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Wartime Persecution of Mennonites

The stalwart endurance and courage of Mennonite Christians in western and northern Oklahoma during World War I constitutes one of the supremely heroic sagas in the history of the state. The irony of their harsh, sometimes violent, and occasionally murderous treatment at the hands of a citizenry striving to “make the world safe for democracy” illumines a chapter of Sooner State history whose shame is excelled only by the valor of these simple pacifist folk of the land.

Once President Woodrow Wilson led America into the war, he created a colossal propaganda agency, euphemistically titled the Committee on Public Information. This organization churned out vast amounts of material, some of it truthful, some not, intended to spur the national war effort and raise the necessary supplies of men and funds.

The committee’s goals and perspectives, which Oklahoma historian O. A. Hilton described early in the next world war—which exploded into conflagration just two decades after the “winning” of the first one—seem now as fanciful as they were lofty:

“Publicity and propaganda were the magic media through which the enthusiasm of the masses, their money, labor, hates and loves were to be mobilized to Make the World Safe for Democracy and a decent place to live in, to drive the monster Wilhelm II off the Prussian pedestal, and bring about permanent peace, international good-will and the brotherhood of man.”

Committee chair George Creel exponentially extended its reach and power by mandating local and state Councils of Defense, comprised of volunteers, to foster patriotism, motivat