PROPAGANDA AND PROPAGANDA AND--
Propaganda Two-Edged Tool--From Crusaders To Carping Cynics--Be Warned-- Afraid To Tell The Truth--Startling Stories Of Bolo Atrocities Published--Distortion Disgusts Brave Men--Wrong To Play On Race Prejudices--Our Own Government Missed Main Chance--Doughboy Beset By Active Enemy In Front And Plagued By Active Propaganda Of Hybrid Varieties--Sample Of Bolshevik Propaganda Used On Americans--Yanks Punched Holes In Red Propaganda--Propaganda To Doughboy Connotes Lies And Distortion And Concealment Of Truth.
"Over there, over there, the Yanks are coming," sang the soldiers in training camp as they changed from recruits into fighting units of the 85th Division at Battle Creek. And the morale of the 339th was evidenced, some thought, by the fervor with which the officers and men roared out their hate chorus, "Keep your head down, you dirty Hun. If you want to see your father in your Fatherland, Keep your head down, you dirty Hun." Maybe so, maybe not. Maybe morale is made of finer stuff than hate and bombast. Maybe idealism does enter into it. Of course there are reactionary periods in the history of a people when selfishness and narrowness and bigotry combine to cry down the expression of its idealism. Not in 1918.
No secret was made of the fact that the Americans went into the war with a fervor born of an aroused feeling of world-responsibility. We must do our part to save Christian civilization from the mad nationalism of the German people led by their diabolic Hohenzollern reigning family and war bureaucracy. Too much kultur would ruin the world. Germany must be whipped. We tingled with anticipation of our entrance to the trenches beside the bled-white France. We were going "Over There" in the spirit of crusaders.
What transformed a hesitating, reluctant, long-suffering people into crusaders? Propaganda. Press work. Five-minute men. Open and secret work. It was necessary to uncover and oppose the open and secret propaganda of paid agents of Germany, and woefully deluded German-Americans who toiled freely to help Kaiser Bill, as though to disprove the wisdom of the statement that no man can serve two masters. We beat their propaganda, uncovered the tracks of the Prussian beast in our midst, found out, we thought, the meaning of explosions and fires and other terrible accidents in our munition plants, and turned every community into vigilant searchers for evidences of German propaganda or deviltry of a destructive kind and we persecuted many an innocent man.
And now we sadly suspect that in fighting fire with fire, that is in fighting propaganda with propaganda, we descended by degrees to use the same despicable methods of distorting truth for the sake of influencing people to a certain desired end. England and France and all other countries had the same sad experience. Doubtless we could not very well avoid it. It is part of the hell of war to think about it now. Propaganda, fair one, you often turn out to be a dissipated hag, a camp follower.
Many years from now some calm historian going over the various Blue Books and White Books and Red Books, with their stories of the atrocities of the enemy, ad nauseam, will come upon the criminating Official Documents of various nations that sought to propagandize the world into trembling, cowering belief in a new dragon. Bolshevism with wide-spread sable wings, thrashing his spiny tail and snorting fire from his nostrils was volplaning upon the people of earth with open red mouth and cruel fangs and horrid maw down which he would gulp all the political, economic and religious liberties won from the centuries past. The dragon was about to devour civilization.
And the historian will shake his head sadly and say, "Too bad they fell for all that propaganda. Poor Germans. Poor Britishers. Poor Frenchmen. Poor Russians. Poor Americans. Too bad. What a mess that propaganda was. Propaganda and propaganda and--well, there are three kinds of propaganda just as there are three kinds of lies; lies and lies and d--- lies."
In this volume we are historically interested in the propaganda as it was presented and as it affected us in the campaign fighting the Bolsheviki in North Russia in 1918-19. We write this chapter with great hesitation and with consciousness that it is subject to error in investigation and sifting of evidences and subject to error of bias on the part of the writer. However, no attempt has been made to compel the parts of this volume to be consistent with one another. Facts have been stated and comments have been written as they occurred to the writers. If they were forced to be consistent with one another it would be using the method of the propagandizer. We prefer to appear inconsistent and possibly illogical rather than to hold back or frame anything to suit the general prejudices of the readers. Take this chapter then with fair warning.
Keenly disappointed we were to be told in England that we were not to join our American comrades who were starting "Fritz" backward in Northern France. We were to go to Archangel for guard duty. The expert propagandists in England were busy at once working upon the American soldiers going to North Russia. The bare truth of the matter would not be sufficient. Oh no! All the truth must not be told at once either. It's not done, you know. Certainly not. Soldiers and the soldiers' government might ask questions. British War Office experts must hand out the news to feed the troops. And they did.
