Raising National Patriotism and Recruitment
With the war now on the forefront of the public's mind, Tin Pan Alley songwriters began producing songs that reflected the new reality. Raising national patriotism and recruitment were promoted via many preexisting songs and anthems, but new music, too, helped rally citizens and soldiers to their nation’s cause. In the United States, a new surge of patriotic American songs swept into the printing press following the sinking of the Lusitania including “When the Lusitania Went Down,” “Lusitania Memorial Hymn,” and "Remember the Lusitania." As the U.S. started nearing 1917, songs were becoming more patriotic and pro-war. These songs were also a rebuttal to the pacifist songs appearing concurrently. “America, Here’s My Boy,” published in February of 1917 as part of the preparedness movement was considered a direct response to “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” published two years ago. Momentum supporting American entry into the war started to build. On April 6, 1917, America finally declared war against Germany. With the country at war, public opinion shifted entirely to support it and George Cohan’s “Over There,” composed a day after America’s declaration of war, summed up the spirit and confidence of the day. Woodrow Wilson ordered “The Star-Spangled Banner” be played at all military and other appropriate occasions.1 A year later, the song was played during each game of the 1918 World Series.2 On April 10, 1918, Congressman John Linthicum of Maryland introduced a bill to officially recognize “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem.3 However, the bill did not pass. Patriotic songs were the order of the day. The government wanted people to hum these tunes and persuade them that they were being counted on to support the war effort. The country wanted a national patriotic movement to sustain itself for the duration of the war. Without the immediate motive of a defensive war, American participation had to be explained in terms of ideas and principles, principally the notion of a crusade for democracy. While there were already trends in society strongly in favor of joining the war and supporting the Allied cause before America joined the war in 1917, the Wilson administration established the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to energetically mobilize public opinion.
Established less than two weeks after Wilson declared war on Germany, the CPI was created on April 13, 1917 through Executive Order 2594.Wilson appointed George Creel, a journalist, to be the committee chairman. Having been involved with Wilson’s reelection campaign as a publicity figure, Creel was familiar with Wilson’s agenda. It was during this time that he realized that many military leaders favored sharp censorship of any anti-war news. In line with Wilson’s progressive ideals, Creel penned a proposal to Wilson in which he argued for “expression, not suppression” of the press.4 Wilson approved Creel’s proposal and appointed him chair of the committee. Creel did not waste time and immediately created divisions in the CPI that were manned by the nation’s most talented artists that sought one purpose – to instill a universal “conviction that the war was not the war of an administration, but the war of one hundred million people.”5 Americans were called to transform themselves into crusaders of a righteous nation united in thought and action. The CPI’s policy of “expression, not suppression” extended beyond borders. In the same memo to Wilson, Creel proposed that the “war -weary peoples of England, France, and Italy” required a “message of encouragement,” while “the peoples of the neutral countries [had] to be won to our support, and the peoples of the Central Powers to be reached with the truth.”6 What other way was more effective in reaching a broad audience both at home and abroad than music. While Creel rejected the CPI’s mission as propaganda, a term laced with deceit and corruption, his agenda was clearly to bolster up pro-war and anti-German feelings.7
Following the declaration of war, Wilson frequently stated that the war was not against the German people but against the German Kasier’s government. Despite this statement, many Americans felt deep patriotism and anti-German sentiment gave rise to the 100% Americanism movement.Americanism was the faction that celebrated all American characteristics while attacking foreign and German “Kultur.”8 Indeed, Creel noted that other wars “went no further than the physical aspects, but German ‘Kultur’ raised issues that had to be fought out in the hearts and minds of the people as well as on the actual firing line.”9 Perhaps no other weapon was as powerful as popular music when it came to countering German “Kultur.” It could be argued that American popular music alone was the element that countered German “Kultur” most effectively. Since 100% Americanism reigned over entertainment, the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven that once graced concert halls before the war were criticized by pro-war activists as decadent products of Germany.10 Creel took advantage of the 100% Americanism movement and brought the movement’s message of patriotism to citizens in different languages via the “Four-Minute Men.”11 Their venue? The local movie houses.12
On April 17, 1917, a few days after America declared war, Donald Ryerson, a young businessman from Chicago who owned several theaters in the city, burst into the newly established CPI office and grabbed Creel by the lapels and presented his plan for installing public speakers in his movie theaters in Chicago to advocate support for the war effort.13 Creel was delighted with the idea and briefed Ryerson on how to assemble a national organization of volunteers called the Four-Minute Men. During his meeting with Creel, Ryerson explained that some young Chicago businessmen like him started speaking in his city’s theaters since April 1, before war was even declared. Their goal was to sell the idea of urgent voluntary military training and they called themselves the Four-Minute Men to associate with the minuteman militia of the Revolutionary War and because they only needed four minutes to effectively deliver their message. Movies were stored on multiple reels and the time it took for a projectionist to change reels was about four minutes. While reels were being changed, the Four-Minute Men were charged to deliver an informative and persuasive speech about the war effort.14 Endorsed by the Motion Picture Industry as the “official and authorized representatives of the United States Government in the movie theaters of America,”15 the Four-Minute Men were successful and can be attested with figures. During the U.S. involvement in the war, more than 75,000 orators gave about 7.5 million four-minute pro-war speeches in movie theaters and other places to about 314 million people.16 The CPI also featured their own silent films and music. Pershing’s Crusade, which premiered in May 1918, featured a choir concert of the Four-Minute Song Men. Armed with a choir of seventy voices, the CPI advertised again their callfor support by selling Liberty war bonds before an audience of military and social celebrities.17 A short while after, the CPI recognized the importance of singing at homefront.18 The committee released Bulletin 38 in September 1918 carrying the catchphrase “Let us get it going with a swing” and further advised that if the official Four-Minute Man was incapable of leading a singing crowd, he should get someone to substitute him. While this is the first time the CPI recognized the importance of singing to raise morale at home, this did not suggest that other Four-Minute Men have tried this method before. The Four Minute Men were now officially recognized as song leaders as well as orators. With slides containing lyrics of the popular and patriotic melodies, these speakers inspired audiences to sing with enthusiasm for the war effort.19
1Library of Congress article on “The Star-Spangled Banner” https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200000017 Accessed January 5, 2019.; It is important to note that the song was not formally recognized as the country’s national anthem not until 1934.
