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With the beginning of the present war in Europe, America braced itself for the flood of propaganda that all observers said was sure to come. It has come, and wise newspaper readers are quickly learning to gift out some of the more flagrant stories. But there is another source of propaganda harder to spot, though no less influential. It is in the American pulpit and university, always powerful molders of public opinion. Within the past few weeks, the leaders of religion and education in this country have spoken with an amazing unanimity in strong support of the Allies. If vehemence is any test of sincerity, these men mean what they say.
Bishop Manning, head of the Episcopal Church in New York City, declared in a sermon, "Our sympathies, our moral support, and whatever ever aid we can rightly give at this time must be with those who at untold cost are upholding the principles and ideals of human life in which we believe." President Seymour of Yale warned that "a defeat, complete or even partial, of the Western democracies in the present war must be regarded as a disaster of the first magnitude for this country." President Conant foresaw grim eventualities if Germany should win. "I believe that if these countries (France and England) are defeated . . . . the hope of free institutions . . . will be jeopardized." These examples are only the most prominent among many that could be pointed out.
In investigating this copious stream of propaganda coming in by the back door, it is only natural to question the motives of the speakers. Those inclined to a leftist point of view will have the answer pat. Manning is the leader of an upperclass church, the Episcopalians being the cream of the wealthy fashionables of New York, and so he inevitably bespeaks their strong Anglophile sentiments. They will see in the college presidents the tools of their gold-plated corporations, serving to present the demands of unbridled-capitalism in the best light. Maybe this view cannot be dismissed in every case. Still it is certain that some of these propagandists are speaking independently and sincerely, uninfluenced by any but their own judgments. Still they are not justified in using the lever of their prestige to force the unwilling door of public opinion. The great majority of Americans are determined to stay out of war, and the statements of leading ministers and educators can only tend to drive them into it. This propaganda is far more dangerous than any emanating from overseas, for the very reason that it is accepted as the gospel truth by many more people. The lofty positions of these men give their words weight beyond their worth, so that they should give long and serious thought to the subject before making any statement. It is especially disquieting that leaders of youth, the college presidents, should have spoken so soon and so openly the words that may send to destruction the lives in their charge. They are earning an unenviable place in the road gang that is trying to build for the United States a super-highway straight to Armageddon.
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