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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Fifth Columnists

During World War II there were many slogans or warnings -- Like "Loose lips sink ships." And everyone was afraid of Fifth Columnists -- those people who would work within the US to bring victory to the enemy. Ralph O. Baird took the photos in this series and must have had a great time with Wallace Dace and the cast of Playcrafters. Dace, a Wesleyan student who later joined the Navy and served during the War, was the only person identified in the photo story. His home was in Corpus Christi Texas (a place where I lived) when he attended Wesleyan and he died in Manhattan, Kansas where he was a professor of theater architecture at KSU, the first university I attended.

I am quoting verbatim from the Pantagraph -- this story was too good to summarize!

"Fifth columnists have at least 25 techniques for producing disunity, the American Psychiatric association pointed out recently. They have reduced propaganda -- just as they have sabotage -- to a science. The enemy agent uses every means to promote his cause. For instance, he employs the telephone in various ways. While two housewives chatter indiscreetly over the telephone the fifth columnist taps his way into the conversation, thus gaining information that may send a battleship to the bottom or seal the fate of thousands of soldiers on the battlefront."

"The enemy fifth columnist also uses the free press to promote his cause. The newspaper editor is constantly bombarded with a flood of clever propaganda. The enemy agent seldom works as openly as the picture suggests but he still gets much of his literature in print."

"He listens. The enemy agent picks up many useful details merely by overhearing indiscreet gossip. True Americans are urged not to suspect every waiter and servant so much but to realise that they talk too much. Keep your mouth shut."

"One effective method of the fifth columnist is falsification of one's memory so that he come to believe events were different than the true facts. He magnifies small details so that they obscure the main issue."

"One of the fifth columnists most effective techniques is the inciting of capital against labor and vice versa. He incites both against the government. Here he sows seeds of disunity with an unsuspecting working man."

Ralph Baird was the son of the manager of the Bloomington Country Club, Rolands Tea room and other eating establishments in Bloomington. He graduated from ISNU and joined the Pantagraph in 1941. He worked there until 1944 when he joined the St. Louis Democrat. He worked until about 1960 in reporting but then turned to public relations. At the time of his death he had written a serio-comic piece for the Saturday Evening Post (May/June 1993 issue) on the glamor of smoking/emphysema/dying. (Mentioned in his Pantagraph obit) I couldn't locate it in the Saturday Evening Post archive, but I did find an excerpt in Questia. Here is a link to the excerpt.

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