6. Letter From the Chairman of the Committee on Public Information (Creel) to President Wilson1

My dear Mr. President:

Sisson cables that your message has been printed and widely circulated, and that a very sound service has been formed for the handling of our wireless and cable news.2

I gathered a half million feet of film for the Y.M.C.A. for exhibition in the soldiers’ houses on the firing line. These pictures show our social, industrial, and war progress. They should be in Russia now, and I [Page 15] have cabled Sisson3 to take as much of the film as he wishes, using it in cities for our publicity purposes. This will obviate the necessity of a separate expedition.

Sisson understands he is not to touch the political situation, to avoid all personal entanglements, and that while he is not to consider himself an attaché to the Embassy, he must maintain the most friendly relations with the Ambassador.4

The Secretary of State, any number of Senators, and practically every other citizen interested in international affairs, deluge me from day to day with the suggestion that we send to Russia men of Russian birth for the purpose of explaining America’s meaning and purposes. I have not thought this wise because the Russian situation changed so from day to day, and demanded such extreme caution in every approach. I have now, however, a list of very remarkable people that it might be well to send; men born in Russia, successful Americans in every way, and able to write and speak authoritatively. What do you think of sending them over?

Propaganda, of course, goes hand in hand with policy. It is impossible for me to do very much in Russia or with Russians until certain decisions are made.5 Even were it proper for me to advise, I do not feel that I am sufficiently in possession of facts to give intelligent advice. The people that come to see me, and to whom I attach most importance, however, feel strongly that some definite statement should be made that we stand ready, as in the past, to give whole-heartedly of all that we possess, to relieve distress, to aid in restoration, and to build foundations under military strength, but that this spirit of generous helpfulness can only be given effect in cooperation with a Russian movement that is expressive of the whole people, that has its source in democratic procedure, and its authority from a free electorate.

These portions of Russia where the German prisoners are, where the coal fields are, where the grain belt is—all are in possession of anti- [Page 16] German, anti-Lenine forces. Such a statement would strengthen these forces even while cutting away Bolsheviki supports.

I am not trying to be “ambassadorial,” but simply searching for some light that will enable me to see my own way clearer.6


George Creel

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Series 2: Family and General Correspondence, 1786–1924, Reel 93, 1917 Nov. 27–1918 Jan. 7. No classification marking.
  2. Reference is presumably to Wilson’s annual address to Congress of December 4. In telegram 2129 from St. Petersburg, December 22, Sisson reported: “Cabled you detailed report operations December seventeenth. Million copies the President’s message printed.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Decimal File 1910–1929, Box 736, 103.9302/8) For the text of Wilson’s speech, see Foreign Relations, [1917], With the Address of the President to Congress, December 4, 1917, pp. ix–xvi.
  3. Not found.
  4. In telegram 1901 to St. Petersburg, December 14, Creel informed Sisson about the “half million feet of motion picture film,” and also that “President insists that you avoid political entanglements and personal matters.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Decimal File 1910–1929, Box 736, 103.9302/6a)
  5. The Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 (November by the Gregorian calendar) led to difficulty in the U.S.-Russia relationship, although diplomatic relations were never formally severed. On December 6, Lansing conveyed to Francis Wilson’s instruction that all U.S. representatives in Russia refrain from any direct communication with representatives of the Bolshevik government. (Telegram 1883 to St. Petersburg, December 6; Foreign Relations, 1918, Russia, vol. 1, p. 289) The revolution was followed by a civil war between Communists and anti-Communists which continued throughout World War I.
  6. A stamped notation on the first page indicates the letter was acknowledged on December 28. Wilson’s response, however, is dated December 29: “Thank you for your letter of the twenty-seventh about the Russian propaganda. You are taking just the right position. It must be our position for the time being, at any rate, and we must wait to see our way before pushing forward any faster than we are now doing or in any different way.” (Library of Congress, Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Series 2: Family and General Correspondence, 1786–1924, Reel 93, 1917 Nov. 27–1918 Jan. 7) Both letters are also printed in Papers of Woodrow Wilson, vol. 45, pp. 367–368, 387.