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WWI ‘fake news’ made truth the first casualty

Firing on the Western Front of World War I ended a century ago, on Nov. 11, 1918. What is known as “the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month,” changed the fate of a continent and paved the way for the nationalisms of World War II.

John Hubbel Weiss

John Hubbel Weiss

Associate Professor

As the world prepares to celebrate the anniversary, John Hubbel Weiss, associate professor of history at Cornell University, says that the current notion of “fake news” can be tied back to this period, when the public began mistrusting the press narrative about the real state of the war.

Weiss says:

“Widespread mistrust of the press as the purveyor of ‘fake news’ began with the Armistice of 1918. In the case of Germany, the press maintained a triumphalist approach, suppressing stories about the military disasters of the summer of 1918 and running uninterrupted editorials that victory was near. Throughout the war, troops who had just suffered massive losses of men and territory were dismayed to read optimistic accounts of battles unrecognizable to those that had participated in them. As the saying went, in portraying wars in the press, truth was the first casualty.

“The Armistice of 1918 and the Paris Peace Conference that followed it marked the introduction of America as a world power, physically and morally. Not noticed as often in the history books, however, has been the fact that American participation in this lament of loss and senselessness was minimal. For Americans, the awakening to the darkness of modernity would not come until World War II and its own postwar questioning.”

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