Friday, October 17, 2014

Colonel House and George Viereck: Former Wilson Confidant's Foreword to a Book (1930) by an American pro-German propagandist in WWI

Note for a Planned Article
"Creel, Lippmann, and the Origins of American Public Diplomacy"
(comments welcome; draft, not for citation)

In a Foreword to a 1930 book (Spreading Germs of Hate) critical of U.S. propaganda during the Great War written by George Sylvester Viereck, a pro-German U.S. propagandist during WWI, Woodrow Wilson confidant Colonel House underscores -- over a decade after The War to End All Wars -- the pernicious effects of propaganda, including American propaganda :
But the whole terrible thing called war is cruel, and is exaggerated, if that is possible, by inflaming the imagination by propaganda which regards neither facts nor truth. I recall a conversation with President Wilson on this subject. He earnestly hoped the United States would be spared of this evil that usually follows a declaration of war. He did what he could to inform America upon the real issues at stake and the high reasons there were for our participating in the World War. But his efforts were futile. As soon as our people were asked to purchase Liberty Bonds, which were issued in unprecedented quantities, as many lurid stories were told by our patriotic orators, and as many ghastly cartoons were printed, as were to be found in Europe.
--Edward M. House ("Colonel House"), Foreword, p. vi in Sylvester Viereck, Spreading Germs of Hate (1930).

Viereck writes in his above-cited book (pp. 164-167):
When the break with Germany came, the men associated with The Fatherland [the weekly magazine Viereck edited during WWI], even for a short time, found themselves outlawed and outcast. ...
Except for a short reference his name disappeared from Who's Who in America for twelve years. ...
The editor of the Fatherland was never "indicted" or "arrested." His office was never "raided." His papers were never "seized." Those facts, however, did not percolate through the thick layer of propaganda which coated the consciousness of the average American.

Viereck image (1922) from

Note: I have found no mention of House's revealing Foreword (which did not appear in the second edition of Viereck's book) in the literature I have read thus far in preparation for the above planned article. Despite having supported Creel as chairman of the Committee on Public Information, House seems quite repentant about the whole USG propaganda enterprise, while praising in his Foreword how "calmly" and "fairly" Viereck writes about this topic.

Born in Munich in 1884, and brought to America by his immigrant father Louis in 1897, Viereck was a poet, editor, and publisher. As the bio (George Sylvester Viereck: Poet and Propagandist by Neil M. Johnson) added to the finding aid to his papers at the University of Iowa notes, Viereck launched
The Fatherland, a weekly magazine to present the German side and to promote strict American neutrality. Beyond that, he agreed in the fall of 1914 to assist German propagandists sent to the United States to promote sympathy for the German cause. Serving in what he later admitted to be a "propaganda cabinet," he accepted German money in printing hundreds of thousands of pamphlets and booklets as well as his journal. ...
[I]n the 1920's he wrote articles reflecting sympathy for Hitler and Ludendorff on the one hand and displaying deep respect for Shaw, Freud, and Einstein on the other. He became in this period the chief American spokesman for the ex-Kaiser in Holland. He also interviewed Hitler in early 1923 and published the interview in his own journal after several newspaper editors turned it down as not newsworthy. At that time he concluded, "If he lives, Hitler for better or for worse, is sure to make history." ...
Viereck serv[ed] as a publicist or propagandist for Nazi Germany after Hitler's rise to power. Except for Nazi anti-Semitism, which he mildly criticized and rationalized as peripheral to the movement, he sympathized with what he believed was the Nazi Party's rightful objective of restoring Germany to a place of honor and equality of power among the great nations of the world. ...
Viereck ... carried on important correspondence with Edward M. (Colonel) House in the 1930's, and these letters are located in the House papers at Yale University.
One more note:

There is an 2013 article by Lisa Lampert-Weissig on one of Viereck's earliest

image from

works, House of Vampire: "The Vampire as Dark and Glorious Necessity in George Sylvester Viereck's House of the Vampire and Hanns Heinz Ewers' Vampir," in Samantha George and Bill Hughes, ed., Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present Day, Manchester University Press. See.

Updated 10/19/2014

Upon rereading sections of Viereck's book yesterday, I came upon a passage that I should have immediately noticed, and that explains (in part) why House would approve of his book (but, as mentioned above, his Foreword did not appear in the book's second edition -- was House told not to praise a Nazi sympathizer?) Here's the passage, pp. xi-xiii (it's Viereck speaking):
The World War lured me from Parnassus. I gave up ten years of my creative -- for what? To be a footnote to history.
It was my intention to relate my exploits in the battle of propaganda some day as a chapter of my autobiography. However, the shrewdest editor in the United States persuaded me that the inside story of propaganda was of peculiar significance to the American people to-day. World power brings new perils. Propagandists ever sow the dragons' teeth of war. A knowledge of the methods by which propagandists spread germs of hate should enable us to read startling revelations between the lines of the historians and history. It may help to save our faltering feet from future pitfalls.

image from

My friend the editor suggested that the intrusion of my personality would make my reminiscences too controversial. Accepting this wise counsel, I wrote a series of an anonymous articles for the Saturday Evening Post in which I dealt with my own propaganda activities in the third person. I was dumbfounded to discover how this method enabled me to maintain a detached point of view, even toward myself. 
I made no attempt to conceal clews to my identity Nevertheless, it remained a secret for months. Colonel Edward M. House, the one man in the world who has looked behind the curtain on every front, said to me: "I thought of you as the last person in the world capable of writing so dispassionate a history of the events in which you yourself played so stirring a part." I need not here speak for Mr. House. In  the Foreword which he has so graciously written the Colonel voices his own convictions.
A distinguished expert on propaganda, Edward L. Bernays, told me that my articles mystified him completely. "At first," he said, "I suspected George Creel of being the author. [JB personal note: When I first saw -- and read --- one of the anonymous Viereck Saturday Evening Post articles in the Creel Papers at the Library of Congress, I too thought it had been penned by Creel, and was ready to announce to the world that I found an intriguing Creel article in which he showed uncharacteristic remorse for his propaganda activities in WWI!]. I then thought of Samuel G. Blythe [see] and Will Irwin [see]. Once or twice I seemed to detect the fine Italian hand of an Englishman familiar with the intricate machinery of propaganda. I never even remotely, suspected you." ...
Propaganda is the primary weapon of the world's invisible government, The microbes it scatters infect humanity like a plague. My book is an attempt to administer an antidote or a serum against this scourge by inculcating Propaganda Resistance [JB note: Here Viereck is -- inadvertently? -- using a favorite "propaganda" word (inculcate); is he using propaganda to combat propaganda?] . No one can escape the propagandist. But if we become propaganda conscious, we may in time develop a measurable degree of immunity. With this object in view, I narrate here, for the first time [JB note -- this is an exaggeration] the part played by propaganda in the United States during and after the War.

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