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War for Sale

May 15, 2002

Historian's Notes

The Councils of Defense and the Councils of Information are extremely interesting facets of American history. Created at the onset of US involvement into World War I, the Councils for all intents and purposes were designed and created to force the populous into a German hating state of mind and to keep them there at all costs. The Councils helped to create an atmosphere of hate and intolerance with lies and rumors as the basis for those actions. Up to that time, other than the violations of basic freedoms authorized by Lincoln in the US Civil War, I believe that the actions taken during World War I exemplify some of the government’s greatest intrusions onto the basic civil liberties of US Citizens. Some old axioms that might argue for an opposite viewpoint; All is Fair in Love and War, and At What Price Freedom.


Information for this almanac came from general US History texts as well as the March 1942 Chronicles of Oklahoma.

Almanac Transcript

War for sale this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I'm your host, Steven Knoche Kite.

America's entry into the conflict that became known as World War I signaled a great change for all involved including of course the people of Oklahoma. For the citizens of Oklahoma, as well as the rest of the country, the decision to fight in World War I was not easy to make. A large number of people viewed the event as a European affair with no obvious reasons why the US should become involved. For the big business leaders who stood to make money and the government officials who felt it was good politics to enter the war, the participation of the US was a product that had to be sold to the people.

Created for the purpose of selling the war and promoting patriotism were several different committees and councils. Best known of these groups is the Committee for Public Information basically a propaganda machine for the US war effort. Working along side the Committee for Public Information were the Councils of Defense organized in each state. Each state was required to organize a statewide council of defense that would in turn oversee individual county councils of defense. These councils on the county and state level helped to promote the war effort, led war bond drives, planted victory gardens, formed home guards and worked to establish Red Cross centers. More importantly the Oklahoma Council of Defense worked to disseminate the massive amounts of propaganda churned out by various groups in Washington.

The main job of the state council of defense was one of educating the people of Oklahoma. Not everyone, it was known, knew that we should be fighting in Europe, and it was the councils' job to teach them. Posters, public speakers and newspaper ads poured from the propaganda factories in vast amounts so much so that newspaper editors actually tried to stem the flow of propaganda to help eliminate waste. If citizens were unable to be educated into supporting the war, coercion was always available. The council of defense initiated and supported more than one violent attack on people or groups who were thought to be pro-German. Under leadership of the Council of Defense houses and businesses were burned, ransacked and looted, individuals tarred and feathered and families driven from their communities. It was in this week of 1917 that the Oklahoma Council of Defense came into existence and soon, for better or worse, made its presence felt in every corner of our state.

That's what happened this week in Oklahoma history.

I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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