Propaganda in Theory and Practice
"If you give a man the correct information for seven years, he may believe the incorrectinformation on the first day of the eighth year when it is necessary, from your point of view, that heshould do so. Your first job is to build the credibility and authenticity of your propaganda, andpersuade the enemy to trust you although you are his enemy."(A Psychological Warfare Casebook, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1958, at page 38.)Most people associate propaganda with advertising, with partisan opinion heard on talk shows, or with a zealous Sunday morning radio preacher. Indeed, all of these are forms of propaganda, butfor the most part they are the least harmful kind because the audience recognizes them as such.The advertiser, for example, clearly wants to sell something, and is trying to keep a particular product or service on the minds of the audience or to make it more appealing to potentialconsumers. Political commentary is nearly always recognized as such, and while it is intended topersuade its audience, it is far more useful as a means to inform or inspire those already inagreement with the speaker. And audiences likewise recognize that religious programming isintended as much to motivate followers to take a particular course of action (such as donatingmoney) as it is to change the spiritual orientation of non-believers. Thus, they are convinced toembrace the ideas of the speakers or to follow their instructions only if they are already inclined todo so.But there are other types of communication that are far more intrusive -- precisely becauseaudiences tend not to recognize them as propaganda.One example might be false or incomplete news reporting, presented as truth or objective fact.Reports that war has broken out nearby or that a highly-contagious and deadly disease isspreading among the local population would certainly produce a more immediate reaction amonglarge numbers of people than would a commercial for a "new and better" laundry soap or apreacher's plea for money to keep himself on the air.Another way in which propaganda can turn around an unwilling audience is through the processof repetition. At the end of World War II, for example, the people of the United States were notinclined to worry very much about an invasion by the Soviet Union. After all, the Russians hadbeen America s allies during the war. But as the country launched the most massive arms build-up in the history of the world, the Soviet "threat" was stressed again and again -- by governmentoperatives and military leaders, who were soon joined by vast numbers of private organizations,political commentators, intellectuals, entertainers, and, of course, the news media.Though the messages may have differed from one another -- and probably even more sobecause they did -- the sheer volume of these warnings and the diversity of the sources involvedserved to confirm in people s minds the reality of the threat. Slogans like "the iron curtain" helpedaudiences to visualize the "danger." And by the 1950s, bomb shelters and air raid drills wereadded to the psychological arsenal -- orchestrated not so much to protect the country as to bringabout active participation and thus to raise the level of hysteria.The resulting climate of fear justified rapid expansion of military research and arms stockpiling, aswell as active combat in far-away places like Korea. Indeed, it was not until people actually sawthe brutality of battle on their television screens during the Vietnam conflict that the notion of a"defensive" war on the far side of the globe began to be questioned. So profound, in fact, was theimpact of propaganda in the anti-communist era that even after the collapse of the USSR, a largepart of the population still wants to believe that America "survived" a great crisis.