Propaganda & Mass Persuasion: The CPI and the Four Minute Men

Monday, March 01, 2010

The CPI and the Four Minute Men


Charlie Chaplin, hoisted into the air on the arms of Douglas Fairbanks,
on the Treasury building on Wall Street during Third Liberty Loan Campaign in 1918.

The Four Minute Men were volunteering speakers that promoted community engagement for the way, like conserving food, drafting and buying Liberty Bonds. All in all, they gave some one million speeches at schools, churches, clubs and especially movie theaters. It was there they got their name, as they spoke in the four-minute break between film reels. Their speeches and rhetoric techniques were directed by the Committee on Public Information, CPI, through bulletins which provided instruction and inspirational material for speeches. (Brewer, Why America Fights, p 63)

Bulletin No. 39, included in our hand-out with examples of World War I propaganda, is titled Forth Liberty Loan and is one of those instruction manuals for the Four Minute Men. This one was to be used in the fall of 1918, just before the end of World War I in November of that same year.

The CPI must have realized the need for rhetoric instruction because of the fact that these speakers, who were important to the future of the war and the country, were volunteers and not necessarily good speakers. They needed to learn how to most effectively “carry to our audiences decision and action in buying Bonds.”

As guidance, the CPI had divided the so called For Minute Speech into four parts:
  1. An opening to grab the attention and interest of the audience.
  2. A body to present facts that will appeal to the rationality of the audience.
  3. An emotional appeal to stir sentiment and make the audience want to act, want to buy Bonds.
  4. An ending that summarizes the speech and appeals to the will of the audience to act, to actually buy Bonds.
The Four Minute Men were then to write their speeches with this outline in mind and fill each part with information and inspiration from the bulletin. The CPI stated crucial points for the speakers to remember, like not saying that America would save the world but that the Allies would or that clear and image-loaded language was to prefer. It also supplied forceful opening lines to catch the audience’s attention, and real-life stories of soldiers taken from official archives, to be used as examples to emotionally appeal to the audience.

What the CPI was trying to do through this publication was to secure the success of the Liberty Bond Campaigns. The agency knew that the more resonant the speakers were and the more unified their speeches, the more bonds would be sold in the end.

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