Unlike British propaganda, German propaganda was a dismal failure. Aside from the fact they did not share a common language with America, Germans underestimated the depths of hatefulness to which the British had sunk and would continue to sink to sway US public opinion, nor did Germany recognize the financial forces behind the intense British media campaign. The Kaiser was also naive to expertly adept enemy agents within his own government. Germany’s concern was simply that America remained neutral, but Britain had taken away any feasible means by which Germany could spread their messages or even provide their viewpoints. Moreover, the puny German “propaganda headquarters” had plunked itself transparently smack in the middle of New York City and was run by the German ambassador to the USA himself who was either an idiot or a knave. The pro-war forces jumped on them and they made themselves extremely easy, almost too easy, prey.
Count Johann Von Bernstorff, below left, was the new German Ambassador to Washington in August, 1914, after war had broken out in Europe. Included on his staff was Dr. Heinrich Albert, center, and Dr. Bernhard Dernberg, right. Also Capt. Franz von Papen, military attache, Capt. Karl Boy-Ed, naval attache, and Wolf von Igel.*
A few months later on July 24, Dr. Albert, portrayed by the British as a bungling German fool, “just happened” to fall asleep on a train in New York, only to wake up and realize he’d left his briefcase on the train, a briefcase chock-a-block full of “incriminating literature” which outlined the entire nefarious German propaganda effort in America. Albert “tried to retrieve it,” but another man (who coincidentally happened to be a US government Secret Service agent named Frank Burke) had found it and released its contents to the ‘New York World’ who dutifully published them in installments beginning on August 15. The “German documents” implied that Americans were stupid and gullible, and that made Americans furious! The haughty Germans were trying to hoodwink them! US Secretary of State Robert Lansing later admitted that this was “the desired outcome.”
Then, less than two week later, British authorities detained an American journalist named James Archibald who was enroute to Germany from America, and they found a letter in his suitcase from von Papen which supposedly said: “I always say to these idiotic Yankees that they should shut their mouths and better still be full of admiration for all that heroism of Germans on the Eastern Front.” Again, that made Americans pretty mad!
The British then published papers from Constantin Theodor Dumba, Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Washington, to his government which requested funds to subsidize labor agitation among Austro-Hungarian-American munitions workers and chronicled sabotage schemes, including an evil program to sneak fire bombs on Allied ships, wreck the Welland Canal and create chaos along the Canadian border. On September 8, the State Department expelled Dumba, Albert, Boy-Ed and von Papen. The media, beginning with the blistering Boston Post, labeled these fiascos the “Dumba-Archibald Affair” which involved all of the above as well as an American, George Sylvester Viereck, poet, “propagandist” and publisher of the pro-German newspaper ‘Vaterland.’ It was stated this all proved that spies were paid to plant Central Powers propaganda in the United States. On September 23, the Post said: “O Constantin Theodor Dumba/ You’ve roused Uncle Sam from his slumba/ That letter you wrote/ Got the old fellow’s goat/ Now his path you’ll no longer encumba!”
The Allies’ investment in U.S.-made materials of war was already approaching an annual $3 billion, and they did not want their precious munitions blown up. Von Bernstorff was allowed to stay along with an aristocratic army reservist and munitions specialist in his emply named Capt Franz von Rintelen who would later be accused of single-handedly, in less than three months, destroying $10 million worth of cargo on 36 ships with a special device he invented, a pencil bomb. But the British saved the day again! Scotland Yard, tipped off by an anonymous telegram, lured the evil genius Von Rintelen back to Germany and he was removed from a neutral ship at Falmouth, arrested and returned to the United States for trial and imprisonment in the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta. He was the one implicated in devising the plan for the “Black Tom” incident (link above).
Then, there was a very clumsy attempt by another silly German army officer named Werner Van Horn who was supposedly recruited by Von Papen for covert duty in America in the crucially important task of blowing up a railroad bridge linking tiny Vanceboro, Maine, with rural Canada! Horn, “on leave from the German Imperial Army,” was blissfully working on a Guatemalan coffee plantation when he made his way to New York so as to get back to Germany to serve his country.
Instead, Van Papen reportedly forged a special passport for Horn and gave him a ticket to Maine. The truth behind this sketchy story was never uncovered, and some thought that it may have instead have been British agents who handsomely paid Horn to carry out his futile “mission” which occurred on the Canadian side of the small bridge. Newspaper headlines across the country read “German Saboteur Attempts to Destroy International Railroad Bridge at Vanceboro, Maine.” Several film crews descended upon the small town looking for newsreel footage but left with nothing truly usable. However, Louis DeRochemont, a small time freelance cameraman in Massachusetts captured the story and used it to launch his career as a Hollywood producer.
