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THE CREEL COMMITTEE

The Committee on Public Information

In March 1917, when United States entry into the war seemed inevitable (the declaration came one month later), rumors circulated in Washington that military leaders were again advocating censorship of the press. Beginning in June 1916 President Woodrow Wilson's attorney general, Thomas Gregory, had pushed for measures to punish members of the press found guilty of espionage and strictly limit freedom of the press and of speech. He tried again in February 1917, but on each occasion Congress balked. The administration tried again following the declaration of war and found the mood in Congress much more receptive. Newspaperman, muckraker, and Wilson adviser George Creel sent the president a memo urging a voluntary agreement with the press to control information rather than the institution of formal censorship. Wilson agreed and created the Committee on Public Information (CPI), with Creel as its chairman. The other members of the committee would be the secretaries of war, state, and the navy, who had themselves suggested such a committee to the president on 13 April 1917, writing that Americans ought to be "given the feeling of partisanship that comes with full, frank statements concerning the conduct of the public business." Given Creel's background as a crusader and his fiery temperament, many observers felt that putting him in charge of rallying public opinion for the war was most unwise. Wilson's stated fear—that once into war the American people would "forget that there was ever such a thing as tolerance"—was realized in part because of the work of the CPI. It prevented formal censorship on the home front (not in the combat theater, where strict censorship reigned) but raised serious questions about where the line lay between public information and propaganda.

Expert Communication or Propaganda?

The CPI organized a speaker's bureau of seventy-five thousand people, known as the "Four-Minute Men." They traveled all over the country making short speeches to rally the public for the war effort. By 1918 they were being told to make liberal use of war atrocity stories in their speeches. Creel recruited advertising experts and prominent journalists such as Ida M. Tarbell, Ernest Poole, Ray Stannard Baker, and Will Irwin to publish a daily newspaper with a circulation of one hundred thousand, known as theOfficial Bulletin. A government wire service supplied official information from all over the world. To some observers Creel expertly mobilized every form of communication in the cause of the war. To others he incited the "righteous wrath" of the public against the "Hun" and the "Boche." Writer Raymond B. Fosdick (who was also head of the Commission on Training Camp Activities) summarized the attitude of the American people: "We hated with a common hate that was exhilarating." Fosdick ob-served a church meeting where a speaker demanded that the kaiser be boiled in oil, and the congregation rose to its feet in hysterical approval. Such spectacles chilled civil libertarians.

Pamphlets, Publications, and Movies

The CPI regularly issued publications with titles such as "German War Practices" and "The German Whisper," written as exposés of enemy tactics. They certainly inflamed the public. At the outset of the publicity campaign, the committee made films with innocuous titles such as Our Colored Fighters and Pershing's Crusaders. By war's end they had turned to producing movies such as The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin, and The Prussian Cur. Creel sent the writer Lowell Thomas to Europe to collect stories that could be used to stir appropriate sentiment. When the Western Front proved too gory for good recruiting material, he went on to the Middle East where T. E. Lawrence was fighting along with the Arabs against the Turks. Thomas's romanticized dispatches about Lawrence helped to shape one of the indelible myths to come from the war, that of Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence called Thomas, who grew rich off creating the legend, "the American who made my vulgar reputation; a well-intentioned, intensely crude and pushful fellow."

Terrible Legacy

While avoiding formal censorship, the CPI's Official Bulletin certainly blacked out information that did not reflect favorably on the war effort. In the aftermath of the war the public and Congress grew progressively more outraged over having been, as they saw it, "duped" into war in the first place. Despite all the criticism Creel received personally for his temper during the war, the CPI became far more notorious as a source of foul and misleading propaganda after it had been disbanded. When the United States mobilized for World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt designed his public information policies in large measure by trying not to duplicate the mission and the spirit of the CPI.

THE FALSE ARMISTICE

Roy Howard, the president of the United Press wire service, left Paris for Brest on 7 November 1918 to board an army transport for home. He knew that the warring parties had worked out the terms of the armistice but had not yet announced them. In Brest he found celebrations in the streets. Adm. Henry B. Wilson, the commander of the U.S. Navy in France, showed Howard a telegram from the U.S. embassy announcing the signing of the armistice. With the admiral's permission, Howard immediately filed a report to the United Press (UP).

The dissemination of the report in the United States set off furious celebrations there as well, but lacking further corroboration, many editors viewed it with caution. Later that day the Associated Press reported that the Germans had not yet agreed to the armistice terms. At about the same time a courier reached Brest cautioning Adm. Wilson that the previous telegram could not be confirmed. Wilson that the previous telegram could not be confirmed. Wilson filed a correction, but the wires were jammed and it did not get through for several more hours.

While the UP had acted in good faith, indignation against the wire ran high, especially among its competitors. The source of the erroneous telegram remains a mystery.

Source:

John Hohenberg, Foreign Correspondence: The Great Reporters and Their Times second edition (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995).

Sources:

George Creel, How We Advertised America (New York: Harper, 1920);

David Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society(New York: Oxford University Press, 1980);

Stephen Vaughn, Holding Fast the Inner Lines: Democracy, Nationalism, and the Committee on Public Information (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980).

http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3468300537.html
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Slavery did not end with the Civil War, despite the Constitutional Amendments that prohibited it in principle. The war was followed by a decade of partial freedom for African Americans, but by 1877, with the end of Reconstruction, slavery was reconstituted in a new and even more sadistic form, as Black life was effectively criminalized and sentencing was rendered permanent by various means, while brutalizing prison labor provided a large part of the basis not only for agricultural production, as under chattel slavery, but also for the American industrial revolution.

In the past 30 years, a new form of criminalization has been instituted, much of it in the context of the "drug wars," leading to a huge increase in incarceration, mostly targeting minorities. This provided a new supply of prison labor, much of it in violation of international labor conventions. Ever since the first slaves were brought to the colonies, life for African Americans has scarcely escaped the bonds of slavery.

Source: Hopes and Prospects, by Noam Chomsky, p. 79 , Jun 1, 2010
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