Guard duty in Archangel, as we have seen, speedily became a fall offensive campaign under British military command. And right from the jump off at the Bolshevik rearguard forces, British propaganda began coming out. Does anyone recall a general order that came out from our American Commanding officer of the Expedition? Is there a veteran of the American Expeditionary force in North Russia who does not recall having read or hearing published the general orders of the British G. H. Q. referring to the objects of the expedition and to the character of the enemy, the Bolsheviki?
"The enemy. Bolsheviks. These are soldiers and sailors who, in the majority of cases are criminals," says General Poole's published order, "Their natural, vicious brutality enabled them to assume leadership. The Bolshevik is now fighting desperately, firstly, because the restoration of law and order means an end to his reign, and secondly, because he sees a rope round his neck for his past misdeeds if he is caught. Germans. The Bolsheviks have no capacity for organization but this is supplied by Germany and her lesser Allies. The Germans usually appear in Russian uniform and are impossible to distinguish." Why was that last sentence added? Sure enough we did not distinguish them, not enough to justify the propaganda.
Immediately upon arrival of the Americans in the Archangel area they had found the French soldiers wildly aflame with the idea that a man captured by the Bolsheviks was bound to suffer torture and mutilation. And one wicked day when the Reds were left in possession of the field the French soldiers came back reporting that they had mercifully put their mortally wounded men, those whom they could not carry away, out of danger of torture by the Red Guards by themselves ending their ebbing lives. Charge that sad episode up to propaganda. To be sure, we know that there were evidences in a few cases, of mutilation of our own American dead. But it was not one-tenth as prevalent a practice by the Bolos as charged, and as they became more disciplined, their warfare took on a character which will bear safe comparison with our own.
The writer remembers the sense of shame that seized him as he reluctantly read a general order to his troops, a British piece of propaganda, that recited gruesome atrocities by the Bolsheviks, a recital that was supposed to make the American soldiers both fear and hate the enemy. Brave men do not need to be fed such stuff. Distortion of facts only disgusts the man when he finally becomes undeceived.
"There seems to be among the troops a very indistinct idea of what we are fighting for here in North Russia." This is the opening statement of another one of General Poole's pieces of propaganda. "This can be explained in a very few words. We are up against Bolshevism, which means anarchy pure and simple." Yet in another statement he said: "The Bolshevik government is entirely in the hands of Germans who have backed this party against all others in Russia owing to the simplicity of maintaining anarchy in a totally disorganized country. Therefore we are opposed to the Bolshevik-cum-German party. In regard to other parties we express no criticism and will accept them as we find them provided they are for Russia and therefore for 'out with the Boche.' Briefly we do not meddle in internal affairs. It must be realized that we are not invaders but guests and that we have not any intention of attempting to occupy any Russian territory."
That was not enough. Distortion must be added. "The power is in the hands of a few men, mostly Jews" (an appeal to race hatred), "who have succeeded in bringing the country to such a state that order is non-existent. The posts and railways do not run properly, every man who wants something that some one else has got, just kills his opponent only to be killed himself when the next man comes along. Human life is not safe, you can buy justice at so much for each object. Prices of necessities have so risen that nothing is procurable. In fact the man with a gun is cock of the walk provided he does not meet another man who is a better shot."
Was not that fine stuff? Of course there were elements of truth in it. It would not have been propaganda unless it had some. But its falsities of statement became known later and the soldiers bitterly resented the attempt to propagandize them.
The effect of this line of propaganda was at last made the subject of an informal protest by Major J. Brooks Nichols, one of our most influential and level-headed American officers, in a letter to General Ironside, whose sympathetic letter of reply did credit to his respect for other brave men and credit to his judgment. He ordered that the propaganda should not be further circulated among the American soldiers. It must be admitted that the French soldiers also suffered revulsion of feeling when the facts became better known. The British War Office methods of stimulating enthusiasm in the campaign against the Bolsheviki was a miserable failure. Distortion and deception will fail in the end. You can't fool all the soldiers all the while. Truth will always win in the end. The soldier has right to it. He fights for truth; he should have its help.
Our own military and government authorities missed the main chance to help the soldiers in North Russia and gain their most loyal service in the expedition. Truth, not silence with its suspected acquiescence with British propaganda and methods of dealing with Russians; truth not rumors, truth, was needed; not vague promises, but truth.
In transmitting to us the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, our American diplomatic representative in North Russia, Mr. Dewitt Poole, published to the troops the following: "But so great a struggle cannot end so abruptly. In the West the work of occupying German territory continues. In the East German intrigue has delivered large portions of Russia into unfriendly and undemocratic hands. The President has given our pledge of friendship to Russia and will point the way to its fulfillment. Confident in his leadership the American troops and officials in Northern Russia will hold to their task to the end." This was a statement made by our American Charge d' Affairs after the Armistice, it will be noted.
