Propaganda & Patriotism in World War I


Brandon J. Sethi

Urbana Middle School

AHTC Unit Plan

Illinois State Archives: Springfield, IL




In this unit, students will be confronted with issues of patriotism in World War I.  Students will be challenged to consider what it means to be an American and patriotic specifically during a time of war.  Students will also explore in-depth the tools of propaganda used by the government to encourage citizens to support the war effort and the issue of compelled patriotism.  The series of lessons culminates with a look at the United States post-9/11 and the way the word patriotism was so strongly used.  It is important to note that due to the resources available at the Illinois State Archives there is nothing specifically concerning any anti-war activity during the time period.  Anti-war activity can in some ways be seen as the highest form of patriotism and this is a concept that should be explored in-depth with the students in some ways even if the primary sources available here do not directly lend themselves to that discussion. 


Unit Essential Questions:


1.              What does it mean to be patriotic?  What types of activities are patriotic/unpatriotic?  Who is the authority?

2.              What does it mean to be an American? 

3.              How is propaganda used to mobilize people in times of war?  Why is it used?

4.              What role should the media play in furthering the government’s agenda?


Lesson #1: What is Patriotism?


Students will be setting the context for the course of the week with several vocabulary terms.  Further, this lesson is the first in the series and looks at how the government encourages patriotism through different policies and why they use patriotism.


Lesson #2: The Role of Media in Wartime


In this lesson we look at the second phase of coerced patriotism and that concerns the media’s role in emphasizing government policy.  Students should be challenged to consider the role the media plays in government policy and why they play that role.  Additional questions to consider are: what is the media’s main responsibility?  Why do they report on the things they do and not on the things they don’t? 


Lesson #3:  When People Answer the Governments Call


In this lesson, we look at the third and final step of coerced patriotism and that is the people’s response.  The media goes through a great effort to align itself with the government during World War I and through studying the Boys Working Reserve, we get an idea of how and why that call is answered.


Lesson #4:  Patriotism and the War on Terror

In this the final lesson for the mini-unit, students will be examining the United States through the lens of life post-9/11.  Students will be pushed to think about how words like patriotism and loyalty are used.  The quote “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” sums up the author’s view on this particular topic but it is not the view of all and students need to be challenged to consider which approach they deem appropriate for them.  The quote is most often attributed to Thomas Jefferson although he did not say it (he did say things similar).  Historian Howard Zinn used the quote in an interview in 2003 but the first recorded usage of the phrase came in the early ‘90’s from the then president of the ACLU.