The Creel Committe on Public Information was created by an executive order of Woodrow Wilson on April 13, 1917, for the express purpose of building support for U.S. involvement in World War I among the american population. As defined by its chairman and impetus, George Creel, its mission was to distribute propaganda "not as the Germans defined it, but in the true sense of the word, meaning 'the propagation of faith'." And propagate the faith it did.
Despite a fairly innocent start, the Committee soon began inundating the country with propaganda that portrayed Germans as barbarians and exhorting "loyal americans" not to gossip about the war lest they become "a tool of the Hun." Hollywood, perhaps attempting to capitalize on the widespread bloodlust or perhaps fearing the attentions of the government if it appeared any less patriotic than anyone else, followed Washington's lead like a duckling following its mother across a road, producing films with such titles as "The Claws of the Hun," "The Prussian Cur," and "The Beast of Berlin."
The Committee didn't stop this campaign of dehumanization with actual enemies, however. Typical of other fascistic campaigns (while not being strictly fascist, a word much misused today), citizens were urged not to wait to inform the government until they found someone attempting sabotage. One advertisment placed by the Committee in a newspaper said to "Report the man who spreads pessimistic stories, divulges--or seeks--confidential military information, cries for peace, or belittles our efforts to win the war," and exhorted citizens to send the names of such people to the Department of Justice. Note how pacifism and simple dissatisfaction with the war are alternated with direct acts of treason, blurring in the mind of the reader the distinction between the two.
The Committe also spawned scores of other organizations bent on enforcing freedom and democracy, organizations whose activities included tapping phones, seizing letters to search for treasonous language (the U.S. Postal Service was recruited for this as well), and spying on the population in general. Particularly affected were German-Americans, who were often subjected to public scrutiny and humiliation at the behest of these organizations. The least vitriolic of these organizations, and to my knowledge the only one hired directly by the Committee, to its credit, was the Four Minute Men, a group of 75,000 uniformed public speakers who appeared in 5,200 communities around the country giving simple, four minute speeches in favor of the war, as well as news bulletins. They were a bit like grown up, poorly compensated boy scouts.
The Committee was finally abolished by another executive order on August 21, 1919, after over two years of intense domestic activity and even some foreign operations.
According to Edward L. Bernays, a man often referred to as the father of public relations and a participant in the Committee's campaign,"The essence of a democratic society is the engineering of consent." If this is so, then the activities of the Creel Committee were the most cynical, calculating, and frightening examples of such engineering that have ever taken place in the United States. They reflect an authoritarian, paternalistic philosophy on the part of the Wilson administration, the policies of which, even after the war (negating the argument from necessity), brought the U.S. closer to becoming a police state than it has ever been at any other time in its history. They also serve as a warning, a warning that simply relying on the separation of powers is never truly enough to guard against those whose sole aim is power itself--that a time of war, a time of sacrifice, must be clearly defined, lest "The Long War" take those freedoms which we claim to hold so dear and hold them captive forever in the name of keeping us secure.
Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen