“THE GREAT CAUSE OF FREEDOM”

The CPI couched its appeal in the Progressive language of social cooperation and expanded democracy. Abroad, this meant a peace based on the principle of national self-determination. At home, it meant improving “industrial democracy.” A Progressive journalist, Creel believed the war would accelerate the movement toward solving the “age-old problems of poverty, inequality, oppression, and unhappiness.” He took to heart a warning from historian Carl Becker that a simple contrast between German tyranny and American democracy would not seem plausible to the average worker: “You talk to him of our ideals of liberty and he thinks of the shameless exploitation of labor and of the ridiculous gulf between wealth and poverty.” The CPI distributed pamphlets foreseeing a postwar society complete with a “universal eight-hour day” and a living wage for all.

While “democracy” served as the key term of wartime mobilization, “freedom” also took on new significance. The war, a CPI advertisement proclaimed, was being fought in “the great cause of freedom.” Thousands of persons, often draftees, were enlisted to pose in giant human tableaus representing symbols of liberty. One living representation of the Liberty Bell at Fort Dix, New Jersey, included 25,000 people. The most common visual image in wartime propaganda was the Statue of liberty, employed especially to rally support among immigrants. “You came here seeking Freedom,” stated a caption on one Statue of Liberty poster. “You must now help preserve it.” Buying Liberty bonds became a demonstration of patriotism. Wilson’s speeches cast the United States as a land of liberty fighting alongside a “concert of free people” to secure self-determination for the oppressed peoples of the world. The idea of freedom, it seems, requires an antithesis, and the CPI found one in the German kaiser and, more generally, the German nation and people. Government propaganda whipped up hatred of the wartime foe by portraying it as a nation of barbaric Huns.

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