Sunday, December 7, 2014

World War I Propaganda Wars: War Department vs. Committee on Public Information

This entry is a work in progress; updated/reviewed 5/22/2016; suggestions welcome -- please email


35. Letter From Acting Secretary of War Crowell to President Wilson1

My dear Mr. President:
Referring to your letter of 5th September,2 concerning the interest of the War Department in the matter of propaganda abroad, General March3 advises me that the whole question of the propaganda abroad with which Captain Lippman was concerned was handled by Secretary Baker personally. The Secretary, after conferences with representatives of the Bureau of Public Information; and with the Military Intelligence Division, at which the Chief of Staff was present; and in response to the initiation of this propaganda by the Bureau of Public Information, directed the organization of the party consisting of Captain Blankenhorn, Captain Lippman, Lieutenant Merz and Lieutenant Ifft. These officers were to proceed to France to carry out confidential instructions which were given to them by Secretary Baker in person. Secretary Baker also wrote to General Pershing a letter in which he defined the objects of this mission and gave General Pershing necessary instructions as to his attitude toward it.
A part of the propaganda proposed consisted of getting into the territorial limits of the Central Powers certain information concerning activities of the United States in connection with the war. The Bureau of Public Information has not been able to successfully get such information into Germany and Austria hitherto. The scheme involved the preparation of certain propaganda matter which Secretary Baker proposed to visé himself or have viséd by responsible officers who would carry out his policy in the matter, so as to prevent exaggerated statements being used in the propaganda.
In accordance with the general scheme, the War Department has placed orders for a number of balloons of small dimensions, which it is proposed to start toward German territory from a base with the American Expeditionary Force when the wind is favorable, these balloons having a relatively small radius of travel so that they will be sure to get to land within the limits of the Empire of the Central Powers. The orders for these balloons have actually been placed and the carrying out of the general scheme of this propaganda would be impossible without the coordinated work of the military establishment. You will recall that in order to obtain the money for the purchase of these balloons, it was necessary to ask you for $76,000 from your war fund and this money was allotted by you for this purpose at the personal solicitation of Secretary Baker, and it was understood that Mr. Creel acted at the same time in obtaining this amount.
Captain Lippman was placed upon this committee at the suggestion of Secretary Baker himself. The committee arrived abroad and shortly after its arrival in France a cablegram was received from General Pershing announcing in general terms that the committee apparently was well selected for the purpose in hand.
In accordance with your instructions, orders have been given to the senior officer of this committee, Captain Blankenhorn, to discontinue any further activity and to report to Secretary Baker upon his arrival. A cablegram has also been sent to Secretary Baker to be delivered to him upon his arrival, announcing what your action has been in this matter and it is expected, as the entire matter was handled by Secretary Baker personally, that he will then communicate with you concerning it.
While the War Department, of course, intends to carry out exactly what you desire in this matter, it would seem that the field for propaganda of the class indicated could only be reached by the assistance of the military establishment. In propaganda work in other countries the Military Intelligence Division has never assumed any control or direction. The Military Attachés at Madrid, Berne, and other places have been told to place themselves at the disposal of the representatives of the Bureau of Public Information and to cooperate with them to any extent that they desire, but they have never attempted to initiate any such propaganda themselves.
Sincerely yours,
Benedict Crowell Acting Secretary of War

1 Source: Library of Congress, Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Series 2: Family and General Correspondence, 1786–1924, Reel 99, 1918 Aug. 20–Sept. 16. No classification marking. Also printed in Papers of Woodrow Wilson, vol. 49, pp. 487–488.
2 See Document 34.
3 General Peyton March, Army Chief of Staff.

No comments: