Sunday, October 12, 2014

Updated: Lippmann's Propaganda Stint with the U. S. Army Military Intelligence Division in France (June-July 1918)

Note for a Planned Article
(comments welcome; draft, not for citation)

Both George Creel (muckraking journalist and Chairman of the Committee on Public Information, 1917-1919) and Lippmann (public philosopher and influential Wilson adviser) were key figures in advising how the U.S. government should deal with public opinion and  that twentieth-century phenomenon, modern propaganda.They also could be called rivals in getting Wilson's attention in policy/publicity (Lippmann) and publicity/policy (Creel) matters. Coming from quite different backgrounds, these two ambitious men were at odds both personally and professionally.

Walter Lippmann, unlike George Creel, served in the military (but quite briefly). Commissioned Captain, Military Intelligence Branch (so named in February 1918), on June 28, 1918, Lippmann was active in that capacity in France until July 3, when he was assigned to the staff of Colonel House and to the American Mission to Negotiate Peace. On January 23, 1919, he resigned, sailing home on the S. S. Cedric. On February 3, 1919, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army. (Information from Guide to the Walter Lippmann Papers, Ms. 326).

The below two items (A, B) are part of a book by Lippmann's Military Intelligence colleague, Captain Heber Blankenhorn, Adventures in Propaganda: Letters from an Intelligence Officer in France (1919).

While Blankenhorn makes only a few passing references to Lippmann (whom he had recruited for the M.I.B. job), his volume is historically valuable because (as the below items suggest) it provides insights on how the U.S. military viewed/used propaganda, as well as an "in-the-field" account of what working for the M.I.B. in France was like as the Great War coming to an end.

For example, Blankenhorn  -- who, despite the fact that, as Richard Arndt points our "most fighting took place on French soil" (The First Resort of Kings (2006), p. 25) -- evidently had quite a comfortable stay in France. He writes from General Headquarters (October 4, 1918) that "I am ridiculously safe way back here and my work will never put me in danger; I do not like that. I wish I were a fighter up front . ... I could be a damn good fighter."

His depiction of the forlorn German prisoners of war he debriefed (Lippmann had a similar task) is quite memorable; his sensitive remarks on these miserable human beings debunk (unintentionally?) the myth of the all-mighty Hun army.

Image from Adventures in Propaganda, p. 66

For a detailed treatment of Blankenhorn/Lippman M.I.B, see Clayton D. Laurie, "'The Chanting of Crusaders': Captian Heber Blankenhorn and AED Combat Propaganda in World War I," The Journal of Military History, Vol. 59, No. 3 (July, 1995), pp. 457-481.  This article paints a far less rosy picture of the propaganda efforts than does the two accounts (A, B) below. See item (C).

A) From Stars and Stripes, The Official Newspaper Of the A.E.F [American Expeditionary Forces], January 3, 1919] - Appendix II, pp. 160-164


One Argonne Prisoner in Three Carried Fatal Pamphlets


Powerful Weapon Borne to Enemy 
by Airplane Had Share
In Winning War

There was one powerful weapon which was used by the American Army with startling and visible success in the closing campaign of the war which was never so much as mentioned in this or any other newspaper. There was one section of the service which no letter was permitted to describe, and the very existence of which the war correspondents were under stern orders to ignore.

But now the ban is lifted. So it may be said that while the artillery was pounding the German troops with shells and the infantry was shooting and slashing at them from somewhat closer range, the unsung propaganda section was silently bombarding them with arguments, busily unsettling them by suggestion.

It had the boundless satisfaction of seeing its suggestions followed. When the propaganda section would pelt the enemy areas with leaflets that broadly hinted at the wisdom of surrender and when, perhaps days, perhaps weeks later, these leaflets were found upon countless prisoners in our cages, the propaganda section was entitled to a little glow of complacency.

One Out Of Every Three

Of the thousands of prisoners who passed through the examining cage of a single American corps during the first fortnight of the Meuse-Argonne campaign, it was found, upon examination, that one out of every three had our propaganda in his pocket. And this despite the fact that the German high command had decreed it a treasonable offense for any soldier so much as to have the accursed stuff in his possession. Which decree, by the way, also gave the propaganda section a little glow of complacency.

The origins of the service were interesting. At first Washington was a little reluctant, perhaps from an instinctive feeling that there must be something the matter with any weapon the German government was so fond of using. When
our own propaganda was finally sanctioned, it was with this stipulation — THAT IT SHOULD CONTAIN NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH.

