War Propaganda


By GERALD P. NYE, U. S. Senator from North Dakota

Radio address, delivered in St. Louis, August 1, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 720-723

IN this hour when our actions grow madder while the emergency confronting us grows smaller, we owe it to ourselves to speak plainly. There are those who interpret every reference of even the mildest critical nature against the British as some sort of condemnation of those brave and splendid people, the British people themselves.

This is childish reasoning. But the Government of Great Britain is trying for its own reasons to get us into its war. It is our business and our intention to stay out of that war. To stay out of it, we must oppose those who desire us in that war, and continue this opposition at every turn. The Government of Britain, unblushingly and without reservation, does want us in that war. Our cause today, get it clear, is America's cause, and America's only. Today we must think of, act for, and if necessary fight and die for America—but America only.

When the last war ended and men began to look around at the sinister means that had been used to lure the United States into that terrible and futile war, when they saw how they had been tricked and lied to, they became angry. They began to ask, Who did this to America? Books were written, magazine articles by the score were published and finally a great investigation was held nearly 20 years later to find out who it was and why America had been pushed into the last war. And we did find out. The accusing finger of history all through the years will be pointed at the great American and European bankers and the powerful international munition makers who committed that crime against the American people. But it was too late when all this became known.

Our boys were dead and buried beneath the soil of France. Our veterans' hospitals were filled with twisted, suffocated, blinded men. All the terrible costs of that war are still upon us.

And now we see America being stripped, and oiled and groomed for another such war—only a more terrible and an even less justifiable one from our point of view. But this time the people are wiser. They want none of that slaughter and terror in Europe or Asia. Yet, despite that, we arc rudely awakened by the British Prime Minister who tells the House of Commons that America is on the verge of war. Well, maybe we have to find out about this from the British Prime Minister. But there is one thing we can find out for ourselves. And the time has come to find out. Who has brought us to the verge of war? Let us ask and demand the answer to this question now. Who is pushing and hauling at America to plunge us into this war? Who are the men? Who is putting up the money for all this propaganda? Who are they? We want to know. And we want to know now. Now, before we plow a million American boys under the dust and mud of Africa, Indo-China, France, and far away Russia, to make the world safe for Empire and Communism.

I have not time to name all those contributing (knowingly or unwittingly) to our march to war. But I will name some of them.

You know that this, as in the last war, has been a propaganda job. To carry on propaganda you must have money. But you also must have the instruments of propaganda. And one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, instrument of propaganda is the movies. In Germany, Italy, and in Russia—the dictator countries—the government either owns or completely controls and directs the movies. And they are used as instruments of government propaganda. In this country the movies are owned by private individuals. But, it so happens that these movie companies have been operating as war propaganda machines almost as if they were being directed from a single central bureau.

We all go to the movies. We know how, for too long now, the silver screen has been flooded with picture after picture designed to rouse us to a state of war hysteria. Pictures glorifying war. Pictures telling about the grandeur and the heavenly justice of the British Empire. Pictures depicting the courage, the passion for democracy, the love of humanity, the tender solicitude for other people, by the generals and trade agents and the proconsuls of Great Britain, while all the peoples who are opposed to her, including even courageous little Finland now, are drawn as coarse, bestial brutal scoundrels.

You have seen these pictures—Convoy, Escape, Flight Command, That Hamilton Woman, Man Hunt, Sergeant York, The Great Dictator, I Married a Nazi. At least 20 pictures have been produced in the last year—all designed to drug the reason of the American people, set aflame their emotions, turn their hatred into a blaze, fill them with fear that Hitler will come over here and capture them, that he will steal their trade, that America must go into this war—to rouse them to a war hysteria.

You do not have to take my word for this. The President himself after he had forced Congress to pass the lend-lease bill, in a speech to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts complimented the industry on their help in "explaining" the bill. In fact, only day before yesterday, he had Sergeant York at the White House and told him that the new picture would do much to rouse our people.

"Only," the President said, he "didn't like so much killing in the picture." He doesn't like so much killing. Yet he is glad to see that picture and a score of others rousing the American people to get into the killing and to be killed on a real battlefield, not a movie lot, and on a scale which will make that killing seem mild. Do not take my word for it. Only a few days ago, Mr. Will Hays warned the movie moguls himself, telling them that their great industry is an instrument of entertainment and not of propaganda. But the movies have ceased to be instruments of entertainment. They have become the most gigantic engines of propaganda in existence to rouse the war fever in America and plunge this Nation to her destruction.

And now, let me ask, Who are the men who are doing this? Why are they trying to make America punch drunk with propaganda to push her into war?

