The British government soon recognized that control of the economy was not enough; the war at home meant control of information itself. At the outbreak of war, they set up the War Propaganda Bureau at Wellington House. The bureau’s initial purpose was to persuade America to enter the war, but that mandate soon expanded to shape and mold public opinion in favour of the war effort and of the government itself…
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All countries on all sides of the world conflict responded in the same way: by maximizing their control over the economy, over manufacturing and industry, over infrastructure, and even over the minds of their own citizens.
Germany had its Kriegssozialismus, or war socialism, which placed control of the entire German nation, including its economy, its newspapers and, through conscription—its people—under the strict control of the Army. In Russia, the Bolsheviks used this German “war socialism” as a basis for their organization of the nascent Soviet Union. In Canada, the government rushed to nationalize railways, outlaw alcohol, institute official censorship of newspapers, levy conscription, and, infamously, introduce a personal income tax as a “temporary war time measure” that continues to this day.
The British government soon recognized that control of the economy was not enough; the war at home meant control of information itself. At the outbreak of war, they set up the War Propaganda Bureau at Wellington House. The bureau’s initial purpose was to persuade America to enter the war, but that mandate soon expanded to shape and mold public opinion in favour of the war effort and of the government itself.
On September 2, 1914, the head of the War Propaganda Bureau invited twenty-five of Britain’s most influential authors to a top secret meeting. Among those present at the meeting: G.K. Chesterton, Ford Madox Ford, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett and H.G. Wells. Not revealed until decades after the war ended, many of those present agreed to write propaganda material promoting the government’s position on the war, which the government would get commercial printing houses, including Oxford University Press, to publish as seemingly independent works.
Under the secret agreement, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote To Arms! John Masefield wrote Gallipoli and The Old Front Line. Mary Humphrey Ward wrote England’s Effort and Towards the Goal. Rudyard Kipling wrote The New Army in Training. G.K. Chesterton wrote The Barbarism of Berlin. In total, the Bureau published over 1,160 propaganda pamphlets over the course of the war.
Hillaire Belloc later rationalized his work in service of the government: “It is sometimes necessary to lie damnably in the interests of the nation.” War correspondent William Beach Thomas was not so successful in the battle against his own conscience: “I was thoroughly and deeply ashamed of what I had written for the good reason that it was untrue … the vulgarity of enormous headlines and the enormity of one’s own name did not lessen the shame.”
But the Bureau’s efforts were not confined to the literary world. Film, visual art, recruitment posters; no medium for swaying the hearts and minds of the public was overlooked. By 1918, the government’s efforts to shape perception of the war—now officially centralized under a “Minister of Information,” Lord Beaverbrook—was the most finely-tuned purveyor of propaganda the world had yet seen. Even foreign propaganda, like the infamous Uncle Sam that went beyond a recruitment poster to become a staple of American government iconography, was based on a British propaganda poster featuring Lord Kitchener.
Control of the economy. Control of populations. Control of territory. Control of information. World War One was a boon for all of those who wanted to consolidate control of the many in the hands of the few. This was the vision that united all those participants in the conspiracies that led to the war itself. Beyond Cecil Rhodes and his secret society, there was a broader vision of global control for the would-be rulers of society who were seeking what tyrants had lusted after since the dawn of civilization: control of the world.
World War One was merely the first salvo in this clique’s attempt to create not a re-ordering of this society or that economy, but a New World Order.