"If Only They Knew"

Our propaganda section may be conceited of as having started something like this. A colonel, say, — his name was probably Legion, — exasperated by the Germans' blissful ignorance of the forces massing against them and by the lies their government was feeding tnem every hour, sighed deeply. "If only they knew the truth," said Colonel Legion.

"Then why not tell them?" some one suggested brightly. "Propaganda is nothing but a fancy war name for publicity, and who knows the publicity game better than the Yanks? Why, the Germans make no bones about admitting that they learned the trick from us. Now the difference between a Boche and a Yank is just this — that a Boche is some one who believes everything that's told him and a Yank is some one who disbelieves everything that is told him. That gives us a good start. The Boche believes all this rubbish his own government has been telling him; let's see how he swallows a few facts. Boy. bring me a German printing press and four airplanes."

And so they began. Trucks, continuously supplied with the latest arguments done into neat bundles, would scout along the front — often somewhat painfully within reach of the German guns — and also supplied with the latest news as to wind and enemy movements. Thus equipped, they could direct their balloons to the places where they would do the most good, reaching Alsatian troops or the Czecho-Slovak forces with appropriate arguments.

By the Air Route

As soon as President Wilson would give an utterance intended for the world (which includes the German Army), the propaganda section would translate it into German and deliver it by the air route to all the areas within reach. All the news of the German disasters which began in mid-July, the steadily rising total of German prisoners in the Allied pen — these were done into leaflets and delivered to the German front.

There were really two phases of the propaganda — the general arguments, designed to weaken the enemy's will to fight and addressed to all the troops as far back as the airplanes could go, and the specific arguments, intended to persuade a soldier in the front line to throw up his hands and come over.

The arguments of the first class may be illustrated by such an insidious little questionnaire as this — questionnaires for him to think over in his bunk at night:

Several questions for German soldiers:

1. Will you ever again be as strong as you were in July, 1918?

2. Will your opponents grow daily stronger or weaker?

3. Have your grievous losses suffered in 1918 brought you the victorious peace
which your leaders promised you?

4. Have you still a final hope of victory?

5. Do you want to give up your life in a hopeless cause ?

The effect of these arguments, aimed at the German soldier in his rest area, could never be measured. The effect of the arguments directly calculated to induce surrender could be measured by the number of Germans who, having obviously read and pondered our suggestions, did actually surrender.

Of this class, two of the leaflets sent over worked tremendous havoc in the enemy morale. One was a simple translation of the General Order on the treatment of prisoners, with such telling paragraphs as this, in it:

"The law of nature and of nations will be sacredly heeded in the treatment of prisoners of war. They will be accorded every consideration dictated by the principles of humanity. The behavior of a generous and chivalrous people toward
enemy prisoners of war will be punctiliously observed."

Another — and this really became famous in every prison cage from the Mease to Grand Pré — was just an invitation to
breakfast. It was, typographically, an exact reproduction of the official German field post-card. Its instructions began:

"Write the address of your family upon this card and if you are captured by the Americans, give it to the first officer who questions you. He will make it his business to forward it in order that your family may be reassured concerning your situation."

The reverse side — the message side — had this greeting to the home folks all ready for the prisoner to sign:

"Do not worry about me. The war is over for me. I have good food. The American Army gives its prisoners the same food as its own soldiers: Beef, white bread, potatoes, beans, prunes, coffee, butter, tobacco, etc."

And in every attack launched in the Argonne, Germans came forward through the fog, sometimes by twos and threes, sometimes by companies — each man clamoring for an American officer and demanding an American breakfast, as advertised. And they got it.


Truth has accumulated many attributes, but it remained for the greatest struggle of humanity to place it among high explosives and poison gas as munitions of war. For the first time in the history of military operations the truth was used as an effective weapon. It was to organize its use by the Army of the United States that my husband sailed for France on Bastille Day, July 14, 1918, with a group of six Intelligence officers.

They were directed first to establish relations with the Propaganda Boards of France, England, and Italy, then to proceed to General Headquarters, A.E.F., and assemble the machinery for a propaganda drive over the enemy lines during the autumn of 1918. The following winter, the closed season for military offensives, they originally planned to devote to intensive work among the peoples and armies of Austria-Hungary and to return to their attack on German morale with the Army's promised offensive in the spring of 1919. It was an ambitious programme, — one that savored of impudence on the part of so small and inexperienced a band, — but they went like young crusaders, determined to slay dragons and overcome evil. Their plans were changed by Foch's sudden swing from defense to attack in the summer of 1918, which called for immediate activity on the Western Front.