There are eight major film companies. The men who dominate policy in these companies—own or direct them—are well known to you. There is Harry and Jack Cohn, of Columbia Pictures. There is Louis B. Mayer, of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. There is George J. Schaefer, of R.K.O. There is Barney Balaban and Adolph Zukor, of Paramount. There is Joseph Schenck and Daryl Zanuck, of Twentieth Century Fox, dominated by Chase National Bank. There is Murray Silverstone, of United Artists, and the great Sam Goldwyn, of Samuel Goldwyn, Inc. There are the three Warner brothers, Arthur Loew, Nicholas Schenck, Sam Katz, and David Bernstein, of Loew's, Inc.

In each of these companies there are a number of production directors, many of whom have come from Russia, Hungary, Germany, and the Balkan countries.

Now, do not misunderstand me. I say nothing against the sturdy peoples of these countries. They should have here the same opportunities that are open to every otherdweller in our midst. But in this great era of world upset, when national and racial emotions run riot and reason is pushed from her throne, this mighty engine of propaganda is in the hands of men who are naturally susceptible to these emotions. Great Americans like Senator Wheeler, Colonel Lindbergh, and General Wood are in many places denied the use of a hall to speak up for America. But these men, with the motion-picture films in their hands, can address 80,000,000 people a week, cunningly and persistently inoculating them with the virus of war.

Why do they do this? Well, because they are interested in foreign causes. You cannot doubt that. Go to Hollywood. It is a raging volcano of war fever. The place swarms with refugees. It also swarms with British actors. In Hollywood they call it the "British Army of Occupation." The leaders are almost all heavy contributors to the numerous committees of all sorts organized, under the guise of relief to Britain, Greece, or Russia, to propagandize us into war.

Why do they want to push us into war? Well, they have all sorts "of interests. But here is one I can give you: One of the leading Wall Street investment houses made a study of these movie industries only a few months ago. It told its clients that if Britain loses, seven of the eight leading companies will be wiped out.

That report revealed that the quarters and half dollars of the American movie patrons barely pay for the cost of producing these gigantic movie spectacles. The profits depend on the sales in the foreign market, which is now reduced to England and her dominions. Take one of these companies alone. In 1940 the company collected eighty millions of dollars. But eight millions of that was collected in England. That eight millions of dollars just exactly represented the profits of the company. That British market accounted for the profit. The company, it was estimated, could pay $5 a share. But if Britain loses, then that $5 would be reduced to zero. Another company depends for 35 percent of its earnings on the British market. The war has already cut that to 20 percent. And if England loses, the company will lose all of that profit. Moreover, countless millions of dollars of these companies' earnings are tied up in England, held there in blocked sterling, frozen there, and they cannot be taken out unless the war ends and Britain wins. This movie industry has a stake of millions of dollars annually in Britain winning this war. The question is, Are you ready to send your boys to bleed and die in Europe to make the world safe for this industry and its financial backers?

I cannot tell the whole story here. But you have a right to know that story. You have a right to know why it is that patriotic Americans are attacked at every turn as they rise to speak for America, denied halls and stadiums, while these can use 20,000 movie theatres every day to talk to eighty millions of people. But these movie moguls and directors are patriots—these men who only a few years ago filled their pictures with so much immorality and filth that the great Christian churches had to rise up in protest against it and organize the League of Decency to stop it. You have a right to know all about this sordid story of war propaganda in the film and Senator Bennett Clark and I have today called on the United States Senate to investigate it. We want to know what part the Government has played in this—and whether the Government here, like the governments in Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, is using the films to poison the minds of the American people against most of Europe in order to plunge us into the bloodiest war in history. And for what reason? To make the world safe for British imperialism and Russian communism?

I have said that the people would like to know what part the Government has had in aiding the moving-picture magnates or even compelling: them to do this job. Out in Hollywood there is, or was, a certain gentleman named Dr. Leo Rosten. He seems to be the fountain of ideas and data on the Army and the Navy and the air force. And another Government figure, Maj. Gen. Charles S. Richardson, has been sent out there to prepare war films. I am informed that there are Government men on every moving-picture lot in Hollywood for the same purpose. The Government has seemed particularly anxious to whip up the warrior spirit in our young men, glorify war, glorify militarism. Of course, this is all called national defense. Troops and paraphernalia of the Army and Navy, including ships, have been loaned by the Government, to the producers to make war-propaganda pictures. All of which is very nice for the producers, because they get it all free, gratis, for nothing, from the Government.

