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The Tragedy of 1915, and the Power of Propaganda

It's May 7th, 1915. World War I has raged across Europe for nearly a year. Only six days after hostilities had opened in 1914, President Wilson declared that the United States would remain "impartial in thought as well as in action." This impartiality was severely tested in when Germany declared that all ships, neutral or not, that entered the waters around Britain would be sunk, and tested further when the Imperial German Navy raider SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich boarded the cargo ship William P. Frye, a four-masted barque carrying nearly 200,000 bushels of grain. Believing the grain to be bound for British troops, the German Navy threw the cargo overboard, scuttled the ship, and took prison the crew and passengers.

Artistic rendering of the sinking of the RMS Luisitania

This didn't occur in British waters, but instead off the coast of Brazil. The Germans apologized, and President Wilson moved on with life. Then May 7th occurred. Eleven miles off the southern coast of England the RMS Lusitania was steaming toward the British isles with 1,959 passengers on board, and no guns, when she was spotted by the U-20, a German submarine. She was torpedoed on site, and a second internal explosion sank her in eighteen minutes, killing 1,198 passengers and crew. Prior to this attack Americans were largely indifferent about the happenings in Europe, and polls showed that most Americans supported staying uninvolved with the war that was tearing apart Europe. The Lusitania changed that though, as 128 Americans died in the incident, and tensions began to boil. Why am I writing about this anniversary on this day? Not because I think people absolutely need to understand the Lusitania, but because people need to understand the impact of the aftermath.

ENLIST - A propaganda poster by Fred Spear

This is "Enlist." Commissioned by the Boston Committee of Public Safety and painted by Fred Spear, it depicts a mother clutching her child as they drown in the Atlantic ocean. This image stirred up anti-German sentiments in America, and helped to spur Americans to join the war effort, even before their country did. More than 100 Americans joined the French Foreign Legion, where half of them died, and nearly all of them suffered wounds. Americans fighting under the orders of French leadership included the members of escadrille N.124, the so-called Lafayette Escadrille. More than 250 Americans took to the air over France during WWI, and thousands served on the ground, as soldiers, as doctors, and as ambulance drivers. Hundreds of women from the United States served as nurses during the war assisting both French and British forces before the United States joined the war. This poster helped to power American sentiment towards joining the war. It awoke the manufacturing and economic power of America. Coupled with American financial interests in Western Europe and the Zimmerman Telegram, America was forced onto the inexorable road to war. But poster's like the one from Fred Spear made it more palatable. It painted Germans as the 'bad guys' and everyone else as a the 'good guys.' I don't want to write about whether or not they were right or wrong, I want to write about that power. You see, propaganda has power. We can see that it does throughout history because if it didn't, why would we do it? Between 1914 and 1920 about 1,900 different propaganda posters were designed and printed by the belligerents involved in WWI. The countries involved in that war fully understood the power of that messaging, and but one generation later, during WWII, the United States alone designed, printed, and distributed more than 200,000 different propaganda designs. That propaganda encouraged Americans to enlist in the war effort, to buy war bonds, and to join the manufacturing efforts. That propaganda focused all American efforts on the external threat of fascism. Propaganda, marketing turned up to 100, continues today.

Representative Banks - Tweet on 6 MAY 2021

The goal hasn't changed. Propaganda is designed to make you hate someone, or fear something. It's designed to dehumanize those people and make them the enemy. It doesn't need a basis in truth, because truth doesn't matter...all that matters is teaching someone to hate someone else. That's what my Congressman is doing with Tweets like this. You see, he's sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, from enemies both foreign and domestic. He's sworn that oath as a naval officer and as our Congressman, so he has a full understanding of the First Amendment, right? He understands that the First Amendment doesn't protect you from consequences that come from non-governmental entities. Right? He understands that the First Amendment protects you from being censored by the government, right? Either he's criminally ludicrous, or he has decided that this version of propaganda gives him the best chance at reelection. My Congressman doesn't share ideas. He doesn't share a vision for America. He has become so enamored with a culture war of his own creation that all thoughts of actually helping Hoosiers are gone. He users Twitter and Facebook (despite his complaints about them) to spread very fuzzy math...

Representative Banks - Tweet on 20 APR 2021

...or just to perpetuate The Big Lie that the election was stolen.

Representative Banks - Tweet on 15 APR

Do I think Jim should lose his access to Twitter as well? No. I'm appalled by his use of it, and disgusted by his need to either tell partial truths or total falsehoods, but so far he has not used the platform to sow violence against other elected representatives. I've operated businesses for years, managing night clubs and hotels. In that space I reserved the right to refuse service to someone. Start a fight in the club, get banned for life. Trash a hotel room or reverse your credit card charge, get banned for life. Steal from me in my retail store, get banned for life. These companies have every right to ban people who use their platform to incite insurrection, and encourage Americans to commit treason. The power of propaganda is what made Jim go from a conservative to someone completely disconnected from reality and truth. The power of propaganda is what caused hundreds of Americans to violate spaces sacred to our democracy. The power of propaganda built a gallows with Mike Pence's name on it. The spread of propaganda is dangerous. The dangerous rhetoric that tells some Americans that other Americans are their enemies is dangerous. Donald Trump not being allowed on social media is a win for America, and a win for democracy. There's no other spin needed.

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