The Poison in Our System



JUNE 1941


THERE has been a Battle of France, and a Battle of Britain, and a Battle of the Atlantic — yet the most important battle of all is the battle of and for the Mind of America. Hitler knows it and has known it right along. According to Hermann Rauschning, Hitler’s ‘voice of destruction’ was heard saying: ‘Artillery preparation before an attack as during the World War will be replaced in the future war by the psychological dislocation of the adversary through revolutionary propaganda.’ To neglect this invasion of America is to act like an ostrich. All the appeasers like to dwell on the imaginary invasion by tanks and troopships; many of them do not realize that in doing so they are doing what Hitler wants them to. Exploiting every discontent, they tell us that Hitler is bound to win, thus spreading defeatism and undermining our morale, our belief in the future of democracy.

But words are not the most important weapon of the propagandist today. Many have spoken of the War of Words. Hitler does his most effective propagandizing through acts. A strike in a key plant, initiated through totalitarian agents, whether Stalin’s or Hitler’s, accomplishes more in one day than a week’s outpouring of the printing presses. It depresses morale, it stirs up strife and mutual denunciations; some shout, ‘Treason, treason!’ while others demand that ‘strikers be electrocuted’ or managers jailed and plants taken over by the government. ‘Psychological dislocation’— this key to Nazi strategy of terror in this country cannot be combated by adopting the methods of the totalitarian despots themselves. A strengthening, not a weakening, of democratic methods is in order. As Edmond Taylor says of French morale at one point in The Strategy of Terror (incidentally by far the best analysis of the Nazi technique of morale destruction), ‘Really democracy in this country [France] has already broken down because all groups approve the repressive use of authority when it operates against their enemies.’ Here is the core, the decisive front in the battle of the mind of America. Thousands and tens of thousands have been succumbing to totalitarian poison, not only on the appeasers’ side, but on the belligerents’ side as well. Time carried a letter the other day from a woman who demanded that all Germans be sterilized. I am sure she thought herself extremely patriotic. In fact, her mind had become Hitlerized, racial hatred generating senseless physical violence. Without knowing it, she had become the most dangerous fifth columnist in our midst: the person who has lost faith in democracy, in civilized methods, in Christianity.

Copyright 1941, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.

The fifth columnist was first recognized in the Spanish Civil War. He was suddenly discovered stalking behind the back of fighting armies, ready to support the work of the columns at the front. He has grown in stature ever since as the live symbol of our age — an age of worldwide civil war which recognizes no national boundaries. But whereas in Spain it seemed to be a war between Communism and Fascism, or between Stalinism and Hitlerism, it has since turned into a war between totalitarianism and democracy. According to some, it was that even in Spain, with the Stalinists stirring the witches’ cauldron, as they seem to be doing so effectively today. Astute observers agree in accusing Moscow of a persistent policy of aggravating disturbances out of a deep-rooted conviction that ‘capitalist democracy’ is doomed. In this, their enmity toward democracy, lies the securest link of Stalinists with Hitlerites and Fascists, and since men work together because they share their hatreds, democracy finds itself today unmistakably confronted with a worldwide coalition of anti-democratic forces. Hence the problem of anti-democratic propaganda, what it is and what it does, is a much broader and deeper issue than is commonly assumed. Yet, our dilemma is even more profound than this doublebarreled enmity.

If the democratic tradition were a fanatical ‘faith’ in some particular panacea, we could undertake to suppress its critics as anti-democratic, and if we used enough force we might hope to prevail. Unfortunately, at the very core of our constitutional and democratic tradition lie the need for criticism and a positive conviction of the value of diversity and contrast. To put it paradoxically, democratic faith insists upon its own inadequacy. It almost glories in its imperfection. It invites its own change. If we are good democrats, we are agreed upon the value of disagreement. We are agreed to respect the ‘opinion we hate,’ to use Justice Holmes’s famous phrase. This raises the question today: Are the forces opposed to democracy, the antidemocratic fifth columnists, included in such respect, or are they to be suppressed? If the latter, where does suppression begin?

There are many who would simply answer this question by a distinction between constructive criticism and lying propaganda. Indeed, everywhere legal discriminations are being attempted that would outlaw Communists, Nazis, and Fascists as enemies of our democracy. That they are enemies of our democracy there can be no doubt. But what if they come back with the retort that their hostility to democracy is merely due to their solicitude for America’s future? That democracy is the past, and that America should mount the wave of the future and ride it? What is propaganda anyway? Some have mockingly defined it as ‘the opinion of the other fellow.’ Others have condemned it by making it synonymous with intentional misrepresentation of the facts. But who will probe the hearts of men and speak with certainty of a fellow’s intentions? How, then, shall we define propaganda?

A recent doctoral dissertation at Harvard listed several dozen definitions of the word. In my research work I have found it helpful to emphasize that carrying on propaganda means ‘communicating information, true or false, in order to get people to do or to keep them from doing specific things, like joining an organization, making a contribution, or waving a flag.’ But there can be little doubt that most people do not use the word ‘ propaganda ‘ in such a neutral way. Most men in the street think of lies when they hear of propaganda. By doing so they blind themselves to what are by far the most dangerous onslaughts upon our morale, our confidence in the future of democracy. Though the totalitarian propaganda strategists unquestionably use misrepresentations and lies continually, they know that the most effective propaganda is the propaganda of true facts. They also know that Pilate’s question still contains a potent point in that the truth is not exactly selfevident in matters of real importance.

Unfortunately, much the most important issues are entirely controversial. Our judgment of what is right is not rooted in facts, but in opinion, in belief, in faith. Take such a question as whether America is really a democracy or, rather, a plutocracy in disguise. Men of good will and ardent democratic faith have disagreed on that question. Yet, does not the answer affect our morale vitally at this time? We may have our own answer, call it a false alternative or whatever you please, but if the Goebbels ministry keeps pouring out the dispatches high-lighting this symbol ‘plutocracy’ we soon find ourselves confronted with the question: Shall we look upon everyone who calls America a plutocracy as a potential or actual fifth columnist, or shall we allow Goebbels to undermine democratic morale? And where again shall we draw the line? Is anyone who talks about ‘classes’ in America a suspect carrier of MarxistStalinist poison, or is Stalin going to be permitted to break up our social structure into mutually hostile groups?

The very form of these questions shows that we cannot do either. Discriminating judgment is required in all such instances. If we believe in democracy, we believe in the judgment of the common man. If we can make him understand the methods of totalitarian propaganda, we shall impregnate him against its temptations. Unfortunately at the present time not even the editors of most newspapers and magazines in the United States understand these methods. This, curiously enough, is due not to their complexity, but to their extreme simplicity. By worrying about the fifth columnist under our bed, we overlook the fifth columnist right in front of us — staring us in the face as we look at the latest news of our morning paper. The most potent Nazi propaganda is carried by our best magazines. To offer one illustration: —

The magazine Life, with millions of readers in this country, published a few weeks ago a short autobiographical piece presumably written by a German bomber. Innocently it was suggested that the thing was authentic, but that the name of the author could not, in accordance with the rules of the German censor, be revealed. I may be entirely wrong, but the piece when analyzed seemed to me clearly a synthetic product of the Goebbels ministry of propaganda. No doubt the editors of Life did not see it that way. But, if space permitted, it would be easy to show this point by point. Go back to that article and do it yourself. Ask yourself, as you read these sentences, What was this phrase to accomplish, what reaction was that to bring about? You will find that the piece was to get across the following ideas, among others: ‘These fliers are tremendously efficient, these fliers are human and regret the destruction they bring; German soldiers are Nazis, Austrians are Germans; these fliers, these Germans, these Nazis, are an overpowering wave — there is no use in resisting them,’ and so forth. The thing is a perfect piece of ammunition in the battle of the mind. Though couched in words, it is presented as a fact, an act, a revelation. It is unwise to assume that any Nazi flier today would be permitted to write such a piece by himself, even if the representative of the American magazine offering to publish it had been his lifelong friend. He would have to report the overture; the skillful manipulators in the Goebbels ministry would do the rest. In doing it these master strategists would build up their extensive knowledge of the American public. They would do it, confident that the American reader would not make a careful study to discover the synthetic elements. How many Life readers made such an analysis, do you think? None that I talked to ever did. They were depressed; they felt that the position of England was hopeless. ‘You can’t fight them,’ they said.

The very same thing is happening day in and day out when we read the papers. The editor believes he is doing his duty if he publishes side by side the two dispatches, one from Berlin, the other from London. In so doing he places a tremendous responsibility upon the reader. Not merely the task of telling himself that he is reading propaganda; the British, too, make propaganda. But to read a Berlin dispatch or a Moscow dispatch without bad aftereffects one has to understand and keep in mind how this black magic works. Remember, in the first place, that the propagandists in Berlin do not have to worry about a hostile opposition, quick to criticize every mistake made; they can, for example, lie about the people they control without having to fear an exposé that boomerangs. From this standpoint, our correspondents in places like Berlin are not ‘correspondents’ in the old sense. If you want to get a picture of the limitations under which they work, read Whitaker’s recent reports after he got out.

What is even more important: the totalitarians’ objective is to discredit democracy — simply because they know that the greatest depressive of morale is being in doubt about the eventual victory. In short, these ministries of propaganda are plotting continually, not merely to misinform us, but to set in motion psychic disturbances which will make us defeatist. ‘Democracy is dead,’ ‘Britain is lost’ — these are the inferences they wish to insinuate by the news items they release. The wire services — AP, UP, and the rest — are in a key position. They naturally pride themselves on the speed with which they handle their dispatches. Recently it was said that ‘ the average time lapse between the arrival of a bulletin from abroad at the cable desk [of the AP] and its receipt by the newspapers is less than a minute.’ This is a brilliant technical achievement. Yet one might wish that there were a little more thought given to the symbols embedded in the items from anti-democratic headquarters to make sure that they are a necessary part of the news. Why should American newspapers, for example, repeat over and over again the Berlin-manufactured symbol ‘ annihilated ‘ ? According to such news items, the British forces were thus ‘annihilated’ at least half a dozen times. Each time the word was used a psychic disturbance of far-reaching consequence was set in train in millions of American minds. As long as ‘news’ is being handed to us, the readers, direct from Nazi headquarters in the words which Dr. Goebbels has carefully chosen to produce the maximum adverse effect upon our general psychic well-being, we shall have to defend ourselves as best we can. Commentators such as Raymond Gram Swing help to produce a measure of detachment. We might learn more from men like Edmond Taylor, Otto Tolischus, and William Shirer. But we must do a lot of work ourselves.

In short, the greatest difficulty in dealing with Nazi propaganda arises from the fact that Nazi methods are not understood. Many people assume that the totalitarians rely largely upon highly secretive procedures. Their fear and anxiety combine with lurid journalism to create a fog of emotional agitation which is precisely what the Nazis are seeking to produce. Hitler’s declared purpose of ‘psychological dislocation’ finds its strongest ally in our own weaknesses. The surprising successes that Goebbels’s methods have scored are in part due to the fact that they are built upon cynical insight into human frailties.

One of those simple insights into how the human mind works is this: only the more thoughtful examine major premises. When a doubtful assertion is being made, most of us plunge into an argument over it without further ado. From this simple and incontrovertible fact the Nazis have derived a most effective method; when they want to get something across to us, whom they know to be suspicious of their assertions, they do not assert it, but assume it in a challenging proposition. As a result, the major premise will be accepted by friends and enemies of their explicit assertion. Here is how it works. The Nazis desired that we in America should believe that the Nazis are going to win the war. If they had simply asserted it, the other side would have denied the assertion. Doubt, at least, would remain strong. So, instead, they proceeded through various emissaries (including French proVichy ‘sources’) to plant the idea that ‘after the war America should trade with a victorious Germany.’ Whether we like Hitler or not, we must deal with him, ran the legend. ‘If the Nazis win, let’s not be sentimental — business is business. It is all an imperialist war anyway.’

Today these formulas are familiar. Reputable men have sponsored them; others have combated them. But most of those who have taken a stand against such views have walked into the Nazis’ trap. They have said: ‘ No, we must not deal with a victorious Hitler’ — thereby swelling the chorus of voices holding that Hitler might be victorious. Many publicists have gone great lengths in depicting what the world will be like after a Nazi victory, thereby feeding the Nazis’ essential premise: ‘A Nazi victory, if not a certainty, is at any rate a strong possibility.’ Insight into Nazi propaganda strategy would have made these publicists, writers, and columnists pause to ask the vital question: ‘Who said that the Nazis are winning the war?’ Such questioning of the major premise would have spoiled the Nazi game.

Many similar examples can be given to show how this principle has been employed by the Nazis in the past. Their entire appeasement propaganda in France and England was built on such propositions. The assertion itself might be couched in a question: ‘Should the Sudeten Germans be incorporated by negotiation or by occupation? ‘ (Major premise: ‘They will be incorporated.’) ‘Should the United States aid Britain, or shouldn’t she?’ (Major premise: ‘No interest of the United States herself is involved in the war.’) In these and many similar instances the Nazis succeeded in getting their foes as well as their friends to popularize the points which they wished to get across. As to the present drive to get us to accept a Hitler-dominated world, it is revealing to note the typical crescendo in the premises: (1) if Hitler wins, (2) when Hitler wins, (3) since Hitler is winning, (4) because Hitler is winning. . . . The Nazis have made such headway with their most recent campaign that if a man gets up and speaks on ‘After Hitler — What?’ as I have done recently he’s looked upon with some amazement. Many have already come to believe that Hitler will win this war. So if someone gets up and says, ‘I believe Hitler will be defeated,’ people feel cheered by such a firm belief. Facts speak louder than words, and no one knows it better than Hitler. Hence the propaganda of the act, of which I have already spoken.

How did the propaganda of the act work to support the Nazis’ contention that they were to win the war? They used a variety of devices. Last summer German firms throughout Latin America took orders for fall delivery. They even posted cash bonds to guarantee performance of the contract. They are reported to be doing it again right now. It was very amusing when information about these contracts first ‘leaked through’ — a New York business man whispered it into my ear as ‘ inside dope.’ He was incredulous when I suggested it might be a propaganda trick. There can be little doubt that this propaganda was destined for just such business men. Would they not ask themselves the anxious question: ‘ What will become of my war orders for Britain?’

The Nazis used another device for influencing German workingmen in this country, particularly men in key defense jobs. Such men one day received a letter from some business concern which read as follows: ‘ Dear Sir: As soon as Germany has won this war, German workers will have undreamt-of opportunities for lucrative employment in the Greater Reich. You as a skilled mechanic will no doubt be desirous of participating in such opportunities, particularly as the proBritish factions in this country may deprive you of your job here. Since the openings will be filled in order of application, we suggest that you communicate with us at once, so that you may get on the list and thereby not lose this golden opportunity. . . .’ I have seen these letters and examined their authenticity. No matter what the worker does with them, they leave him affected. Propaganda of the act!


Strikes are, of course, rooted in maladjustments between management and labor. But it is asserted by persons who have made careful surveys that Communist leaders and Nazi agents are often active behind the scenes. Mr. H. W. Barclay, editor of Mill and Factory, who has spent several months investigating the background of strikes in defense plants, has secured extensive testimony from workers to that effect.

‘It’s a proven fact,’ he says, ‘that the Communist Party collaborates with Nazi organizations in their endeavors, and that they use devious and indirect methods to carry out their plans of preventing this country from giving all our aid to Britain and ensuring adequate defense to ourselves.’ Some Communists and Communist sympathizers will repudiate these suggestions with indignation; being subjectively honest in their dislike of the Nazis, they do not realize the extent to which they are being made tools of disruptive policies. Valtin, in his Out of the Night, has shown in great detail how the Stalinist machinery works to create confusion and breakdown just for the sake of destruction. His portrayal of what goes on at the waterfront should be a timely warning. Gitlow, in his I Confess, has also given us a fulsome, if somewhat personalized, account of the methods employed by Stalin’s agents in this country. Consequently we need not seek for specific evidence of effective collaboration between the agents of Stalin and Hitler; their directions are such that their doings necessarily produce similar results: to spread confusion and strife and thus to bewilder the mind of America. Nor are their doings limited to labor. In certain circles of management, Nazi influences are as persuasive as are Communist elements in the ranks of labor. In both, the percentage is probably quite small; but it is large enough to occasion incident after incident, strike after strike, and thus to produce the ‘acts’ upon which the Axis propaganda relies for its most important effects in the battle of the mind.

So, no matter how difficult it may be to evaluate the data gathered by investigators such as Mr. Barclay (and there is plenty of evidence, one hears, in the Department of Justice and other official agencies to support his findings), such evidence for Nazi complicity in aggravating our difficulties seems credible for the simple reason that these strikes fit. so completely into the plans of Moscow and Berlin. As I suggested earlier, they provide perfect material for ‘propaganda of the act.’ Should we then outlaw them? Not at all; for such outlawry would simply provide another ‘act’ to demonstrate the failure of democracy.

Indeed, if there were not material discontents, manifest, failures of our democracy, no agent could bring on strikes. But can we hope at this moment to right all wrongs, and solve all the problems of our all-too-human democracy? The counsel of perfection is a potent weapon of the cynic. Nihilism — that is, destructive criticism, scoffing disbelief in everything and in anything — feeds upon an insistence that there should not be any flaws in a building, else it must come down. What is our most potent defense against such enemies of the republic? Some want to suppress them; to organize spy hunts, jail every Communist, shoot every Bundsman. Are such proceedings going to strengthen our faith in the future of democracy? If we cannot resist the lure of force, if we allow ourselves to fall prey to the temptation of violence, we are weakening our own position. Shall we look on, then, with indifference? Most assuredly not. There are important things that we can do, that we must do.

How about outlawing foreign-language press and radio? The suggestion has been advanced that here we have the channel, mysterious, inaccessible, through which the totalitarians commune with the American people. It is a proven fact that foreign-language broadcasts were extensively used by totalitarian propagandists. In a number of Eastern seaboard stations practically all the news announcers and commentators were known to be Fascist sympathizers, if not actual members of the Fascist Party. I do not wish to mention them by symbol, because their practices have since been discontinued. Not only was there daily open extolling of Mussolini and his works, but frank denunciation of democracy and America. Programs equally blatant in their subversive intent were heard on some of the German-language broadcast stations in the Middle West (German-language broadcasts are less numerous than Italian, Yiddish, Polish, and Spanish). When anti-Fascist, prodemocratic persons wanted to get a hearing on these stations, they were almost always given the cold shoulder.

When these conditions were first brought to the attention of a broader public, many people wanted to outlaw foreign-language broadcasts altogether. That was a year or so ago. Wisely, the Federal Communications Commission, under James Fly, counseled moderation. ‘Let us find out the facts,’ they said. A questionnaire was sent to all stations broadcasting in foreign tongues, asking for very detailed information as to content, sponsorship, and the rest. The National Association of Broadcasters set up a Committee to study the situation and make recommendations. The Office of Radio Research at Columbia and the Radiobroadcasting Research Project at Harvard undertook to study how the listeners react and to explore who controls these programs and how. All these inquiries revealed that the propagandists who had so comfortably installed themselves in this forgotten corner were beating a hasty retreat as soon as the spotlight of publicity was turned on them. They also showed that such foreignlanguage broadcasts reach a group of non-readers, hundreds of thousands of foreign-born Americans who cannot be effectively reached by other channels of communication. What is needed and wanted is an effective use of such broadcasts for pro-democracy work. Thus the Mazzini Society has recently shaped such a program, which has been offered over WHOM in New York. Recordings have been made available to other stations. The Department of Justice is at present engaged in making its striking series of broadcasts, ‘I’m an American,’ available in Italian and German. Many outstanding persons of unquestioned loyalty to democracy and its ideals have participated in the series.

Much more of this sort of thing needs to be done. American firms with business interests among foreign-language groups — the great mass-consumption advertisers of soap, gas, breakfast foods, and so forth - should make it their business to give really thoughtful attention to the possibilities of utilizing their promotional work along this line. Some striking beginnings have been made in the field of soap operas. Because the stations carrying foreign-language broadcasts are usually small, they have to watch their pennies and find it difficult to devote much time to sustaining programs of purely public interest. If, at the same time, the Department of Justice’s Nationality Unit and the Federal Communications Commission’s Monitoring Service continue on the alert, our concern over foreign-language broadcasts of domestic origin need not cause us to demand their discontinuance.

There has, however, cropped up a new device which may not be so easily dealt with. An outfit which calls itself The Almanac Music Company, Inc., has recently brought out a series of phonograph records, called ‘Songs for John Doe.’ These recordings are distributed under the innocuous appeal: ‘Sing out for Peace.’ Yet they are strictly subversive and illegal. Sung to such familiar tunes as ‘Billy Boy,’ they ridicule the American defense effort, democracy, and the army. Whether Communist or Nazi financed, their general spirit is well indicated by the following sample: —


It’s C for Conscription, and C for Capitol Hill;
C for Conscription and C for Capitol Hill;
It’s C for the Congress that passed that goddamned

Another song is called ‘Plow Under’; it’s the first one, and so I guess they liked it best. The first verse runs: —

Remember when the AAA
Killed a million hogs a day?
Instead of hogs, it’s men today —
Plow the fourth one under!
Plow under, plow under,
Plow under every fourth American boy!

And the last one: —

Now the politicians rant,
‘A boy’s no better than a cotton plant’;
But we are here to say you can’t
Plow the fourth one under!

The three records sell for one dollar and you are asked to ‘play them in your home, play them in your union hall, take them back to your people.’ Probably some of these songs fall under the criminal provisions of the Selective Service Act, and to that extent it is a matter for the Attorney-General. But you never can handle situations of this kind democratically by mere suppression. Unless civic groups and individuals will make a determined effort to counteract such appeals by equally effective methods, democratic morale will decline. A variety of organizations has been doing a splendid job here. Station WHA out in Wisconsin has been presenting a dramatic pro-democracy serial on civil liberties showing the deeper issues in the fight for freedom in superb fashion. But perhaps the most remarkable achievement in this field has been the series of radio dramas which The Free Company, under the able chairmanship of James Boyd, has been presenting. Besides Boyd, Saroyan, Sherwood, Benet, Welles, Connelly, MacLeish, Maxwell and Sherwood Anderson, Paul Green, and Walter V. Clark have been the writers so far associated with the series. They are marvels of genuine pro-democracy poetry, broadly gauged in their conception of freedom, and hence suitable for reproduction in every home and schoolroom in the land.


But what about the broadcasts from abroad? A continuous stream of ‘news’ and comment has been flowing into this country via short wave from Berlin, Moscow, and Rome, but more particularly from Berlin. This material is, of course, carefully prepared by the master strategists in the totalitarian war-upondemocracy centres. Listening posts set up in the studios of NBC and CBS, as well as at Princeton University, have accumulated a mass of detailed information on the words and symbols employed to reach the American mind. There can be little question that both sides have continuously utilized this channel for every kind of propaganda. However, from our viewpoint, the all-important difference is that totalitarian propaganda has been anti-democratic. It has sought to undermine our confidence in the future of the institutions which we live under. It has sneered at our defense effort ; it has brazenly thrown our pacifism in our face when we found ourselves obliged to adopt the draft to cope with a potential Nazi threat.

How widely are these ‘poison packages’ accepted? Attempts to determine the extent of listening through our national opinion polls, the Gallup poll and the Fortune poll, have produced entirely inconclusive results. Interviewers ran into difficulties in getting people to admit that they were listening to such broadcasts. Naturally. Nor is it practicable to gauge the extent of such propaganda by the number of listeners. Through such broadcasts the Nazis suggest the key symbols which are then carried about throughout the land by their friends, their stooges, and even their enemies. ‘America is a pluto-democracy’ is a typical symbol. ‘Roosevelt means Rosenfeld ‘ is one of the more vicious antiSemitic symbols. Other such word symbols are ‘America for Americans, Europe for Europeans,’ ‘This is Europe’s war,’ ‘The Jewish-controlled press,’ ‘Germany is fighting for the removal of an injustice,’ ‘It is good business to be on good terms with the winner,’ and so forth. It would take us far afield to analyze the particular methods employed by the Nazis during their propaganda campaign to keep America out of the war, to weaken her internal unity, to slow down defense. It is important to keep in mind that this campaign is also designed to maintain the morale of Nazi supporters in this country. Surrounded as they are by a hostile American public, and depressed as they must be by our rapidly rising defense effort, the Nazi short waves reassure them day in and day out that Hitler is going to win in the end — and add to that the wild idea that ‘America is ours.’

Obviously this type of broadcast requires entirely different handling on our part. Since we cannot get at the source and hence cannot prevent its entering the country, so long as we are formally at peace, a continuous and vigorous effort to counteract the effect of these communications is essential. What is even more important is a comprehensive and large-scale attack upon Nazi confidence in the future.

A little while back the Council for Democracy, a national civic organization for the propagation of America’s fait h in the future of democracy, undertook a rather ingenious bit along these lines. Many people have been annoyed for some time by the extent to which Nazi printed propaganda was flooding this country at the expense of the American post office. All the Nazis had to do was to print it and stamp it; the rest was up to Uncle Sam and the countries between here and Berlin. Yet, all suggestions to stop this paper invasion of the United States by refusal to ship subversive material met with the reasonable, democratic reply from the postal authorities that we were bound by an international agreement under the International Postal Union. So the Council decided to test the agreement to see how far the totalitarians were living up to it. It composed a letter telling about what a fine country America was and how splendidly democracy was working in building up the defense arsenal, and so forth. This letter was mailed to considerable lists of persons in Naziland and the Soviet Union. The results have been what might be expected. As far as can be learned, these letters have not been received; in other words, the totalitarians have ‘broken’ the international agreement. Their bluff has been called. In a way, of course, this was a stunt. It was designed to teach the American public rather than the Nazi public, but it points the way toward a much more comprehensive undertaking. It points toward a morale offensive for which we have not so far shaped any of the weapons, although it held a greater promise of keeping us out of war than any of the battleships and tanks which we have built with many times the amount needed.

Do I advocate, then, another Creel Committee? A Ministry of Propaganda to rouse the spirit of America? I do not. No matter what our judgment, historically, on the work of that famous committee and its brilliant chairman might be (more than forty out of about fifty leading scholars in law, government, economics, and history, consulted on this subject recently, were inclined to question its methods), there can be no doubt that its work has been the inspiration of the propaganda methods of the totalitarian powers, Goebbels has publicly acknowledged his indebtedness. While it may be the right tool for his kind, it did not fit into our democratic pattern. Mr. Creel himself recognized the failure. He found himself helplessly standing by while the fundamental idea that the Committee on Public Information had tried to sell the world — a democratic peace — was crushed beyond recognition. Mr. Creel blames this failure upon Congress. But Congress is part of the pattern of our democracy and reflects but the sentiments of the constituencies. Without cavil it must be admitted that the work of that committee has proved to be a boomerang as far as the defense of democracy is concerned.

What we do need and are slowly getting, as the Office of Government Reports under the able leadership of Mr. Lowell Mcllett is expanding its work, is effective correlation and coördination of the information services of the several departments and agencies. Such a coordinated setup, unimaginable in 1917, is quite feasible today, since we have developed able staff workers in this field in practically all governmental offices. These men know each other well and constitute an effective working fraternity. Coördination of their efforts is today an urgent necessity. It has become abundantly clear that lack of integration in the official ‘news’ of different government services causes cross eddies to develop in the public mind, resulting in confusion, even dismay. The public needs a clear sense of direction. Without it, the impression gets around that our defense effort is inept and inefficient. Such an impression will depress morale, particularly among those people who are already inclined to look with admiration upon the totalitarian systems, their skill and effectiveness.


The most important and far-reaching task is still to be done in yet another field. No private organization or agency can possibly undertake it. What we must do is to sell democracy abroad, particularly in Europe. We must spread far and wide our own conviction that democracy is going to win in the end. We must have people realize that we here in America are aware of being engaged upon a gigantic enterprise, the biggest we have yet undertaken. We must speak out decisively to this effect: that the world-wide reaction of Fascism, of Hitlerism, of Stalinism, has dynamized America, has stirred the revolutionary embers of democratic faith in the future, has roused America to do whatever is necessary to destroy that reaction root and branch. The creation of a special unit to work with Latin America constitutes an important beginning. But the task in Europe and Asia is much more difficult, probably at least as important. Here the battle of the mind broadens to world-wide dimensions. As in other battles, so in this one the best defense is attack. In fact, ideas are the most potent weapons in the world, provided they are challenging, virulent, and firmly believed in.

This means that we must bring forward the best minds that can be had in America. Neither the mood of despondency of the ‘lost generation’ nor that smart-alecky contempt of thought so characteristic of the ensuing era can help us in this great crisis. Quite a few of the smartest boys have already turned into hysterical crybabies. Their adulation of success leaves them helpless in the face of the greatest success since Napoleon — Adolf Hitler. Fortunately this country is rich in real minds — poets and thinkers who can effectively bespeak the mind of America. It cannot be clone in the self-satisfied manner of 1917-1918. Democracy is on trial, and its friends and believers will have to take a bold, self-critical stand today. The great depression has taught us a good deal; the rise of Hitler has taught us even more. There are deep underlying tensions in our society which we must face and fight. Anti-Semitism and other racial antagonisms, the plight of the unemployed and the general issue of the relations between labor and management — these and other ‘failures’ of contemporary society have provided the psychic decomposition upon which the totalitarian movements have fed. There can be little doubt that the oversanguine expectations raised during the last war by the too effective work of American propaganda led to the violent despair in Europe afterwards. In a sense the cradle of Hitlerism is to be seen in those exaggerated hopes. . . .

What can we do? What could such a morale offensive in Europe undertake in a practical way? I am not trying to give you a blueprint of the comprehensive campaign which needs to be plotted. I wish to mention but a few obvious things. I can already see the official in the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda bluepenciling this copy of the Atlantic, as he has done with all copies of the Atlantic since 1933. (Maybe, as he reads this, a little thought will creep into his mind as to whether the Nazis aren’t going to be licked after all.) We should broadcast twenty-four hours, in French and German, on the most powerful beam to Europe. We are now doing it for two hours a day — to make it easy for the Gestapo to catch the listeners, I suppose. These broadcasts should mix much music and other entertainment (such as The Free Company’s plays) with continuous news and informational spots. Over and over we should repeat the facts of our defense effort. The statistical curves of rising production and outlay should be told over and over again. Opinions should be kept at a minimum. The Nazis who listen in are put on their guard by our telling them that Hitler in our opinion is a bad man; the haters of Hitler throughout Europe need not be told.

Why French and German? Because with these two languages you can reach practically every person on the Continent who matters at this time. For instance, NBC has had continuous listener response to its German broadcasts from Switzerland. If we had been alert to our opportunities, we should have been in Turkey, Malta, and Egypt rebroadcasting on long wave our material to Italy, the Balkans, even France, during all these months. Maybe we could have rocked Italian morale to the breaking point before the present disasters bolstered it once again. Even now such opportunities do exist.

We should continuously ship into Europe quantities of printed material, perhaps a weekly newspaper similar to that the Belgians got out during the World War, called La Libre Beige, Even if only one tenth of them reached their destination, they would spread new hope, a willingness to endure and to watch for opportunities to hamper the Nazi oppressors. We should also make certain that all American intermediaries who go to Europe for one purpose or another always think of themselves as emissaries of that new world which we in America are engaged in building.

But what is the use of all such efforts, many will ask. Can you hope to overthrow Hitler by such methods? You certainly can not. The situation is very different from 1918, owing to the despotic secret-police rule, the terror of the Nazis. But it is of the utmost importance for us, in the long run, to maintain the morale of our friends, of the believers in a democratic future. How important it is you can see from the continuous efforts Hitler is making to destroy that confidence. He knows from the way he manhandled the German people how much depends for him upon making pulp of the hopes of those who do not accept his leadership. Obviously, what is good for him is bad for us. If we can maintain the morale of even limited sections of the people in France, in Belgium, in Czechoslovakia, in Greece, in Yugoslavia, in Holland, in Norway, in Poland, Spain, Austria, and even in Germany, we have gained just so many fighters for freedom at the decisive moment. Though these men and women are shackled right now, they will rise again. We must instill that confidence in them.

But perhaps even more urgent is the destruction of the morale of the Nazis themselves. An impossible task? I don’t think so. It is unrealistic to assume that their confidence is unshakable. There are many indications to the contrary. Many Nazi chiefs have maintained bank accounts in foreign countries; even American banks are reputed to have such accounts. Numerous Nazis are interned in concentration camps; more have been executed. The propaganda of the Goebbels ministry is designed to keep the mass cheered as much as it is to terrorize the opponents, or to ‘kid along’ the lukewarm. A continuous morale offensive directed toward the Nazis and making them doubtful of the eventual outcome is going to be as decisive in the months and years ahead as the psychic support we give to the partisans of democracy in Europe. This argument holds as much or more for the would-be Nazis in the conquered nations, the Quislings, the Lavals, and the rest. Why are they for Hitler? Because they believe him to be ‘the future.’ There were such German, Dutch, Swedish, Polish partisans of Napoleon a hundred and thirty years ago. They thought they saw, with Hegel, the world spirit riding on a white horse, when they saw the little Corsican charging along after he had won another one of his battles. Yet, Napoleon ‘won all the battles.’ But did he win the war? He lost it, because he was on the side of despotism, on the side opposed to the future of freedom. The mind of Europe could not be won to such a cause. So, the more battles he won, the more enemies he found rising against him. Then, too, the great minds were rallied to the cause of freedom. The poets and the thinkers of England, Germany, and Italy, of nations large and small, and even those of France (at that time the first victim of despotic reaction) rose and won the battle of the mind.

Life has since become much more highly organized. The methods of mass communication require skilled and technically effective utilization. No country has a larger reservoir of master technicians in these fields than America. No country is more clearly predestined to undertake this offensive and to organize it. Not merely by the power of words, but more especially by the power of deeds successfully communicated to the masses of Europe, can this battle of the mind be won. These masses are today overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness against fate. The infection has begun to spread to our own shores. We can take care of it here in a more or less routine way through the ordinary processes of our democracy. But to stop the plague and to ban it we must go to the cause of it. That is why we need a department for propagating the firm conviction that democracy is going to win. Its weapons will be our ideas, and the facts about our deeds. Without this armory, America cannot be the arsenal of democracy that we have decided it shall be.