supporting the war effort. The propaganda material released by the British propaganda machine directly influenced the views of Americans on Germany and German culture. Propaganda from Britain is largely responsible for influencing Woodrow Wilson towards issuing his war message in 1917 (Sanders, 1975). However, while the leadership and the American elite harbored ill feelings towards Germany, the average America were still undecided on the war and did not harbor particular loathing of the Germans. The American propaganda campaign kicked off in earnest, led by George Creel, resulting in an inspired effort at stirring the pacifist majority into supporting Allied efforts (Appendix 2). The propaganda material consumed in the United States against Germans served as an extension of a wider propaganda campaign originating from Britain.

Campaign Description, Critique, Successes, Failures, as well as other Impacts

American society’s principal definition is its openness and differentiation, where a multitude of ethnicities and interests interact, compete and yield to accommodate differing outlooks of life. This uniqueness presents an interesting challenge for governance, where uniting the people towards a common cause is difficult. Nonetheless, diversity is America’s greatest strength, where the variety offered by the different polities contributes to an abundant life experience for all. Spreading war propaganda to the nation required a massive mobilization of the media resources, where the Committee on Public Information (CPI), controlled the war material reported in the national media (Cook, 2014).

Monitoring the content aired by media outlets relating the war represented a shift in normal practice, where the freedom of the media is in the highest regard in the United States. Corruption of the media by state contributed to the success of the campaign, given that alternative opinions on the war were not tolerate-able for the unification of Americans towards allied efforts. While radio, television, music, as well as theater were used in inspiring anti-German sentiment, the use of illustration proved highly effective, given that strategically erected posters delivered the war rhetoric all in one place, while also possessing ability to stir deep emotions in its audience.

The German immigrants in the United States constituted a respected polity in the United States, exhibiting advanced status both socially and economically. With the start of the propaganda effort in the United States, the German immigrants in the United States found themselves increasingly marginalized, where their efforts in support of Germany and Austria translated as helping out the motherland in the war effort against the Allies (Tunc, 2012). Further, aspects of German culture suffered victimization, where they appeared as a supremacist race seeking domination of the others. While The German language had previously featured in American schools for instruction, the imposition of limitations on its use sought to weaken the language, despite the non-relation between homeland Germany politics, and the daily use of German language be immigrants in the United States.


Communication is paramount to human organizational behavior, and it is through communication that people decide on the plausible avenues of action to take, about the other person. The quality of information accessed by an individual is only as reliable as the source, where motive becomes a predicting factor of the communication. Propaganda assumes a style meant to invoke feelings in the audience, which explains its characteristic of glossing over key issues that would change audience opinion while exaggerating aspects that strengthen the principle message. The success of this campaign proves that propaganda presents a strong tool for persons of authority to influence the narrative of the people under them.


Bick, R., 2013. Private Grief and Public Propaganda: An Analysis of the Authorship of Rudyard Kipling during the First World War. Journal of Publishing Culture, pp. 1-8.

Cook, J.-R., 2014. WORLD WAR I: 100 YEARS LATER: The Posters That Sold World War I to the American Public, s.l.: SMITHSONIAN.

Grubach, Paul. “World War I Atrocity Propaganda and the Holocaust: Is There a Lesson Here?” The Revisionist. 2002. Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust. 7 Dec. 2009.

McFadden, P., 2012. American Propaganda and the First World War: Megaphone or Gagging Order?. e-Sharp, 1(19), pp. 0-32.

Kennedy D. M, (2004), Over here: the First World War and American society. Oxford [u.a.], Oxford Univ. Press

Mullen, A. & Klaehn, J., 2010. The Herman–Chomsky Propaganda Model: A Critical Approach to Analysing Mass Media Behaviour. Sociology Compass, 4(4), p. 215–229.

New York Times 8 May 1915: 3. The New York Times, ProQuest Information and Learning, Lincoln High School Lib., Tallahassee, FL. 28 Mar. 2005

“Propaganda – Total War, 1917-1945.” Encyclopedia of the American Foreign Relations, 2009, <>

Sanders, M.L. 1975, “Wellington House and British Propaganda during the First World War” The Historical Journal (18) 119-146

Tunc, T. E. (2012). Less Sugar, More Warships: Food as American Propaganda in the First World War. The War in History, 19(2), 193-216

(Appendix 1)

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(Appendix 2)

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