Propaganda is a weapon of disinformation. We are fed it daily at present, and will be throughout the British government’s centenary commemorations for the First World War.  It is intended to mislead, misrepresent, and create a false impression.  Government abuse of propaganda is by no means restricted to times of war, but during such periods of crisis, the deliberate deception dramatically increases. What is more incredible is that after all that has gone before, entire populations remain willing to believe the lies.  It is because of this credulity that deceit flourishes. In the critical moment of justification, many intelligent, well-educated people reverse their deep-felt convictions, promote the absolutely unthinkable, often the polar opposite of their political, moral or religious beliefs, and absorb the poisonous propaganda as if it was a medicinal restorative.

anti-German/kaiser propaganda poster showing the kaiser biting a globe

The Secret Elite, having successfully ambushed the British nation into war, inflamed popular passion by portraying the German rulers as monstrous criminals. They had to take swift action before any other view challenged their stance. Within days of the declaration of War, the British people were confronted by a sophisticated propaganda machine which posed as the voice of reason, based in Wellington House, London. Some of the most famous British academics, novelists and journalists became willing cogs in that machine and, throughout the war, produced a morass of twisted logic, untruths and fictional tales of German atrocities and outrageous designs, which served one purpose; to justify the War. As the disillusioned Liberal MP Arthur Ponsonby, who never waivered from his anti-war stance, recorded:

‘Facts must be distorted, relevant circumstances concealed, and a picture presented which by its crude colouring will persuade the ignorant people that their Government is blameless, their cause is righteous, and that the indisputable wickedness of the enemy has been proved beyond question. Lies are circulated with great rapidity and the unthinking mass accept them’. [1]

Propaganda has many purposes. It is a weapon to make your own side look and feel good, and at the same time make the enemy look bad. The primary aim is to draw neutrals into your camp, soften their objections and allay their fears. It is a powerful morale builder at home especially when it successfully justifies the reasons for war, and as we have already explained, it reassured people that they were fighting a holy war in a noble crusade for civilisation. Propaganda is also a vicious master, for it seeps into the unconscious and lasts beyond its intended life-time. Propaganda can become the accepted version of events when it is represented as such even one hundred years on. Its subtlety may remain poisonous for generations.

The ‘Preliminary Memoir and Documents concerning the Outbreak of War’, otherwise known as the German White Book, was presented to the Reichstag on 3 August to prove to the German people that their nation was fighting a war of self-defence against Russian aggression, [2] and most Germans went through the war with that clear understanding. It was translated into English for the benefit of the American people.

Official German White Book

The diplomatic evidence produced by Germany in August 1914 had to be rebutted, for it revealed a very different story than that presented to the British Parliament by the foreign office on 6 August. [3] What really mattered was that neutrals nations, amongst whom America was pre-eminent, believed that the entire blame should be fairly placed at Germany’s door. When questions were asked about the German ‘version’, it was comparatively straightforward for the British press to discount the ‘White Book’ as lies. Sir Edward Grey did not hesitate to snub the Liberal MP for Somerset North, Joseph King, when he asked that copies of German pamphlets explaining why they had been forced into war be placed in the Commons Library so that members could assess their collective worth, [4] but obstructing MPs in Parliament was easier than stopping those German pamphlets being distributed in America. Neutral America. Essential America.

It is, however, entirely misleading to imagine that the Secret Elite’s propaganda campaign began in late August or early September 1914. It had been raging for years. Fanned by Northcliffe’s incessant anti-German rhetoric in articles and editorials in The Times, in ridiculous spy stories [5] and repeated diatribes against German ‘militarism’, it was well underway long before the war began. The declaration of war drove propaganda with a higher, more sophisticated intensity above the level of local influence and opinion, to an all-out, no-holds-barred international crusade.

1909 Imperial Press Conference at the Palace of Westminster

The Round Table visits to America from 1910 onwards, Milner’s lecture tour of Canada, the Imperial Press Conference, all of the trans-Atlantic meetings of the select Pilgrims society in London and New York laid the foundations for a hugely professional propaganda machine whose first act struck violently at Germany’s capacity to compete equally in this critical arena; the war of words. Though the Anglo-American money-power were increasingly integrated into the Secret Elite, and supported and enabled Britain and their allies to wage war, the American public showed little interest in becoming involved. They were the target audience for most of the outrageous propaganda that flooded across the Atlantic.

Churchill’s Admiralty landed the first blow. In the early hours of 5 August, while most of the world had yet to learn that Britain was at war with Germany, a decision taken by the Committee of Imperial Defence in 1912 was quietly effected.  The British Post Office Cable Steamer Alert [6] ripped out the first of five German trans-Atlantic cables which ran from Emden on the German-Dutch border though the English Channel and thence to Spain, Africa and the Americas. [7] It was both the first act of censorship and the first act of propaganda in the war. [8] It proved to be a devastating setback for direct communications between Berlin and New York. At that instant in time, on the opening day of the world war, when first impressions set the tone, the most effective instrument for German news and propaganda was closed down. That a cable steamer was immediately in place to dredge up and sever the most important channel for German communications demonstrated how well-prepared the Secret Elite’s Admiralty agents were.

CS Alert 2 - single funnel ship with bunting from rigging

Every advantage in creating that vital first impression lay with them. Indeed, naval censorship of radio messages began on Saturday 1 August, under the control of Rear Admiral Sir Douglas Brownrigg from his office at the Admiralty. His task as Chief Censor of Radio Telegraphy was to monitor all radio messages to ensure that only approved information was passed fit for transmission and gain early intelligence from merchant shipping. He augmented his clerical staff by ‘borrowing’ men from trusted munitions and ship-building companies, namely Cammell Laird and the Fairfield Shipbuilding Company. Thus, four days before war was declared the Admiralty was able to monitor intelligence from all over the world about the movement of both British merchant ships and ‘hostile’ vessels. [9] So much for the oft repeated claim that Britain was taken by surprise and unprepared for war.

[1] Arthur Ponsonby, Falsehood in Wartime, p. 15.
[2] Sidney B Fay, The Origins of the World War, vol. 1. p.3.
[3] M L Sanders, Wellington House and British Propaganda in the First World War, The Historical Journal, vol. 18, No1. (March 1975), p. 119.
[4] Hansard, HC Deb 27 August 1914 vol. 66 c123.
[5] In the pre-war years Northcliffe commissioned William le Queux to write The Invasion of 1910, a scare serial published in the Daily Mail. It was utter drivel, badly written but meticulously researched.
[6] Jonathan Reed Winkler, (2008). Nexus: Strategic Communications and American Security in World War I.
[7] Patrick Beesley, Room 40, British Naval Intelligence 1914-18, p. 2.
[8] H C Peterson, Propaganda for War, p. 13.
[9] Rear Admiral Sir Douglas Brownrigg, Indiscretions of the Naval Censor, pp. 2-4