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KEEPING AMERICA PATRIOTIC

Another new agency created in 1917 was the Committee on Public Information, headed by George Creel. The job of this agency was to spread anti-German and pro-Allied propaganda through newsreels and lectures, and through the cooperation of the press. Germans were portrayed as beastlike Huns wherever possible. Liberty Leagues were established in communities across America; members of these organizations were encouraged to report suspicious actions by anyone (especially foreigners) to their local authorities. George Creel asked newspapers to voluntarily censor themselves and to print only articles that would be helpful to the war effort.

A fine line between patriotism and oppression existed during much of World War I. The National Security League convinced Congress to insist on a literacy test for all new immigrants. German language instruction, German music, and even pretzels were banned in some cities. In April 1918 a German-born American citizen was lynched outside of St. Louis; ironically, an investigation found that he had recently attempted to enlist in the American navy.

Most Americans felt they were fighting the war to help the spread of democracy, yet many critics lamented some of the actions taken by the government during the war era. The 1917 Espionage Act made it illegal to obstruct the draft process in any way and stated that any material that was sent through the mail that was said to incite treason could be seized. The Sedition Act of 1918 stated that it was illegal to criticize the government, the Constitution, the U.S. Army, or the U.S. Navy. Prominent socialist Eugene Debs received a 10-year prison term for speaking against militarism; movie producer Robert Goldstein was even sentenced to 10 years in prison for showing the Americans fighting the British in a Revolutionary War film, Radical labor unions such as the FWW were also harassed during the war years. Over 1000 Americans were found guilty of violations of either the Espionage Act or the Sedition Act.

The war did provide a measure of social mobility for blacks and women. With large numbers of men fighting in Europe and no immigrants entering the country, northern factories needed workers, and encouraged blacks to move north to take factory jobs. This move north was called the Great Migration: during the war nearly 600,000 blacks moved north. Many women were able to find jobs on farms or in factories for the very first time during the war. After the war, men would replace them in the labor market and force them to return to the “women’s sphere.”

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