From January of 1915 until America’s entry into the war, beginning with an incendiary fire in the Roebling Steel foundry in Trenton, N.J. (which was quickly followed by fires and explosions in other plants and factories dealing in war contracts for the Allies), over 40 American factories and transport centers were damaged or destroyed by arson or incendiary bombs, and bombs were reported as discovered on some 47 ships carrying goods from the US to ports of the Allies.
The British claimed that one German bombmaker “claimed that he made bombs that destroyed $10,000,000 worth of cargo on more than 36 different ships” and the American media also dutifully reported this. In New Jersey, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Delaware, tiny Acton, Massachusetts and many other locations, multitudes of mysterious fires and explosions took place at numerous chemical and powder plants, most of which were unsolved and also blamed on German spies by the British, and then by the obliging American media. It was spuriously declared that Germans targeted railroad yards, trains and canals in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere and that they were responsible for an explosion in the corridor in the Senate wing of the US Capitol on July 2, 1915. All reports were taken on face value from the British propaganda office and presented in the press as the work of German saboteurs. Any “evidence” (requested by the small handfull of newspapers who actually desired some) was not be presented on grounds it might endangered British national security.
Still, most of the business and corporate communities were apathetic or reluctant to get involved in the war in 1914. Henry Ford expended great effort to bring an end to the war in Europe, notably with his sponsorship and participation in the launching of his much ridiculed “peace ship” in late 1915 when he, other honest business, educational leaders and pacifists cruised to Europe trying to broker a negotiated settlement to the foreign war. Ford spent more than one half million dollars on the peace mission until March 1917, but in the years between 1914 and 1917, the largest organized opposition to American intervention was the American Socialist Party, most of whose members strongly opposed the war and efforts promoting U.S. entry.
Even though hawkish American Federation of Labor leader Samuel Gompers would eagerly adopt a pro-war position by 1916, most rank and file members of labor organizations were anti-war. Lastly, the American public was absolutely opposed to any involvement in a European conflict.
During the period of U.S. neutrality from 1914 to 1917, American sentiment shifted gradually but inexorably toward a pro-Ally, pro-war position, first because of the sophisticated British propaganda campaign, and then from the increasing pressure from business and corporate elite on both sides of the Atlantic who had a financial and commercial stake in a British and French victory. The British naval blockade of Germany ensured that American trade was almost exclusively with the Allies.
But behind bank doors it was another story. As early as 1915, the US, not yet involved in the War, had loaned France and Great Britain millions of dollars through American banks without Americans ever knowing. Had Germany won, those bonds held by US bankers would have been worthless. Some of the democrats and Woodrow Wilson’s biggest financial backers had vested personal financial interests with Britain and France.
The most powerful and well financed of the domestic “preparedness” movements beating the war drums became the National Security League, financed by men like Cornelius Vanderbilt, Henry C. Frick and Simon Guggenheim based mainly in Eastern cities. Comprised largely of men with ulterior financial motives who were associated with the nation’s leading banking and commercial house, the “preparedness lobby” countered domestic peace and progressive reform movements and lobbied for implementation of the draft and increased military spending. One of their most powerful anti-German spokespersons became Theodore Roosevelt who had once sung ringing praises of Germany. Not all American businessmen agreed with or took part with the “preparedness movement,” however.
“Neutral” America was invaded British tabloid style in 1916 when the pro-war Henry Altemus Company boosted its profits with H. Irving Hancock’s “The Invasion of the United States,” a four-book series depicting an impending German invasion of the US in 1920-21, with a fantastically huge German navy. The plot parrots Le Queux’s “The Great War”: the Germans launch a surprise attack and capture Boston. The author of hundred and hundreds of anti-German childrens fiction books and series, very little is known about the shadowy H. (assumed to stand for “Harrie”) Irving Hancock who was supposedly an American chemist born in Massachusetts sometime near 1868 and married to a Nellie Stein. His life is cloaked in secrecy, but his books, including the Conquest of the US series, contained all aspects of the ‘war-preparedness’ movement, whose goal it was to embroil in World War One on the side of the Allies.
While few pacifist or anti-war films were made during this period of neutrality, a number of “preparedness” films were foisted upon the gullible public, movies such as the “Battle Cry of Peace” (based on a book by a munitions maker). It secured support and ringing endorsements from the NSL and other preparedness groups. The emotionally charged movie was released amid much hype and was a financial success. Henry Ford, who was rightly convinced that the push to war was being orchestrated by bankers and money men who stood to profit, was so disgusted with the military theme of the film that he took out full-page ads in over 250 newspapers to denounce it. It was too late. The “hun,” conceived in a secret British room on a bed dirty with money, was in full gestation.