A Century of Propaganda :: By Jeffrey C. Ady

My spouse, who is from Japan, has been commenting for months on how events since March 2020 remind her of the run-up to World War II and events and practices during the war in both Germany and Japan.

I would like to add, though: The modern use of “propaganda” per se didn’t originate with the Nazi Party. It started with Woodrow Wilson, Democrat President of the United States from 1913-1921.

Wilson tapped Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud on both of his parents’ lines) to drive the activities of the “Committee on Public Information.” Its official members were George Creel and Robert Lansing (of the State Department), Newton Baker (of the War Department), and Josephus Daniels (of the Navy).

The CPI’s mission was to turn American public opinion about the “Great War” (WW1) from isolationism and opposition to support for American involvement in the conflict. And they succeeded. This turnaround in public opinion was spectacular. Despite Wilson’s 1916 campaign messaging that he would keep the country out of the war, Wilson strong-armed the country into the conflict in short order. It was what Wilson wanted all along.

Bernays was simply an instrument in Wilson’s and the CPI’s hands. Nevertheless, he was, to say the very least, a pivotal figure in American culture. He used his uncle’s psychoanalytic theories to shape messaging in such a way as to appeal to target populations’ innate perceptions and desires—to trigger drives they wouldn’t always be aware of, alter their perceptions, and direct their behavior. All too often, he succeeded. Public perceptions of policies and products shifted 180 degrees in short order, again and again, seemingly with no publicly visible reasons. But in historical perspective, it is quite obvious that Bernays simply used unorthodox messaging across the entire spectrum of communication media in the decades of the 1910s through the 1980s.

Bernays’ work had a remarkable impact on American life and culture. He engineered the successful marketing of cigarette smoking by women in the late 1920s; he drove the United Fruit Company media war against, and the CIA-linked overthrow of, the Guatemalan government; he was known as the “Father of Public Relations.” Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, read Bernays’ books and followed his methods closely.

The infamous Council on Foreign Relations (formed in 1921, the final year of Wilson’s presidency, and under Wilson’s aegis) had this to say about the CPI’s work (and I quote from a CFR review1):

In November 1916, the slogan of Wilson’s supporters, ‘He Kept Us Out of War,’ played an important part in winning the election. At that time, a large part of the country was apathetic…. Yet, within a very short period after America had joined the belligerents, the nation appeared to be enthusiastically and overwhelmingly convinced of the justice of the cause of the Allies, and unanimously determined to help them win.

The revolutionary change is only partly explainable by a sudden explosion of latent anti-German sentiment detonated by the declaration of war. Far more significance is to be attributed to the work of the group of zealous amateur propagandists, organized under Mr. George Creel in the Committee on Public Information. With his associates, he planned and carried out what was perhaps the most effective job of large-scale war propaganda which the world had ever witnessed.

To wrap this up, it’s important to understand that the Nazis drew their methods from American and British practices in shaping public opinion with the objective of achieving policy goals. It started with Woodrow Wilson.

The means then, as it remains now, is planning and controlling information across the wide spectrum of communication media. Solomon was correct: There’s really nothing new under the sun.

And the kingmakers and string-pullers continue to operate from the shadows, driving the world into Daniel’s 70th Week.

But we who are in Christ have a better future; our Blessed Hope is real and very, very near.

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become restless and disturbed within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence” (Psalm 42:5, Amplified Bible).

Jeffrey C. Ady, Ph.D.


1 Tobin, Harold & Bidwell, Percy (1940). Mobilizing Civilian America. New York: Council on Foreign Relations. (pp. 75-76)