Historical Resonance

I have begun to read a fascinating book, Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. I’m only in the first chapter, which examines the process of “heroification” of public figures. The book has photos and captions, one of which floored me. Since the book was published in 1995, long before 9/11 and subsequent events, it was eerie to encounter this.

What I’m referring to is an ad published by the Creel Committee on Public Information, which was established by Woodrow Wilson at the time of WW I. The ad appeared in the “Saturday Evening Post.” I am providing the entire text here. If you substitute Muslim or more specifically Al Qaeda, as well as the location (Middle East instead of Germany), you may be startled at how apt a reflection of our culture it is now. We haven’t quite reached this point of surveillance (where the public is encouraged to turn people in). Or have we? With the news revealing clandestine governmental phone-tapping, I wonder if a message like this isn’t far behind.

Spies and Lies

German agents are everywhere, eager to gather scraps of news about our men, our ships, our munitions. It is still possible to get such information through to Germany, where thousands of these fragments — often individually harmless — are patiently pieced together into a whole which spells death to American soldiers and danger to American homes.

But while the enemy is most industrious in trying to collect information, and his systems elaborate, he is not superhuman — indeed he is very often stupid, and would fail to get what he wants were it not deliberately handed to him by the carelessness of loyal Americans.

Do not discuss in public, or with strangers, any news of troop and transport movements, or bits of gossip as to our military preparations, which come into your possession.

Do not permit your friends in service to tell you — or write you — “inside” facts about where they are, what they are doing and seeing.

Do not become a tool of the Hun by passing on the malicious, disheartening rumors which he so eagerly sows. Remember he asks no better service than to have you spread his lies of disasters to our soldiers and sailors, gross scandals in the Red Cross, cruelties, neglect and wholesale executions in our camps, drunkenness and vice in the Expeditionary Force, and other tales certain to disturb American patriots and to bring anxiety and grief to American parents.

And do not wait until you catch someone putting a bomb under a factory. Report the man who spreads pessimistic stories, divulges — or seeks — confidential military information, cries for peace, or belittles our efforts to win the war.

Send the names of such persons, even if they are in uniform, to the Department of Justice, Washington. Give all the details you can, with names of witnesses if possible — show the Hun that we can beat him at his own game of collecting scattered information and putting it to work. The fact that you made the report will not become public.

You are in contact with the enemy today, just as truly as if you faced him across No Man’s Land. In your hands are two powerful weapons with which to meet him — discretion and vigilance. Use them.

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One Comment on “Historical Resonance”

  1. Nacho Says:

    Oh Kathryn, it is a wonderful book, isn’t it? The stuff listed in that ad is happening now, not articulated in such direct fashion, but Americans are encouraged, through fear to turn on themselves. The “communist” or “terrorist” acts are of course not shopping, not supporting the administration, questioning… etc. We need not put it all together as in this ad to tell the people what they ought to think and how to behave. Many people already do these things in Academia, spying on professors and other students (as well as on administrators) and turning them in to such folks as Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz, etc.

    Thanks for posting it Kathryn, I’ll spread it around also. Good connection.

    N