22. Telegram From the Embassy in Italy to the Department of State1

1558. For Irwin from Gibson. Following plan of activities in Italy submitted for your consideration. Our purpose should be to:—

One: Improve morale of Italian people of all classes.

Two: Counteract effects of German propaganda which is being done effectively through various channels.

Three: Counter attacks on German campaign of misrepresentation concerning the United States its aims and preparations.

Four: Keep the Italian people impressed with our great and rapidly increasing resources and our determination to aid Italy in every possible way.

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Five: Spread understanding of the liberal ideas for which we are fighting with a view, not only to maintaining public opinion enthusiasm but also to strengthen intelligent public opinion so that it will resist reactionary tendencies.

The means we have at our disposal to accomplish these ends are:

One: There should be made accessible to all the people good translations of the President’s utterances bearing on the war. These should be put out so far as possible under the names of Italians prominent in different ways with varying comment for the enlightenment of different classes. The people hold the President in deep reverence and a comprehensive campaign for the spread of his ideals and purposes would be effective and of inconsiderable cost. Material should be furnished to writers and speakers on American war aims as set forth in the President’s speeches. One of the reasons for lack of popular enthusiasm seems to be that there has not been enough appeal to democratic ideals.

Two: Moving picture campaign which should be undertaken at once and on large scale. Poorer and more ignorant classes who are most dangerously infected with anti-war spirit are not always to be reached through press or pamphlets campaigns but show deep (#)2 in American films. Believe picture campaign will show more results here than in France and that effort should be concentrated here. In a small way good effects have been secured from small supply of films already furnished.

Three: The Press campaign is relatively simple here and can be handled on established lines. Italian papers show more interest in American news and articles than either French or Swiss papers and committee has secured gratifying amount of space. There should be organized in the United States a campaign of letters written by Italians to their friends and families in this country telling of the war spirit of America, the feeling for Italy, the privations in food and other necessities that Americans are willingly accepting so that the Allies can be supplied. The more ignorant classes will place more credence in such letters than in printed information.

Five: Speakers Bureau should be strengthened and enlarged. La Guardia3 has done good work but there should be a number of other Italian speaking Americans traveling constantly about the country talking about America and its aims. Good Italian speaking manager for the Bureau should be sent at once.

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Six: Commercial propaganda, Red Cross activities, visits of Italian correspondents, and public men to our bases and front in France, still pictures and such other that as may suggest themselves from time to time.

The organization at Rome alone will not be able to handle the situation properly. There should be active sub centers at Milan, Turin, Florence, Genoa and Naples, some of them under direction of our Consular officers and some under especially assigned men; also representatives at Padua for propaganda in enemy countries. The problems presented at these different places are quite varied and need close and constant supervision. Consul at Milan has done good work mostly at his own expense. Other districts neglected except as their needs could be understood and attended to from Rome.

Situation here is undoubtedly fraught with grave danger which may readily lead to another disaster. This situation demands an immediate and energetic campaign of education. We are in a particularly advantageous position to undertake it as there seems to be more confidence here in the power and honesty of the President than in any of the Allies. Ten thousand dollars a month should be considered a minimum for effective work in Italy and it should be made available at once so that our people can go to work and get results. Time is the vital element and a decision one way or the other should be taken at once; a month from now it may be too late. We must be prepared to spend money as the situation requires in such a critical situation, inadequate resources are hardly worth applying.

We have an earnest and competent crowd here and they should be given full support if we are to do anything worth while. Foregoing is substance of plan agreed upon in full conference with them.

Nelson Page
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Decimal File 1910–1929, Box 732, 103.93/221. No classification marking. Green. Received May 2 at 8:15 p.m. Patchin wrote on the first page: “Para[phrase] sent over. File. PHP.”
  2. As in the original. Presumably it signifies an omission or garbled text in the transmission from Rome.
  3. Fiorello LaGuardia, who was elected to Congress in 1916 (R–New York), took leave during World War I to serve in the Army Air Service. He commanded the U.S. air forces on the Italian-Austrian front.