The New Year's editorial in The Sentinel, our weekly paper, says, in part: "We who are here in North Russia constitute concrete evidence that there is something real and vital behind the words of President Wilson and other allied statesmen who have pledged that 'we shall stand by Russia.' Few of us, particularly few Americans, realize the debt which the whole world owes to Russia for her part in this four years struggle against German junkerism. Few of us now realize the significance that will accrue as the years go by to the presence of allied soldiers in Russia during this period of her greatest suffering. The battle for world peace, for democracy, for free representative government, has not yet been fought to a finish in Russia."
With the sentiment of those two expressions, the American soldier might well be in accord. But he was dubious about the fighting; he was learning things about the Bolsheviks; he was hoping for statement of purposes by his government. But as the weeks dragged by he did not get the truth from his own government. Neither from Colonel Stewart, military head of the expedition, nor from the diplomatic and other United States' agencies who were in Archangel, did he get satisfying facts. They allowed him to be propagandized, instead, both by the British press and news despatches and by the American press and political partisanships of various shades of color that came freely into North Russia to plague the already over-propagandized soldier.
Of the Bolshevik propaganda mention has been made in one or two other connections. We may add that the Bolos must have known something of our unwarlike and dissatisfied state of mind, for they left bundles of propaganda along the patrol paths, some of it in undecipherable characters of the Russian alphabet; but there was a publication in English, The Call, composed in Moscow by a Bolshevik from Milwaukee or Seattle or some other well known Soviet center on the home shore of the Atlantic.
These are some of the extracts. The reader may judge for himself:
"Do you British working-men know what your capitalists expect you to do about the war? They expect you to go home and pay in taxes figured into the price of your food and clothing, eight thousand millions of English pounds or forty thousand millions of American dollars. If you have any manhood, don't you think it would be fair to call all these debts off? If you think this is fair, then join the Russian Bolsheviks in repudiating all war debts.
"Do you realize that the principle reason the British-American financiers have sent you to fight us for, is because we were sensible enough to repudiate the war debts of the bloody, corrupt old Czar?
"You soldiers are fighting on the side of the employers against us, the working people of Russia. All this talk about intervention to 'save' Russia amounts to this, that the capitalists of your countries, are trying to take back from us what we won from their fellow capitalists in Russia. Can't you realize that this is the same war that you have been carrying on in England and America against the master class? You hold the rifles, you work the guns to shoot us with, and you are playing the contemptible part of the scab. Comrade, don't do it!
"You are kidding yourself that you are fighting for your country. The capitalist class places arms in your hands. Let the workers cease using these weapons against each other, and turn them on their sweaters. The capitalists themselves have given you the means to overthrow them, if you had but the sense and the courage to use them. There is only one thing that you can do: arrest your officers. Send a commission of your common soldiers to meet our own workingmen, and find out yourselves what we stand for."
All of which sounds like the peroration of an eloquent address at a meeting of America's own I. W. W. in solemn conclave assembled. Needless to say this was not taken seriously. Soldiers were quick to punch holes in any propaganda, or at any rate if they could not discern its falsities, could clench their fists at those whom they believed to be seeking to "work them." Fair words and explosive bullets did not match any more than "guard duty" and "offensive movements" matched.
Lt. Costello, in his volume, "Why Did We Go To Russia.", says: "The preponderant reason why Americans would never be swayed by this propaganda drive, lay in their hatred of laziness and their love of industry. If the Bolsheviki were wasting their time, however, in their propaganda efforts directed at effects in the field, it must be a source of great comfort to Lenin and Trotsky, Tchitcherin and Peters and others of their ilk, to know that their able, and in some case, unwitting allies in America, who condone Bolshevist atrocities, apologize for Soviet shortcomings, appear before Congressional committees and other agencies and contribute weak attempts at defense of this Red curse are all serving them so well."
"Seeing red," we see Red in many things that are really harmless. In Russia, as in America, many false accusations and false assumptions are made. We now know that of certainty the Bolshevik, or Communistic party of Russia was aided by like-minded people in America and vice versa, but we became rather hysterical in 1919 over those I.W.W.-Red outbursts, and very nearly let the conflict between Red propaganda and anti-Red propaganda upset our best traditions of toleration, of free speech, and of free press. Now we are seeing more clearly. Justice and toleration and real information are desired. Propaganda to the American people is becoming as detested as it was to the soldiers. Experience of the veterans of the North Russian campaign has taught them the foolishness of propaganda and the wisdom of truth-telling. The Germans, the Bolsheviks, the British War Office, Our War Department and self-seeking individuals who passed out propaganda, failed miserably in the end.*****
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