UN Origins Project Series, Part 2: The Importance of Information in Wartime

“The United Nations Information Organization (UNIO) was the first international agency of the Allied powers participating in World War II and was also the first Organization to incorporate in its title the ‘United Nations’ name.” It was constituted in September 1940, nearly two years before the Declaration by United Nations, as the Inter-Allied Information Committee, a clearinghouse for disseminating information and propaganda about the war effort. Indeed, from a very early stage, the Allied powers realized the role information would play in their fight against the Axis.

The importance of information to the successful prosecution of the war is encapsulated in an early inter-organization memorandum entitled, “A Suggested Information Technique for the United Nations.” Indeed, the memorandum is a succinct statement of intent and purpose for the newly formed UNIO.

The memorandum highlights several key aspects in which the successful dissemination of information by the Allied powers will assist in the war effort.

The first is to raise the morale of those peoples under attack or suffering under Axis occupation and assure them that help is on the way. With the United Nations in its infancy and the likelihood that a significant period of time will elapse before the Allied powers are able to turn the tide against the Axis, it becomes imperative that those suffering not become disillusioned over their struggle and believe that the UN will be the agent of their deliverance.

Second is the need to counter the strong isolationist sentiments in the United States and engage the populace in the international struggle against totalitarianism. Indeed, in the years leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, politicians engaged in fervent debate over America’s role in the war. Many argued against entangling the United States in a European conflict. President Roosevelt, among others, realized that the current conflict was rooted in the failure to secure a lasting postwar peace following World War I. In order to prevent future conflict, Roosevelt recognized the need to develop a stable international structure, a structure in which the United States would play an integral role. To galvanize the American people into action, they must realize that the American values of freedom and liberty are, in fact, universal, and in extraordinary times, require a strong and resolute protector.

Finally, the knowledge that an implacable international force has gathered to oppose and fight them will demoralize the Axis powers, and further encourage resistance. Indeed, when members of the Axis see and comprehend the full extent of the powers arrayed against them, they will realize that theirs is a doomed struggle.

From a very early stage, the Allies realized that winning the information war would be essential to their eventual success. It would galvanize support at home, while encouraging those abroad not to give up the fight; that help was on the way. As the first international organization convened under the newly formed United Nations, the UNIO would prove to be invaluable to the Allied war effort.

Greg Chaffin is a research assistant for the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London.