2Washington Post article on the history of the “Star-Spangled Banner” being played at games. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/08/30/a-brief-history-of-the-star-spangled-banner-being-played-at-games-and-getting-no-respect/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.7de151922a2c
3Bill H.R. 14
4Ashley, Perry J. American Newspaper Journalists, 1901-1925. Detroit Gale research Co.; In his memo to Wilson, Creel argued that although he did not deny the need for secretive measures in the government intelligence, there was a heavy price to be paid by imposing strict censorship laws. Creel recognized the disadvantages of censorship with “America’s youth sailing to fight in foreign lands, leaving families three thousand miles behind them, nothing was more vital than that the people’s confidence in the news should not be impaired.” In short, the government must not heighten people’s anxiety and ultimately suspicion by censorship. Axelrod, p.65
5Eric Van Schaak. Division of Pictorial Publicity in WWI, p. 34; Axelrod, p. 63
6Alexrod, p. 67
7Tischler, An American Music, p. 70
8Tischler, An American Music, p. 70; The spirit of 100% Americanism gave rise to the passing of the Espionage Act of 1917 that punished people for aiding the enemy or refusing military duty. Further, the Sedition Act (1918) made it illegal for Americans to speak about disloyalty towards the U.S. government and allowed the Postmaster General to refuse delivery of mail to those who dissented government policy during wartime. Given the pressure from both the government and the society, was there really room for songwriters to express disagreement with pro-war sentiments? While there was a general trend to support the war, it is interesting to consider if there were songwriters who secretly held opposing viewpoints but were forced to produce pro-war songs in order to sell them and avoid trouble with the government. The attack on German Kultur prompted people to substitute German words used in English such as liberty cabbage for sauerkraut. The New York Times. 1918-04-25
9Creel, How We Advertised America, p.3
10Tischler, One Hundred Percent Americanism, p.166; Majority of American orchestras were conducted and supplied by German-born and German-trained musicians. While they had nothing to do with the conflict, German musicians and music were attacked for being unpatriotic and German. The story of Karl Muck, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is a case in point. See Chapter 6, “American Modernism” for more information.
11It is documented that The Four-Minute Men delivered speeches on “The Meaning of America” in Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Armenian, and Czech. Axelrod, p. 125; This diverse palette of languages speaks to the fact of mass migration during the early 20th century. A recent study showed that singing can help facilitate foreign language learning. (Ludke, K.M. “Singing can facilitate foreign language learning”). Given that these migrants were still learning English, singing easy English patriotic songs was a clever strategy by the Four-Minute Men to call migrants to arms by teaching them patriotic soundbites that could be repeated.
12While the principal venue for the Four-Minute Men were movie houses, virtually every physical place with an audience such as churches, synagogues, union halls, and theaters was a venue for a CPI message. Axelrod, p. 83; In the November 10, 1917 issue of Music in the Camps, Hanmer discusses that while theaters and movie houses were mainly used for "theatrical entertainment," they would also "serve as a valuable adjunct to our singing activities." Other social groups such as the YMCA and Knights of Columbus also offered their buildings as venues for singing groups. This is discussed by Gier in her article "The'Song Leaders' of the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1918."
13Axelrod, p. 91, 114
14By targeting the movie houses, Ryerson and his Four-Minute Men were able to communicate to a broad audience. They were fluent in other languages, a skill they can cater to migrants. In 1917, the U.S. was home to many immigrants. Though not everyone could read English, many of them could understand the language. Cornbise, pp. 13, 20, 35. The movie houses were frequented by native English and foreign speakers alike. It is estimated that about 10 to 13 million people went to the movies each day. Movie theaters were called nickelodeons because these small theaters only charged a nickel (5 cents) to view a film. Perhaps it was the affordability that the nickelodeon became “the people’s palace, a portal between nation and world on one side and neighborhood and home on the other.” Axelrod, p. 122
16Creel, How We Advertised America p. 85; Cornebise, p. 158
17Watkins, p. 292; Axelrod, p. 133
18The CPI already encouraged singing before May 1918 but concentrated its efforts in boosting singing in military camps for soldiers. CPI Bulletin 38 seems to be the first time the CPI recognized the importance of singing to raise morale at home.
19Tischler, One Hundred Percent Americanism, p.166; It is documented that the song collection of the Four Minute Men included: “America,” “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean,” “Dixie,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “ There’s a Long, Long, Trail,” “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” “Pack Up Your Troubles,” “ Tramp, Tramp, Tramp,” “Saving Food,” “When You Come Home,” and “America the Beautiful.” For more information see Mock and Larson, Words That Won the War, p. 124.