Before they left America, the Administration, recognizing that the machinery for their work was wholly military, had directed that the Army should prepare and distribute propaganda over the enemy lines. The Committee on Public Information was expected to collaborate in the preparation of material, but during the onrush of events which made history in the final weeks of October 5th to November 11th, it remained for President Wilson himself to become the unique propagandist, not alone for humanity, but in a very literal sense for the A.E.F. The Army's whole machinery for printing, translation, and distribution was set to the work of getting the President's messages into the pockets of the German soldier. The difficulties of keeping this intellectual offensive abreast of an advancing and victorious army were enormous. That they were overcome is shown by the evidence of well-thumbed propaganda pamphlets in the hands of every two out of three German prisoners who came into our lines during the last days before the armistice.

England, France, Italy, and Russia had spread the evidences of her crimes throughout Germany for nearly four years before the United States came into the fight. We had in this, as in every other field, the use of their experience and machinery. It was our good fortune to bring new strength to the truth offensive, as we had brought fresh blood to the line, at the moment when both were most needed. Our contribution to the war of ideas was due to the enthusiasm and convi
tion of the right inspired in the men who handled these weapons by the man who provided their most effective material, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States.


New York City
February 1919

(Updated 10/13/14)

C) Laurie's "'The Chanting of Crusaders': Captain Heber Blankenhorn and AEF Combat Propaganda in World War I," based in large part on materials at the National Archives, paints a more nuanced, detailed picture of the MIB.'s propaganda operation in France.

Laurie (pp. 462-3) writes that
In spite of the fact that the military was not allowed, and did not take, any responsibility for the policy or the execution of official propaganda, a role assigned to CPI, Blankenhorn sought to reverse this policy by seeking a broad mission that included the dissemination of combat propaganda, intelligence collection, the study of enemy civilian and military morale, and counter-propaganda, all being conducted at the front line. Blankenhorn hoped to work with the CPI and other government agencies, but he decided that the subsection was to be an opertational propaganda group overseas and not just another Washington advisory board.
Laurie (p. 463) adds that:
Ten men were signed up between March and June 1918 ... Blakenhorn also recruited journalist Walter Lippmann in  June 1918. Destined to be the most controversial member of the unit, at least with George Creel and the CPI, Lippmann was a friend of Blankenhorn's who worked as an editor at the New York Inquirer. More important, Lippmann had many government contacts and was acquainted with Secretary of War Baker and Colonel Edward House, chairman of the Inquiry, a peace conference planning group to which Lippmann contributed as an expert on German and Austrian afairs.  Appealing to Lippmann's desire to communicate American war aims and to spread the work of the Inquiry and Wilsonian idealism directly to the enemy, Blankenhorn convinced Lippmann that the United States needed a program with a distinctly American flavor that avoided the sinister aspects of Allied propaganda. It should "aim to create the impression that here is something new and definitely helpful to the affairs of mankind." Lippmann agreed and soon quietly joined the Army, directly commissioned as Captain.
"As with the rest of  the U.S. Army in 1918," Laurie writes (pp. 463-4), "Blankenhorn struggled to create a working propaganda unit as rapidly as possible  in order to catch up with the allegedly more sophisticated Allied propaganda units already operating on the Western Front."

Categorized as the "Psychological Subsection" of the MIB, Blankenhorns's group was made operational on June 21, 1918 (Laurie, p. 464). Blankenhorn and Lippmann were the subsection's two senior officers.

Blankenhorn and Lippmann, along with other subsection members, attended an Inter-Allied Conference on Propaganda to Enemies Countries in August 1918. Blankenhorn was not enthused by the meeting in London. He wrote (Laurie, p. 465) that
we expected to find three organized and working Inter-Allied Propaganda Boards ... which would be landmarks in the field, with which we would have to deal and to which we could immediately designate liaison officers.  These Boards are ghosts.
The propaganda of the Psychological Subsection, located at Chaumont, was one floor above General Pershing's offices. "Lippmann, who hated the military, likened Chaumont to a prison and quickly agreed to run the section's Paris office and its smaller branch in Langres"  (Laurie, p. 466).

A leaflet written by Lippmann described the proper treatment of POW and the "American soldier's daily ration" (Laurie, p. 466) "The first  leaflet operation was deemed so successful that GHQ ordered the 1st Army on 6 September 1918 to 'utilize all means at your command to distribute propaganda leaflets widely.'"

"In spite of greater Army enthusiasm for propaganda," according to Laurie (p. 467), Blankenhorn was disappointed at the discrepancy between the months of planning and the actual output." Laurie  (p. 467) points out that, according to Blankenhorn, "It suddenly became necessary to use propaganda to fetch deserters over the line. Instead of a slow persuasive influence, an attempt was made to explode the fighting power of specific units."

"Blankenhorn insisted that all leaflets be absolutely truthful, unlike their British and French counterparts, and must 'keep away from high statesmanship, international politics, and everything but the facts of the battlefield' affecting enemy soldiers' (p. 468). AEF leaflets "were as bitterly honest as our bayonets" (Laurie, p. 468). "To use propaganda as a military weapon ... means talking to the German with a thorough understanding of what he is interested in .... We shall have to fight out what the average German thinks he is fighting," Blankenhorn said (Laurie, p. 468).

Laurie, pp. 468-9: "Lippmann, whom Blankenhorn claimed had a 'reporters flare for interrogation,' interviewed scores of POWs . ...  [W]hile he found the work interesting, Lippmann was not favorably impressed with the intelligence of enemy enlisted men or their officers. The average private, Lippmann wrote, was a 'highly-trained, technically competent peasant,' who was not 'a political animal' and was uninformed and incapable of understanding very much. The typical soldier was 'so tired and harassed that his mind ... is unreceptive to ideas that involve complicated action rather than immediate personal relief.'  Officers expected no mercy and were convinced that the Allies intended to destroy their natinal life and choke its development. Most, especially Prussians, did "not believe that America had any ideal purpose" for entering the war and regarded "the President's idealism as the propaganda which all statesmen employ.'"

Laurie, pp. 469-70"As the enemy military situation deteriorated, Allied propagandists shifted from tactical to strategic leaflets targeting civilian and military populations -- just the high-minded, statesmen-like themes Blankenhorn had hoped to write, but was initially told to avoid. Blankenhorn wrote that 'the idea that simple things, made into leaflets' had been abandoned. 'Telling the German soldier that he will be fed when he deserts does not immediately interest most men.... What makes the good German soldier wobble is doubts about the wad being worthwhile.'"

"By October, Blankenhorn wrote, all he had to do was 'publish to the Boche what the President says; he writes all our leaflets now.'" (Laurie, p. 470).

To deliver the leaflets, which were also dropped by aircraft, "[t]he U.S. Army lacked its own balloon stocks and relied on British makes of which there was never a shortage. The Army and CPI both began balloon research in February 1918 and were testing balloons capable of carrying ten thousand leaflets from three hundred to five hundred miles when the war ended. The U.S. Army, however, did not receive American-made balloons until after the Armistice.'" (Laurie, pp. 473-4).

Some combat commanders held "adverse notions" toward propaganda. "Propaganda was seen as necessary because of failure, Blankenhorn wrote, and many 'officers considered it tinged with Red, tainted with radicalism and revolution,' which 'had no place during operations.'" (Laurie, p. 474). Laurie, p. 475: "'The concept of the Air Service," Blankenhorn complained in late September 1918, 'is that propaganda is a diversion for quiet sectors, to be dropped as soon as the sector becomes active.'" 

"As Blankenhorn predicted, the strongest indications of propaganda effectiveness came from the memoirs of Field Marshals Ludendorff and von Hidenburg." (Laurie, p. 477).  Ludendorf described it "as an amazing force' which hypnotized the German people 'as a rabbit is by a snake.'" (Laurie, p. 477).

Laurie, pp. 478-9: Captain Blankenhorn was more moderate in his assessments, believing that AEF propaganda 'was uneven as regards immediate effects,' but that its long-range impact was nonetheless persistent and inescapable. It aided 'in creating the atmosphere of defeat, which ... was the decisive factor in lowering enemy morale.' Even though some enemy units fought savagely until the end, as Blankenhorn conceded, the body of the German Army  'was falling prey to despair.' Propaganda, Blankenhorn concluded, represented
the vehicle of passionate faith in the righteousness of America's cause; it was the chanting of crusaders, the word winged against delusions beneath enemies' helmets, a strife to shorten our soldiers' work. It was truly democratic peacemaking openly arrived at. 
The role of propaganda in the final victory was less clear, but as Blankenhorn wrote:
Who will venture ... to calculate the part played in winning the war by a specified battery? Who will give the percentages of victory due to any arm of the service, the air service, for example, or the tanks, or even apportion credits between the different Allied armies, or between armies and navies? It is difficult to weigh imponderables ... The effects of propaganda are unseen, cumulative, and subtle.

No comments: