NEWSPAPERS printed in this country in the German language have said that they are loyal to the United States. Other editors have read their statements and believed them. Americans in general have been led to suppose that our pro-German press, once so emphatic in defense of Germany, is now supporting the United States in the prosecution of its war against the German Empire. But nothing could be further from the truth. The pro-German press of the country has merely revised its propaganda to fit its present needs.
Carefully avoiding anything which would lay them open to the charge of treason according to the letter of the law, German-American newspapers are daily violating its spirit by spreading a fabric of anti-government lies, antiAlly calumnies, and anti-war agitations. It is their aim to bring defeat to the cause we have espoused by discrediting our motives, by preventing assistance to the Allies, and by causing discontent and opposition in our own country. Confidently expecting a German victory, they wish to hasten that desirable event by withholding our weight from the Allied offense.
In so brief a paper, it is impossible to do more than touch the main points of this new propaganda. That it exists is beyond question. The pro-German press has discovered a way to help Germany while keeping within the law. It is a new propaganda, apparently safe in showy cloak of lip-patriotism. The American people will do well, I believe, to give it their serious attention.
Since the beginning of the worldwar, the German press of the United States has consistently praised and defended every move of the Imperial German government. Every step of the American government in maintenance of its neutrality which did not redound to the credit and advantage of Germany, every step in resistance to German aggression, has been condemned. German-American newspapers went into paroxysms of joy over the sinking of the Lusitania, and their sharpest criticism of the Zimmermann note to Mexico was that it was ‘ unwise.’ They deemed our neutrality ’ and ‘ one-sided.’ The German Emperor has been praised by them as mild, God-fearing, and faithful to the interests of his people; the President of the United States has been characterized as hypocritical, selfish, and unworthy of his high office. Count Zeppelin’s services have been exaggerated; Admiral Dewey’s services, in view of his defiance of Germany,1 have been minimized. Von Bernstorff has been called a true diplomat; Ambassador Gerard has been referred to as a ‘ thing calling itself a diplomat.’ Before we entered the war, the German-American press existed, apparently, for the glorification of Germany and abuse of the United States. Then our war came.
When the President’s message sounded through the halls of Congress, there were some men among us sanguine enough to hope for a complete change of heart in the German-American editorial bosom. Though we knew that German-Americans had steadfastly opposed a war between Germany and America, we thought that the actuality might convert them to a semblance of Americanism. It did not, but it made them more circumspect. They began to realize that opinions would no longer be viewed as ‘ pro-German ’ or ‘ unAmerican,’ but would be labeled ‘ patriotic ’ or ‘ treasonable.’ For obvious reasons, their first ‘ patriotic ’ effusions were of undivided loyalty to the United States. Under cloak of that loyalty, they launched their new propaganda.
Long before the sixth day of April, 1917, the German-American press had characterized our national leaders as dishonest and unfair. The foundations were all laid when war came, and it was necessary only to continue along the old lines — to undermine, so far as possible, the faith of German-American readers in the justice of the American cause, to discount our declared principles, and to represent as tawdry and ignoble our real motives. But, first of all, Germany must be freed from all blame. ‘ Germany did everything in her power to adjust herself to our onesided neutrality,’ said the Cincinnati Volksblatt; and concluded by throwing the whole blame for the war on the President.
With never a word to show that we might be right, the hyphenated press devoted all its energies to showing that we must be wrong. ‘ World-history is a world-court,’ said the Baltimore Deutsche Correspondent. ‘ Its iron stylus will engrave the facts and make it difficult for America’s present generation to stand with honor before coming generations.’
It was our duty, in the opinion of these papers, to declare war on both sides or on neither. We have allowed England to delay our boats and open our mails, and we ‘ owed it to our sense of justice to exercise forbearance to the other side after having accorded it to the one.’
Feeling in advance that war was inevitable, German editors had considered what to say as to its causes. On April 2, the Cleveland Waechter und Anzeiger thus presented its case: —
‘ Since Germany with her allies is rather sure of victory and of indemnification by the Allies, the only way in which the millions lent the Allies can be secured is by their modification into American bonds. To do that, of course, the American people must be brought to a state of war.’
German-American editors agree that our war is really a last effort to save the money lent the Allies. We have financed the Allies and now we realize that Germany will win. We must convert Allied bonds into American bonds and prolong the war ‘ in order to put off the day of peace, so that American business can adjust itself to the peaceconditions as they will be after this most awful war is ended.’
The real causes being thus disposed of, the ‘ alleged ’ principles were discussed. The President had said that we were determined to overthrow Prussian imperialism to the end that democracy might be safe. Overlooking the main point, the Illinois Staats-Zeitung says, ‘ We have just as much reason to continue the war for the dethronement of the Hohenzollerns as for that of the houses of Saxe-Coburg on the British and Belgian thrones, or against the Roumanian branch of the Hohenzollern family.’
In fact, German editors as a whole believe we have much less reason. The German people, they say, do not want to be free, and, even if they did, our allies and ourselves are hardly the ones to free them. When Germans speak of a ‘ democratic German Empire,’ they mean ‘true democracy and not pseudodemocracy as in England, France, and the United States,’ says the Baltimore Correspondent; and adds, ‘ The German Empire of to-day is indeed already nearer a true democracy than England, where money power rules, as it does with us.’
It is ‘ a falsehood that Great Britain is a democracy,’ and the United States, which would presume to ‘ elevate ’ Germany, is inferior by several ‘ noselengths ’ to Germany in democratic institutions. In fact, now that the Czar is out, ‘ it would not be surprising if we ourselves should yet become Russian,’ for ‘ many Russian methods already enjoy great favor in our country.’
Thus the German press dilates on our war principles, real and fancied. Our war is unjust and is recognized as such by the people, as is shown by the small number of recruits. Our principles are mercenary and mean. If we fight against Germany, we shall in all likelihood be defeated, but it will be best for us to stay at home.
‘ America first! ’
That is to-day one of the German editor’s pet slogans. Under that banner he has concealed the second and most important unit of his revised propaganda — the creation of distrust in our Allies. He is afraid that the Allies will impose upon us. He points to their selfishness, their greed; and he advises us to have nothing to do with them. His aim is clear. If he can prevent all aid from this country to the Allies, the Allies will be defeated and Germany, ‘our true friend,’ will be triumphant. No opportunity is lost to point out the perfidy of Albion, who ‘ has already seen to the foundation of the United States of Great Britain and America, and appointed a colonial governor to step into the White House at the opportune moment. We must have nothing to do with such schemers.’ The Chicago Abendpost expresses the prevalent idea thus: —
‘ It would be a grievous wrong, a crime against the people and the country, if the United States should now put at the disposal of the Entente Pow - ers its money and what it has of war supplies and soldiers. For they would probably be only fruitless victims for a foreign cause and one fundamentally hostile to America. If the improbable should happen and the Entente, thanks to American aid, should gain victory over Germany and her allies, we would only ourselves put the British yoke about our neck and make ourselves dependent for all time on the British Empire.’
To avoid conquest by the British, we must adhere to a policy of ‘ America first.’
Just what do German-American editors mean by ‘ America first ’ ?
In the first place, we must not let the Allies, ‘ that band of robbers,’ have any of our money. The Allies have given money to Imperial Russia, they reason. Through the revolution, they have lost that money, and they will be unable to pay back what the United States has already lent them. Any money we give the Allies, especially Russia and England, will be thrown away.
In the second place, we must not send the Allies any food; we need it all ourselves. I imagine no one will dispute the fact that our food situation is a difficult one, but it is not true that we have need for everything which we produce. England certainly needs every bit we can send, but the German press realizes that a hungry England will not fight a winning war. Editorials and inciting news-items calculated to arouse the laboring classes are being printed daily in pro-German sheets. Their obvious purpose is so to inflame public opinion that food-riots will break out in all parts of the country. Often these editorials are only three or four lines long, but frequently several are printed the same day. It is asserted that the poor man may consider himself lucky to-day, since he will soon be unable to buy any provisions at all. A picture of Americans starving, while the English gorge themselves with American food, is certainly neither true nor patriotic, and must, when repeated daily, have behind it a sinister purpose.
In the third place, we must not send the Allies any men. It has been emphasized that all German-language newspapers favor conscription. It is true that they favor it as a principle, but they are not enthusiastic about it for the present war. The Chicago Abendpost, which does not believe that active participation is at all necessary, suggests that we let volunteers go to Europe and keep the drafted army at home. The German press is sure that ‘ at least six months are necessary to train a soldier.’ It is equally sure that Germany will have won the war by then. Conscription is an excellent thing, ‘ but the new army will not have to fight,’ since it ‘ will not be sufficiently trained to be sent into battle.’
After having made these three suggestions, the German-language editor makes a fourth: We must not make any entangling alliances. Admitting that we are unaccountably coöperating with the Allies, he insists, in the words of the Illinois Staats-Zeitung, that ‘ There can be no coalition of the United States with the Entente group, since the latter bow to the same gods of Autocracy and of suppression of the will of the people which America is seeking to destroy. The United States is seeking to dethrone the autocracies of Central Europe; but, as soon as it aligns itself with the Allies, it permits the autocracies of Belgium, Serbia, Montenegro, and Roumania to revive.’
‘ America first ' and the Allies not at all! There is only one thing that can be made of such a programme. If all American aid — money, food, supplies, men — were denied the Allies, the Allies would be defeated. It is not ‘America first ’ that is meant. The real words, unprinted, gradually take shape in the reader’s mind: ‘ Germany first! ’
Since the sixth day of April, the German-language press of the United States has been pursuing the new propaganda. It has done its best to help Germany by throwing stumblingblocks in the way of an effective prosecution of the war by the United States. It has gloated in six-column heads over German victories and allied defeats.2 It has consistently refused to believe Allied and American reports when such conflicted with those emanating from Berlin. Since the sixth day of April it has done all these things, and many of them it has been doing since the beginning of the war. The cumulative effect of such propaganda can hardly be overestimated. If it is also remembered that the dozen largest papers are read by more than a million people, it will be seen that we have here a force worthy of notice — a force that congratulates La Follette and his like for their ‘courage,’ and denounces antigovernmental agitations in Germany as conspiracies.
Not one of these papers has expressed an iota of sympathy with the purposes announced by the President as those for which we are fighting. Before the declaration of war they supported every aim of the most extreme chauvinists in Germany, and by no word has any German-American paper indicated a change of belief. As the Milwaukee Germania says, —
‘Our friends know what we think and feel. This paper has courageously and consistently expressed its conviction in this matter. The fact that war has now been declared through the expediency of recognizing the existence of a state of war does not at all change our opinion and our convictions. But it forces us to keep silent from now on.’
They do not dare to-day to attack directly the declared purpose of the United States, but they still can and do attack every statement of the purposes of our allies, which are now in their main outline those of the United States.
Their campaign of racial division has continued unabated. In every line is apparent the attempt to make the American citizen of German birth or descent feel that he is a man apart from the common herd of Americans: that he is of better stuff; that his ideals are different; that he is a much higher creation than the ordinary dollarchaser of Dollarika. Almost daily admonitions are printed: ‘Be careful to whom you talk.’ ‘Don’t express your views about the war ’ — the implication being that the German-American is not loyal, does not believe in the justice of the country’s cause, and that, if he should speak his mind, he would be exposed to the charge of treason.
At least one million men, women, and children living in the United States are being misinformed and misguided. Many of them are, no doubt, being converted to the propagandist’s ways of thinking. The Constitution allows free speech. The Constitution does not allow comfort to the enemy. The case of the German-American press is between the two. What are we going to do about it? What can we do about it?
By temper and tradition, the people of the United States are easy-going and tolerant. We believe in that temper and we respect that tradition. And, likewise, we believe in and respect the great body of American citizens of German inheritance. But, in the matter before us, we confront a situation where tolerance is defeating its own ends. Here in America we bear with the publication of newspapers in the enemy language, though in Europe such forbearance is unknown and almost inconceivable. But now, these papers, unmindful of their privilege, trade upon our patience. As Mr. Olds shows, the bulk of the German-American press in this country consists frankly of enemy papers. Enemy papers, printed in the enemy language, protected by our laws and admitted to the privileges of the mails! That is coddling sedition with a vengeance.
The remedy is a sane war-time censorship upon enemy propaganda, and a substantial war-time tax on the printed use of the enemy language. Statements which would not be tolerated in American newspapers must not find immunity in the thin disguise of German type, and the publication of newspapers in the German language is a privilege which should be paid for. We have singled out the German press as the subject for Mr. Olds’s article and for these remarks, because here, as in Europe, it is German thinking which is the chief offender, and fortunately because it is with Germany alone that we are at war. — THE EDITORS.]
- The Diederichs episode in Manila Bay during the Spanish War. — THE AUTHOR.↩
- A few examples of such heads may not be amiss. I take these submarine delights from the New Yorker Herold: ‘A FEW MORE SUNK; 35 SHIPS SUNK IN ONE WEEK; 1,100,000 TONS SUNK IN APRIL.’ ‘SUBMARINE WAR THREATENS ENGLAND’S EXISTENCE.’ The following head from the Illinois Staats-Zeitung brings tidings of American governmental deceit; ‘WASHINGTON FALSELY INTERPRETS CAPELLE’S WORDS.’ Capelle is the German Secretary of Marine. — THE AUTHOR.↩