Selling the Great War: The Making of American Propaganda

Overview

When the people of the United States were reluctant to enter World War I, maverick journalist George Creel created a committee at President Woodrow Wilson’s request to sway the tide of public opinion. The Committee on Public Information monopolized every medium and avenue of communication with the goal of creating a nation of enthusiastic warriors for democracy. Forging a path that would later be studied and retread by such characters as Adolf Hitler, the Committee revolutionized the techniques of governmental ...

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Selling the Great War: The Making of American Propaganda

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Overview

When the people of the United States were reluctant to enter World War I, maverick journalist George Creel created a committee at President Woodrow Wilson’s request to sway the tide of public opinion. The Committee on Public Information monopolized every medium and avenue of communication with the goal of creating a nation of enthusiastic warriors for democracy. Forging a path that would later be studied and retread by such characters as Adolf Hitler, the Committee revolutionized the techniques of governmental persuasion, changing the course of history.

Selling the War is the story of George Creel and the epoch-making agency he built and led.  It will tell how he came to build the and how he ran it, using the emerging industries of mass advertising and public relations to convince isolationist Americans to go to war.  It was a force whose effects were felt throughout the twentieth century and continue to be felt, perhaps even more strongly, today. In this compelling and original account, Alan Axelrod offers a fascinating portrait of America on the cusp of becoming a

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In the early 20th century, propaganda had yet to acquire the sinister name it would gain by the Cold War. One of the most important episodes in understanding the relationship between propaganda and American culture is WWI. Many American were not yet ready to support the total war effort needed to defeat Germany, and President Wilson was worried about bringing the public along. Enter George Creel, a journalist and Democratic Party activist, who brought modern marketing to American politics. Appointed to the Committee on Public Information to control public opinion, Creel imbedded reporters in various governmental agencies, totally controlled information, planted stories and threatened outright censorship. Within months, Creel had an army of public speakers, hundreds of reporters and a propaganda machine unimagined in American history. While this is an important story involving a remarkable character, Axelrod's (Patton on Leadership) shoddy research undermines the book: the author has not consulted either archival material, the vast newspaper sources or government documents. Instead, he relies too heavily on Creel's writings. Nor does Axelrod place his subject in the larger sphere of either media or marketing history. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Prolific author Axelrod's (America's Wars) latest book, on how the U.S. government conducted its propaganda campaign during World War I, is largely the story of George Creel, the newspaperman hired by President Wilson to convince the American public that the war was a good idea. This engaging story provides lessons for the current U.S. experience in the War on Terror. Axelrod, however, relies too heavily upon Creel's later recollections of his activities as recounted in his memoirs, from 1920 (How We Advertised America) and 1947 (Rebel at Large: Recollections of Fifty Crowded Years). While Axelrod points out that many of the original documents from the wartime "Committee on Public Information," which Creel headed, were lost, he should have searched for more sources written during the Great War. Also, a book about propaganda would do well to have illustrations of propaganda; there are no such illustrations. However, Axelrod is an excellent writer, and the book helps us understand the tensions between freedom and security that exist in our democracy. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.
—Michael Farrell

Kirkus Reviews
The little-known story of George Creel and the Committee on Public Information, "America's first and only ministry of propaganda."In 1916, Woodrow Wilson campaigned on the slogan, "He kept us out of war!" Within months after his reelection he sought congressional authority for a war to make the "world . . . safe for democracy." To marshal his determinedly isolationist countrymen, Wilson turned to Creel, whose background in political journalism and progressive politics ideally suited him for the job of promoting the president's lofty war aims. Although he invokes influential ad- and public-relations men Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays, historian Axelrod (Profiles in Folly: History's Worst Decisions and Why They Went Wrong, 2008, etc.) demonstrates that Creel accomplished something far more sophisticated than simply "selling" the Great War. Thanks to the Espionage and Sedition Acts and a "friendly understanding" with newspaper editors, Creel had a monopoly on war information. Aided by his recruitment of leading figures in all walks of American life, his careful selection of helpful facts and his saturation of the public through press, pictures, movies, public meetings and rallies, Creel sought to transform the public mind and make it receptive to Wilson's message. With especially fine passages about the Four-Minute Men, community members recruited to address movie audiences while projectionists switched reels, and the Division of Pictorial Publicity, whose members included Charles Dana Gibson, George Bellows and N.C. Wyeth, Axelrod shows Creel's propaganda machine in action. He marvels at Creel's efficiency and credits him with honorable, if occasionally disingenuous intentions. He alsoobserves that what Wilson and Creel saw as a morally neutral program, necessitated by war, could easily have become-as Hitler and Goebbels, who carefully studied the Creel's techniques, later proved-a monster. A useful exhumation of an almost forgotten piece of American history and a timely meditation on the conflict between free speech and security.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230605039
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/3/2009
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,437,212
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Axelrod is the author of numerous books on military history, general history, American history and historically rooted business and management books, including Bradley and Patton in The Great Generals Series edited by General Wesley K. Clark, the BusinessWeek bestsellers Patton on Leadership and Elizabeth I, CEO, as well as a host of encyclopedias and other trade reference titles. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Table of Contents

1 Making of a Muckraker 1

2 Muckraker on the Make 15

3 Too Proud to Fight 33

4 Safe for Democracy 55

5 Conjuring the Committee 77

6 A Monopoly on the News 97

7 Invasion of the Four-Minute Men 113

8 The Look of War 135

9 Combat Comes to Classroom and Factory 159

10 Hyphenated America 175

11 Exporting the Message 189

12 Legacy 211

Notes 227

Index 239

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