Not only has the industry obligingly cooperated with the American Army and Navy, but with the British Army and Navy. One of the theatrical magazines reports that in 1940 Lord Lothian worked with Mr. Schaefer, head of R.K.O. Mr. Schaefer and R.K.O. furnished the money and England and France furnished the actors—that was back in the days when France was an Ally and before England was starving France. A beautiful propaganda picture was born and the proceeds went to the agencies Lord Lothian was interested in.

What I would like to know is this: Are the movie moguls doing this because they like to do it, or has the Government of the United States forced them to become the same kind of propaganda agencies that the German, Italian, and Russian film industries have become? I have excellent reason to believe that this government influence has prevailed.

Remember, this is the worst kind of propaganda because it is the most insidious. When you come to an America First meeting you come expecting to hear an argument in favor of America and if you don't happen to be in favor of America, or if you think more of Britain or Greece or Russia than you do of America, why naturally you steel yourself against what we have to say. If you go to one of these Fight for Freedom Committee meetings, designed to get us into war, well, you know what to expect there—your mind is on guard. Or better still, you don't go at all—they never get a chance at you. But when you go to the movies, you go there to be entertained. You are not figuring on listening to a debate about the war. You settle yourself in your seat with your mind wide open. And then the picture starts—goes to work on you, all done by trained actors, full of drama, cunningly devised, and soft passionate music underscoring it. Before you know where you are you have actually listened to a speech designed to make you believe that Hitler is going to get you if you don't watch out. And, of course, it's a very much better speech than just an ordinary speech at a mass meeting. And you pay for it. The truth is that in 20,000 theatres in the United States tonight they are holding war mass meetings, and the people lay down the money at the box office before they get in.

Think that over. Eighty million people will go to the movies this week. Seventy-five percent of those people are against going into war. But those 75 percent will pay three-fourths of the bill for this propaganda designed to get them into a war they don't want to go into. Why, they ask—where are these peacemongers getting all the money to fight war? Well, they don't get much—most of it they get passing the plate at these meetings. But just think what a pitifully miserable pittance it is compared with the hundreds of millions of dollars that are spent making those pictures.

Have you noticed the newsreels? A minimum of 70 per cent of the newsreels are what are called national-defensepictures, but really pictures to glorify war, glorify Britain, and now you'll probably begin to see pictures glorifying Russia. I am told that the movie industry has orders from somewhere that all the newsreels must be 70 per cent devoted to war pictures. These pictures do not depict the horrors of war. You do not see men crouching in the mud of Greece, English, Greek, and German boys disemboweled, blown to pieces. You see them merely marching in their bright uniforms, firing the beautiful guns at distant targets, and, of course, the marines landing in London—40 of them, by the way. What those 40 marines are doing in London, I do not know. They are hardly enough to stop an invasion, however much we believe in and applaud our marines.

Propaganda is moving us into this dance of death, even while 80 or 90 per cent of the people in this democracy of ours are breathing "No. No. No."

And this threat of war endures at a time when we should be breathing easier than we did a year ago. Without a serious or substantial threat against us which those in authority will undertake to define, our Government proceeds to let our country in for the greatest madness in all American history. This process, of course, could never be accomplished except with the aid of propaganda in furtherance of an undefined emergency.

Don't misunderstand me. We are not decrying the need for a furtherance of a defense for America. This need grows out of what we see to be madness abroad. It grows out of such foreign policy as has found us inviting enemies at every turn. A defense to match this sort of policy is of necessity expensive. But if we would confine ourselves to providing a defense adequate to meet the worst that might be brought against us as a result of the wars abroad, we could have it without wrecking our American economy, straining morale, or unnecessary sacrifice by those thousands of our young men whose services we have contracted in the name of defense.

More billions we pour out, and we propose breaking faith with the men in training in this hour of madness when any emergency confronting our country is immeasurably less than it was a year ago. Look to the facts. A year in which to prepare and train, real defense progress, and potential enemies growing weaker with every hour of war abroad.

To find in such an hour as this, with these facts shouting at us, a serious effort to have Congress break faith with those called into training for a year by keeping them longer, is to find a state of affairs resembling degrees of fraud.

To let these boys and men return home when their contracted year of service is ended and to bring new trainees into their place is not going to cripple or mess up our defense. The propaganda which has us believing that training ending with 1 year will mean our military undoing is hardly called for.

And when some of our leaders persist in their talk about the need for giving the President power to send our troops outside this hemisphere, when they insist upon repeal of existing provisions of law forbidding use of these men abroad, the prospect becomes a most serious one, not only for the boys in camp, and their fathers and mothers, but for all of us and for our Government.

Nothing is more important to the national defense than morale. Belief, confidence, and faith today are essential in any ability which is ours to survive the penalty of these mad years. It is denied that morale in our military camps is low. I hope such denial is honestly founded. There could be larger confidence in the denial if only authorities would lift the restrictions which prevent the boys speaking their minds while we are free from war.

We do know that the men in the training camps are askingembarrassing questions. Like the rest of us, they would like to know just what the emergency is, just what are the causes at stake, that requires a demand for their retention in service beyond the year and for legislation that will let them be sent abroad without a declaration of war. Especially would they welcome knowing why, with their country at peace, more than a year of military training is necessary and legislative consent to their service abroad is called for when so different a situation prevails in neighboring countries which are at war. In Canada the boys are taken for only 4 months of military training and they serve abroad only as they volunteer for such service. Quite natural is the question: "Whose war is this one, anyway?"

Propaganda causes us to overlook some such questions. We can be made to ignore them. There was will to ignore the things that were said of those fine, courageous Americans, Col. Charles Lindbergh and Senator Wheeler. But the people can hardly ignore the conclusions to be drawn when the Stimsons, the Knoxes, and the Wedgewoods make public apology for the things they charged against Wheeler.

Some few weeks back a clergyman in one of our States wrote of an advertised America First meeting: "If I could have my way about it the meeting would be machine-gunned and bombed." The author of such lack of balance, such departure from good Americanism, is quite understandable when we see responsible members of our Government, like Cabinet officers charging treason against Wheeler, however much those officers apologize afterward.

Why shouldn't we have better reason, better balance here in our country? We could have it except for the clever propaganda which stirs our emotions, breathes hates, fans fears, and glorifies the destruction we would avoid.

One day the interventionists call those who exercise their American right to disagree, Communists. The next day they call us something else because we are not sympathetic toward making Red Russia our ally and singing her praises.

Why must there be those who charge disloyalty and worse against others who refuse to take British statesmen at their word, when their word today is so contrary to their word of only 3 years ago? Why do we let Eden and others guide us by asserting that Britain fights for freedom of the seas, when we know it was Britain that scuttled freedom of the seas when Woodrow Wilson presented it as point 2 in his 14 points at Versailles?

Why not use the strength that is ours to resist propaganda, remember the warnings of the fathers who paid so dearly for American freedom from European power politics and wars, and renew that pledge so often heard after our last war: Never, never again?

America is challenged today. To avoid involvement in this war is to avoid bankruptcy, futility, and needless waste of life and property. Yet the danger of such involvement is an hourly challenge.

To keep intact the institutions that are basic to our democracy is another challenge. We must avoid larger surrender to the Executive of power vested with the people and their Representatives in Congress. Just now, while we are at peace, not at war, there comes the demand for power for the President to fix prices, to hold the boys in service, to send the boys where he chooses. It was power, just a little more at a time, mind you, that made Hitler and Mussolini dictators. (In parentheses, I've offered this observation to balance accounts with those who are so persistent in their charge that the kind of talk I am responsible for tonight is the kind that led to the downfall of France, Belgium, Poland, and others.)

Americans, we want to be strong and ready always to effectively defend ourselves against the worst that any part of the world might choose to bring against us, of course. We want to leave no stone unturned that will aid in guaranteeing such a defense.

But, likewise, we ought to want freedom from foreign influence in times like these. Let's have courageous American thinking, not the kind which finds us waiting for the cue that Churchill gives; not the kind that has to be painted and pictured by propagandists or by forces whose profits are dependent upon foreign causes.

Let's be Americans because of and for causes that are American. Let us bury forever the thought that real Americanism is determined only by those who both hate Hitler most and love Britain best. Let us be giving larger thought to what is best for America.

If this be called selfishness, then let me suggest that it will at least bring us quickly to the hour when we can give to the world the most unselfish service, a service essential if the world is to be saved from worse than war. The hour of which I speak is that one soon to come—that hour when all the world, vanquished and victors alike (if there can be victors) will fall exhausted. Sick, hungry, and cold, that world will want a helping hand to supply the medicine, the food, and the clothes so necessary if it is to be saved from communism, which thrives upon destruction, hunger, and suffering. We can give that kind of hand only as we will now avoid the waste of our own involvement in the war; only as we build stronger our resources and reserves; only as we maintain a degree of solvency. Let us not throw away this chance for great service to mankind and to God; let us not do that by destroying the very things which are ours and which some would have us destroy in the name of affording the same blessings for others.

This is a wonderful hour for more America-first thinking; for a fine, clean expression by all our people of determination to stay out of these never-ending foreign wars, to keep faith with ourselves and with those who 150 years ago, won for us divorcement from the hates, the wars, and the power politics of Europe.