In part two, we discussed America’s entry in the “Great War” and the need for propaganda on both the enemy and domestic home front. The Great War was perhaps the first use of what we define as Psychological Operations in a modern sense. But with the Armistice taking effect on November 11, 1918, both the shelling and the leaflet drops ceased. To some soldiers on the ground, peace was almost as psychologically jarring as the carnage of war itself:

“But at the front there was no celebration. Many soldiers believed the Armistice only a temporary measure and that the war would soon go on. As night came, the quietness, unearthly in its penetration, began to eat into their souls.

…What was to come next? They did not know – and hardly cared. Their minds were numbed by the shock of peace. The past consumed their whole consciousness. The present did not exist-and the future was inconceivable.”

– Colonel Thomas Gowenlock, an intelligence officer in the American 1st Division

Luckily, the Armistice did hold and a peace agreement was signed the following year. As a result, the American civilian Committee on Public Information (CPI) and U.S. Army Propaganda Section G-2D were both effectively disbanded. Unfortunately, the harsh punitive measures levied against Germany by the Allies in Treaty of Versailles, as well as lingering social and national tensions, all but guaranteed that the embers of war would flare up 20 years later.

Reinventing Psychological Warfare

When a militarized Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, America remained aloof and officially isolationist. Perhaps it was because of the memories of the brutal conflict from twenty years prior, or the lingering effects of the Great Depression, but the U.S. stance was what I call “NOPE” (Not Our Problem Europe).

However, despite this official stance, President Franklin D. Roosevelt went ahead and established the Office of Coordinator of Information (COI) on July 11, 1941, aware that U.S. involvement in the war could occur at any time. Like before, the U.S. was greatly inspired by the British system of intelligence, counterintelligence, psychological warfare, and special operations, parts of which had been, ironically, developed from its experiences fighting Germany. The COI director, Colonel William J Donovan, desired an all-encompassing agency that would do something similar in the U.S. However, due to a variety of reasons, this would not occur under the COI.

Colonel, and later Major General, Donavan would become head of the newly established OSS and be the only person to receive all four of the United States’ highest awards: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal.