Fake News Stories From World War I

Propaganda and fake news stories played a huge part of the Great War and the German people were often stuck at the sharp end of the ugly rumors. Newspapers across Europe, Canada, and the U.S. published fake news about German barbarity while ignoring the simple fact that soldiers from both sides were committing the same acts. Other times the rumors were complete fabrications that bordered on the absurd.

War of the German People

Any sensible person would realize that there was a difference between the Kaiser, the German people, and the German-Americans, but forces within the U.S. government needed people to lump them all together for the sake of raising money for the war.

We see this form of hate propaganda when the U.S. printed posters and ads to encourage the American public to invest in Liberty Bonds.

One of the ads claimed:

“We know how willingly the German people have shown themselves to do everything that their rulers have told them to do. We know how gleefully they have rejoiced over every crime, how they have cooperated fiendishly and enthusiastically with the butchers and baby killers of their army and navy.” [1]

Leprosy In Plaster

“Beware of Peddlers!” was the warning being printed in the U.S. newspapers in 1917.

The rumor spread outwards from Iowa: German peddlers were selling plaster that contained leprosy germs. It was germ warfare in the United States and it was completely untrue.

Even so, the rumor spread across the country:

“The latest… diabolical plot to destroy human lives was shown up last week when a traveling fakir peddler of innocent looking court plaster was arrested over at Henderson, Ia. When searched at the police station over $1,000 in currency was discovered on his person, and this made the officers more suspicious than at first and it was decided to fully investigate, and a sample of his court plaster was sent to Council Bluffs and when analyzed was found to contain large quantities of leprosy germs, the most malignant and incurable disease in the world. The aforesaid peddler was a German and could hardly speak the English language and appeared indifferent as to consequences when found out. Just what will be done with him is not yet made public, but hanging or even burning at the stake is too good for a dirty skunk that would spread the greatest of all pestilence throughout the land….” [2]

Trench Clubs

One of the traits of the American propagandists was to point out some barbaric act committed by the Germans while failing to mention that the Allies committed the exact same atrocity.

In 1918, an ad was published to persuade the American public to invest in the Third Liberty Loan in an effort to fight back against the cruel Germans. The ad published a photo of a trench club and stated that the German savages would use these clubs to finish off the wounded Allied soldiers in the battlefield.

The truth was that both the Allies and German soldiers used these metal spiked clubs during trench raids. The weapons, often handmade with nails sticking out from a club of wood, allowed soldiers to sneak into enemy trenches and kill a great number of combatants quietly and efficiently.

Yes, the weapon was cruel and vicious, but it was used by soldiers on both sides of the war. [3]

Skewered Babies

British soldiers told some pretty tall tales about the Germans, claiming that the Germans raped nuns, chopped off the hands of little children, and cut off the breasts of nurses.

However, the most popular lie told about the atrocities committed by the Germans was the skewering of babies on bayonets.

In the American press, Germans were often referred to as “baby killers,” citing the lie that Germans had a propensity to stab babies and little children with their bayonets.

One report published in a U.S. newspaper in 1918 went as far as to say that the only atrocity the Germans failed to commit during the war was cannibalism. Yet, the author of the article insisted that even the cannibals of foreign islands had more reason and sense of humanity than the lowly German people. [4] [5]

Plans to Eat Captives

While people in the U.S. were thankful that the Germans had not resorted to cannibalism, rumors came out of Italy that the Germans were fattening up their prisoners of war just for that purpose.

According to the rumors, if the Germans would not eat the prisoners, the prisoners could be cut up into chow and fed to the horses who were starving. Even more incredulous was the report of Germans training cows to eat humans.

In response to the rumors, George Sylvester Viereck said:

“I can scarcely believe that the German authorities would permit such a debauch on the part of the German people. It is reasonably sure to assume that there would be an epidemic of stomach trouble if the German people were to indulge in the unlimited consumption of such ‘seasoned viands’ as are contained in a diet of the international prisoners of war which, according to reports, are now fattening in Germany. It is evident why they are so well taken care of and why they are fattened.” [6]

German Corpse Factory

Of all the ugly lies told about the Germans during World War I, the German Corpse Utilization Company topped them all.

According to the rumor, Germans were so desperate for basic supplies that they were gathering dead soldiers from the fields and sending them to factories where the bodies were used to manufacture oils, fertilizer, and meal for chickens and hogs.

A German correspondent wrote:

“We pass through Evergnicourt. There is a sickly smell in the air, as if glue were being boiled. We are passing the great Corpse Utilization Establishment, of this Army Group. The fat that is won here is turned into lubricating oil, and everything else is ground down in the bones mill into a powder which is used for mixing with pigs’ food and as manure. Nothing can be permitted to go to waste.” [7]

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