Issue 8 - Propaganda

The battle to win hearts and minds took on a new life in World War I.

Used to vilify the enemy, to muster support at home, to raise morale at the front, or even to spread misinformation, propaganda was used as a tool of war just as effective as bombs and guns.

Though certainly not the first conflict to employ propaganda, its use rose to greater prominence and sophistication during World War I and set the stage for its integral role in future conflicts.

The following resources all focus on various types of war propaganda, providing a balanced perspective on its lasting impact during the Great War.

"There must have been more deliberate lying in the world from 1914 to 1918 than in any other period of the world's history." 

- From Falsehood in Wartime, published in 1928 by British pacifist MP Arthur Ponsonby
Opening Pandora's Box

Propaganda existed for many years prior to the start of World War I; however, inventions in media made it easier to reach people on a massive scale. In this 8-minute video, host Indy Neidel with the Great War Channel explores mass propaganda during the war, specifically in Germany, Britain, and the United States. Want to learn more? Follow up with this video about propaganda films to go further in depth. Watch on YouTube

Recommended Grade Levels: All levels
Format: Digital Video, 8 minutes

Holocaust and Human Behavior

This short article about the 1916 British film Battle of the Somme looks at its effectiveness in stirring public sentiment during the war. From Facing History and Ourselves, this article is part of a larger collection of readings that look into how WWI affected people's attitudes towards war and the value of human life. Discussion questions are included for use in the classroom. Read Online

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Online Article

Facing History and Ourselves also created Propaganda During World War I: An Appeal to You!, an 8 1/2 minute video with journalist and author Adam Hochschild. Focused primarily on the British and German propaganda campaigns, it covers those governments' efforts to build--and maintain--support for the war using posters, music, film and other mediums.  Watch Online

(Please note: this video does contain some brief graphic images.)
Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Digital Video, 8 1/2 minutes

"Why not make a comedy about the war? I told several friends of my intention, but they shook their heads. Said [Cecil B.] De Mille: 'It's dangerous at this time to make fun of the war.' Dangerous or not, the idea excited me." 

- Excerpt from My Autobiography by Charlie Chaplin, discussing his 1918 film  Shoulder Arms.


Know a teacher who needs a vacation? We are offering the chance to send a teacher on an adventure to the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.
Nominate yourself, a colleague, or any educator who has positively affected the lives of students!

Between Tuesday, Aug. 22 and Friday, Sept. 8, enter the teacher of your choice to win an adventure that includes airfare, hotel accommodations and admission to the National World War I Museum and Memorial for two, where they can meet with Museum collections and education staff and enjoy a personalized Museum experience. Additional prizes include gift cards and swag bags of educational content.

Silent Films and World War I

This essay by Villanova University graduate student Daniel Gorman Jr. discusses silent films created during and after the war, using multiple primary sources available online, including video clips and periodicals. Topics discussed include actors participating in Liberty Loan drives as well as Charlie Chaplin's propaganda films The Bond and Shoulder Arms. Read Online

Recommended Grade Levels: High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Online Article

From the collections of the Library of Congress, this selection of more than 1,900 posters created between 1914 and 1920 deal with many aspects of life overseas and on the home front during the First World War. View on

(Please note: this collection contains a wide range of posters, some using strong imagery that may not be appropriate for young learners. Teachers, please review content before sharing with students.)
Recommended Grade Levels: All levels
Format: Online image gallery and article

From the collection of the Library of Congress, this Austrian poster announces
a 1916 Viennese art exhibition of 80 depictions of Kaiser Franz Josef,
with proceeds to benefit widows and orphans and the Red Cross.

This lesson plan from the National World War I Museum and Memorial asks students to examine their understanding of "patriotism" by analyzing over 60 primary source propaganda posters that called America to action during World War I. Designed for Middle School students, it can easily be adapted to any grade level. Download the Lesson Plan

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School (All Levels with Modification)
Format: Downloadable PDF

The American Musical Experience of World War I

It is easy to forget music's power to sway public opinion. Examining popular music during World War I helps us understand the public's changing sentiments about the war effort from the pacifist song "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier" to the rousing war anthem "Over There." This essay by Dr. Kristin Griffeath explores America's various responses to the war through music while also examining how music was used as a propaganda tool to encourage all Americans to do their bit for the war effort. Download the Essay

Recommended Grade Levels: High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Downloadable PDF

Recordings from World War I

Guy Golterman, working with the State Department's Committee on Public Information and Columbia Graphophone Company, produced and distributed recordings of speeches during World War I. Now kept at the Library of Congress, these recordings from General John J. Pershing, former American Ambassador to Germany James W. Gerard, and the American Federation of Labor President Samuel Gompers show us how American leaders used their voices to promote the war effort. Listen Online

Recommended Grade Levels: All levels
Format: Digital Audio (wav) and online article

Visit for more free education resources that you can use.

The Committee on Public Information, also known as the Creel Committee after chairman George Creel, was created by President Wilson to help control all war related news and promote the war effort at home. This article by Christopher B. Daly from Smithsonian Magazine highlights the various operations of the Creel Committee's propaganda machine that set the example for propaganda's use during later wars. Read at

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Online Article

"... I argued that expression, not suppression, was the real need. During the three and a half years of our neutrality the United States had been torn by a thousand divisive prejudices, with public opinion stunned and muddled by the pull and haul of Allied and German propaganda. The sentiment of the West was still isolationist; the Northwest buzzed with talk of a 'rich man's war,' waged to salvage Wall Street loans; men and women of Irish stock were 'neutral,' not caring who whipped England, and in every state demagogues raved against 'warmongers,' although the Du Ponts and other so-called 'merchants of death' did not have enough powder on hand to arm squirrel hunters."

- George Creel, discussing his opposition to strict censorship laws in his 1947 autobiography Rebel at Large.

This short article for the British Library by Jo Fox, professor at Durham University, focuses on post-war reactions to propaganda in Germany, Great Britain, and the United States, explaining how it affected the outlook and propaganda of World War II for these countries. Also included is a 10 ½ minute YouTube video with Professor Fox. Read at

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Online article

The United States World War One Centennial Commission and the National World War I Museum and Memorial are dedicated to educating the public about the causes, events, and consequences of the conflict and we encourage the use of these resources to better understand the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community.

Partners on this project include:

The Pritzker Military Museum and Library is a founding sponsor of the United States World War One Centennial Commission.