5. Report From the Embassy in Spain1

1. Three methods of propaganda are being employed in this country at the present time: publications, cinema and personal advocacy.

2. Propaganda by publication takes two forms—periodicals and pamphlets.

The periodicals are divisible into secular and Catholic press.

These papers are published in all the large cities, and even in towns which less thorough campaigners than the Germans might unwisely consider small enough to be overlooked.

Despite the high percentage of illiteracy, these papers have a very great influence in moulding the opinion of the people of Spain; what is written is read by those who can read, and recounted to those who cannot, and the printed word is given a credence in this country which it does not enjoy among better educated, and therefore more critical, peoples.

By those periodicals which are enlisted on the German side,—and unhappily this means, by most of the newspapers of Spain, both secular and Catholic,—the opinion of the people of Spain is being shaped up, without regard to domestic politics or religion, to oppose the Allies. To cultivate this opposition no appeal is left unmade; readers in southern Spain are eternally reminded that the English took and kept Gibraltar; readers in northern Spain are eternally reminded of what was suffered during the Napoleonic invasion; readers in all Spain are not permitted to forget that it was the Americans who bereft Spain of the last of her colonial glory. Catholics are incited against the heretic English, against the godless French, and the gross materialistic Yankee, without any regard whatsoever for truth, or even the common decencies of language.

On the other hand, Spaniards who know no better are permitted to believe that the Kaiser and most of Germany anyhow, are Catholic; or at least, even though Lutheran, they are deeply religious—and now defending the sacred fires of spirituality against a sordid horde of the heathen. Incredible as it may seem, these views are actually taught!

3. Against all this the Allies have offered little or no defense by counter-propaganda in publication. The idea seems to have been that [Page 11] the German campaign was too crude, and too wholly based on falsity, to succeed. A somewhat similar campaign of deception and vicious untruth did fail, for instance, in the United States, but the standard of education and information there is far higher than in Spain. In Spain, it has succeeded.

4. Which is not to say that there are not excellent periodicals in Spain which champion the Allies’ cause,—such papers as La Correspondencia de Espana, and El Liberal—which represent the best journalistic thought of Spain, and have taken their stand because of that fact. Similarly, in the free forum of the Ateneo of Madrid, only the other night, a member of parliament was not afraid to inform his hearers that the Allies are fighting for the rights of humanity, not afraid to attack Germany by name, nor to denounce militarism there, and in Spain, not to urge this country to enter the war on the Allies’ side for her honor and for her future’s sake. Such papers and such speakers, nevertheless, are the minority.

5. The majority in Spain are pro-German—the aristocracy out of respect to their own interests, and the rest, out of ignorance and misconception fostered very largely by the pro-German press, secular and especially Catholic.

6. It has been said that the Allies should not attempt to remedy this situation because the enemy has been working a long time and has succeeded in fixing the views of the people permanently against us, so that to combat their propaganda now would be a waste of effort.

Whether or not such an effort would, or could possibly bring in adequate returns is a question which rests upon two premises; one, whether Spain could be induced or seduced into entering this war against the Allies, and, the other, whether if Spain did go in against us, she could injure the Allies seriously.

7. Those who seriously declare that there is no use in our making an effort to combat the enemy’s propaganda, also assert that it is impossible for Spain to enter the war against the Allies, and that even if she did, she could not put up more than a feeble fight.

As for myself, I am of a contrary opinion, viz., of the opinion that Spain can enter the war against us, and that, if she does, it will be a serious matter for the Allies.

8. Therefore, it is my opinion that we should make an effort to combat the propaganda being carried on by the enemy in the newspapers of Spain.

9. I believe that we should by all means do so, because if Spain enters the war on the side of the enemy, it will be that Spain is convinced that the enemy is winning, and to bring this conviction home to Spain, and to obtain the consequent result, is the very object of much of the enemy’s printed propaganda.

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It is the object of all the articles setting forth the prowess of the invincible German army, the economic and industrial strength of that inexhaustible country, lauding the morale of the people, and the unbroken Christian spirit of its leaders. It is the object of all those other articles picturing England as starved and frightened by U-boats, France as prostrate, Russia in anarchy, Italy defeated and the United States too far away and too careful of her own interests to become of any account whatsoever in this war. These preachments are laid before the Spaniard every day, or twice a day, in his daily paper, for which he has a very great respect; so that it is no marvel that most Spaniards have come to believe these things to be true. If they are true, he argues, then the Allies are defeated, Germany wins; further—following what is the best of the Spanish mind,—it would therefore be very advisable for him to ally himself quickly with the winner that he may at least avoid the victor’s wrath that he has not done so sooner. (One hears this line of argument set forth daily by Spaniards—and sometimes one hears it denounced by other Spaniards who understand, and lament, but never deny, their race’s modes of reasoning!)

