“Ironclad ignorance and skillfully applied misinformation are the two hypnotizing agents by which the military masters of Germany’s restless and suffering millions keep them loyal and obedient.” How to combat this?
Henry Louis Smith, President of Washington and Lee University, proposed an idea that could only be considered legitimate in the pre-internet age: send balloons with messages containing Western ideas over France, Spain, and Italy, letting the eastern or northeastern winds transmit them into the German and Austrian Empires for their citizens to read.
“If the masses of the German people could read for themselves the messages of President Wilson and the other allied statesmen, could receive the argument and appeals of reformers in every land, could learn the facts concerning the war and the state of public opinion throughout the world, their blind loyalty, cemented by ignorance and falsehood, would be fatally and permanently disintegrated.”
“The following method would accomplish this result rapidly, inexpensively, and thoroughly in spite of frontier guards and police supervision, and also without violating morals or international law, imperiling its agents, or interfering with present military operations.”
I almost always try to avoid commenting on modern American politics or society in these posts, but the idea that the free flow of intellectual or progressive ideas would cause “ignorance and falsehood [to be] fatally and permanently disintegrated” certainly seems to have been disproven in the past few years.
As for Germany specifically, it’s hard to imagine this plan would have worked. Adolf Hitler was democratically elected in 1932 — it seems doubtful at best that this plan would have changed more than a few minds out of the many millions of Germans who would ultimately help elect Hitler.
Propaganda to German People by Balloon Routes: Scientist’s Novel Idea of Using Air Currents to Flood the Enemy’s Land with Educational Messages on Innumerable Small Carriers
Published: Sunday, February 24, 1918