2. Letter From Walter S. Rogers to the Chairman of the Committee on Public Information (Creel)1
I have just reread the interview with Charles Edward Russell in the New York Times of last Sunday.2 One paragraph especially appeals to me:
Just the other day I talked with an experienced observer recently returned from Russia. He said he had talked with a great many Russians and that their expressed opinion was that the United States had made fabulous sums out of the war and now had entered into it to be in position to share the spoils. Not a single Russian that he had spoken with was familiar with the events and the line of thought that had led to our participation in the war. This tragic situation is only partly due to German propaganda; it is still more due to our own blindness and to our inability or unwillingness to realize that we have no case unless our case reaches the attention of the masses of the world. The Russians are not to blame. We state our case in Washington; then innocently expect the Moscow papers to have the story the next day! “Papers everywhere, please copy,” seems to be our motto.
It can not be said too often or too loudly that this war is being fought out in the minds of great masses of people as truly as it is being fought out on the battle fields of Europe. Stating our case, convincing the world that we mean business and that we stand for the common rights of men, is just as important a piece of work as that being done [Page 5] by our war and navy departments or by Hoover.3 We may lose the war or only partially achieve what we are struggling for, if we do not get our grievances and our ideas to the world.
Presenting our case to the world is no small job, it requires the same high degree of brains, technical skill and energy as goes into the actual prosecution of the war in its military aspects.
I am aghast at the situation. Take my own case. I went to China and Japan to learn what people there thought of us and to acquaint myself with Oriental newspaper and press association methods. I found that something drastic ought to be done at once to checkmate unfriendly propaganda and to get the American case presented. China was drifting into chaos. China needed news and truth from America. None was forthcoming—only German, Japanese and British selfishly directed propaganda. The American Minister4 clearly saw the situation and desired me to impress on Washington the urgency.
I reported to Col. House. He sent me to the State Department. Now I have been about the world and have had considerable journalistic, political and commercial experience. I think I qualify as a trained investigator. Mr. Lansing was too busy to see me. I have been home three months, have been in and out of the Department any number of times, but have not talked with the Secretary yet. I went to the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs. The Chief of the Bureau5 inquired about the weather, hotels and railroads, but asked me not a single question regarding conditions. I then turned to Mr. Polk, who gave me ten minutes and agreed to give consideration to certain suggestions. I then turned to Mr. Patchin, head of the Bureau of Information. We had several short talks. Mr. Patchin thought that possibly I wanted a job under him! Patchin partially has the idea, but is not a great person and has no independent authority.
Consider just two questions: What would be the situation now had the President’s communications to the belligerents been actually printed textually throughout the world? We are making an appeal to the good sense and honor of the world, but most of the world has never had a chance to read our state papers!
One of these days a peace conference will be held. Will America be looked upon by South America, the Orient and Russia (not to mention the rest) as standing unselfishly for human rights? Or will America be considered merely as a butt-in-sky with a greedy appetite? Our [Page 6] standing at the peace conference, the measure of our influence, will depend largely upon what the world believes of us.
Of course, German propaganda will try to muss everything up, scatter dust about and blind the eyes. Of course, Japanese propaganda will not forget Nipponese aspirations. As to British propaganda—the late cock-of-the-walk is out to regain its lost prestige; for seventy-five years the British dominated the Orient because of the belief that they could lick the world any afternoon; now the British are not going to let the world believe that we are playing a decisive role and that we are the upholders of liberty. We preach our own message—democracy’s story—or it isn’t told.
I believe the President perceives this situation. I believe we have no greater problem or obligation. Personally I do not believe this task can be handled by the State Department; the Department is not suitably manned or organized. A year ago last June I went to Mr. Lansing and told him of the South American service inaugurated by the United Press—I knew all about it as, in a sense, it was my scheme—and suggested that the Department take advantage of this new service to explain systematically our attitude and actions. The Secretary told me in so many words that it was not one of the functions of the Department to see that the American case was presented to the peoples of other countries.
The President or the Department carefully prepares a statement intended to clarify a situation or to make us friends—the dissemination of that statement is not a matter of official concern! The dissemination is as important as the document. I thought we wrote documents and prepared statements with a view to getting results and not merely for filing purposes in official archives! I have never been a diplomat.
I see no signs of the Department getting the big idea. Certain things are being done grudgingly and parsimoniously. It is laugh-stuff to find the Department felicitating itself upon the idea of sending a million post cards to Russia—and a moving picture film too for good measure. From any big view of the task, such things are merely incidental details.
We have got to organize to spread the teachings and the purposes of our democracy and to show that democracy is a real thing that can have character and direction.
The undertaking is huge. One can not map out a policy, submit blue-prints or accurate estimates of cost. It is a new job which must be done under war-time conditions.
Would that the President might give this opportunity to some experienced man, make him virtually independent of the State Department and turn him loose to do his best?[Page 7]
To me our conversation with the President was not entirely satisfactory.6 The conversation went off into details. The President was tired. The problem of world wide publicity requires a broad consideration and then the leaving of details to experts.
In conclusion let me emphasize the vital necessity for our democracy to become articulate throughout the world.
- Source: Library of Congress, Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Series 2: Family and General Correspondence, 1786–1924, Reel 90, 1917 July 31–Aug. 29. No classification marking. Also published in Papers of Woodrow Wilson , vol. 43, pp. 456–459.↩
- “Russia Today,” New York Times, August 12, 1917, p. X1.↩
- Herbert Hoover, head of the U.S. Food Administration.↩
- Paul S. Reinsch.↩
- Edward T. Williams.↩
- According to the editors of the Papers of Woodrow Wilson , Wilson met Creel on August 2, “and it seems likely that Rogers was also present at this meeting.” (Papers of Woodrow Wilson , vol. 43, p. 459, n. 2)↩