10. I have not mentioned the importance of propaganda from the commercial point of view. I have heard everywhere, from Spaniards and from English themselves, that “the Spanish hate the English”. They are being trained to hate the French as heartily. The Spaniard “remembers the Maine,”2 and yet, having a nearer object in Gibraltar to remember against the English, and a larger number of points of irritation between him and the French, he would presently forget the Spanish-American war, if he were permitted to, and continue in increasingly friendly relation with the United States,—if for no other reason than because he hates the others worse! But the Germans do not propose to permit the Spaniard to forget the Maine. The incident is dug up and aired in the pro-German press at every opportunity; Spain is continually reminded that the Yankees sought to “besmirch her honor with that base and baseless charge.” And the second string to the enemy bow, as played against us, is that we refused the mediation in this war of His Holiness.3

11. I do certainly believe that we should endeavor to prevent the enemy from embittering the Spanish people against us, by a constant [Page 13] and determined harping upon these two points, and upon our materialism, and our “picturesque” peculiarities.

It will pay us, strategically and commercially, not to permit ourselves to be undone in this country by German lies and ridicule.

12. The Catholic press of Spain is a formidable influence. Newspapers published with the approval of the church are preferred by the strictest Catholics, and have easiest access to their homes. Although the church holds itself responsible merely for the morals of such papers, it is quite certain that these papers do not present military or political matters in a manner offensive to the church authorities; and, in view of the distortions of fact and the language employed by some such papers, it is amazing of what the church in Spain can bring itself to approve.

13. I believe that we should bring to our side what Catholic papers we can. Some of them would not cost much.4

14. Propaganda by pamphlets, books, circulars, etc. exerts an influence when conducted with intelligent consideration of the need of the occasion.

This office has been considering the possibility of reaching the Catholics along these lines. The French have done something. I do not know what the English are doing, except that I have heard they were sending out publications that are not considered suitable for the masses of the people here.

15. The French, the English and the Italian have engaged in propaganda work by cinematograph. The films shown are not always war pictures.

16. I believe that it is possible for Mr. Marion to do exceedingly good work here for us.

17. He has with him some excellent films, which, if shown throughout Spain, and well advertised as American, could not fail to influence the opinion of this country in our favor,—for, after all, Spain is ignorant because she has poor facilities for information not because she is herself inert and unthinking.

Take, for instance, one film Mr. Marion has brought called “The Story of a Grain of Wheat”. That film, which shows American agriculture, industry and commerce at its best, would create nothing less than a sensation in the wheat-growing regions of Castile, and I venture to assert that the Spaniard who saw it would go from the show with some respect and admiration for a people who cultivate his own crop on such a scale, by such means, with such success. And in the back of [Page 14] his head there would begin to germinate a notion that he would better not engage in conflict with such a people.

18. Propaganda by personal advocacy. This is difficult for us because there are few Americans in this country and those few not always of a desirable type. Propaganda by personal relations has been most carefully developed by the enemy; Germans mix with all classes of Spaniards and have got on intimate terms with the people,—a thing which is difficult for a foreigner as a rule.

I have thought that we might do a little along this line if we had here some good American priests, patient and tactful, speaking Spanish well,—if possible, even related to Spanish people in this country.

Some influence might be exerted among the intellectuals by professors of our universities, if they were sent to visit Spain; but such visitors would need to be of our finest,—educated, urbane, masters of Spanish language and customs, and able to address critical audiences upon congenial topics. We possess some such; there is here an opportunity for them to serve their country.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 63, Entry 111, Correspondence of Arthur Wood, Box 1, Commission in Spain and Italy Frank J. Marion. No classification marking. “Naval Attaché” is typed at the top of the first page. The report was presumably written by the Naval Attaché, Captain Benton C. Decker. The Ambassador to Spain was Joseph Willard.
  2. Reference is to the battleship USS Maine, which exploded while at harbor in Havana on February 15, 1898, killing 266. Although Spain played no role in the explosion, at the time the event helped solidify U.S. public opinion against Spain prior to the Spanish-American War.
  3. For Pope Benedict XV’s August 1 peace proposals and the U.S. response, see Papers of Woodrow Wilson, vol. 43, pp. 482–485, 488–489, and ibid., vol. 44, pp. 57–59. For additional documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1917, Supplement 2, The World War, vol. I, pp. 161–222.
  4. This sentence was struck out by an unknown hand.