Propaganda - 1

Propaganda David Trenholm Sociology 1006 CO 22 March 2007

Propaganda - 2 The term “propaganda” in today’s world conjures an assortment of disturbing imagery for the average North American—imagery like corrupt, malign governments pulling the collective strings of society, or images of the many manipulative, racist and accusing advertisements that were often employed during World War I and World War II. Many North Americans identify propaganda, then, as an ill-intentioned, modern phenomena—a psychological tactic that had only seen use since the advent of radio, television and mass publication. Propaganda, however, has been in use since the dawn of recorded history; many governments and organizations around the world, and throughout history, have and still use propaganda to subvert nations, political entities and entire populations. It has only been in recent times where society has witnessed a change in the use of propaganda, an alarming change that translates into an unprecedented evolution in its deployment and effectiveness. With the use of modern technology, propaganda and the monitored and filtered control of information has had an extraordinary affect on vast populations of people. With continuing advancements in communication technology, propaganda has undergone a radical transformation in its execution. Governments now have at their disposal a broad range of media in order to reach the many eyes and ears of their public; be it with newspaper, television, news programs or radio broadcasts. Employing the use of mass media—a popular vehicle for filtered information—has become a favourite among many governments across the globe, including many freethinking, western democratic nations. The affects of such sensitive orchestrations on the populace is quite noticeable, whether it be a subtle, minor filtering of information, or the more blunt, loquacious variety; such cases, in either form, are easily witnessed when examining examples in history, the most obvious being World War I and World War II. So

Propaganda - 3 great its impact on the German population, Hitler, a skilled orator, and an employer of skilled propagandists, was able to draw in vast amounts of political support in a relatively brief span of time. Cunning propaganda campaigns among allied countries at the time, even in pre-war America, were effective in curtailing both financial and militaristic support for the war effort. And yet, could a beneficial angle of such tactics be considered? Is there an advantage in using propaganda? One must critically look at the distinction between propaganda, and its more benign cousin, persuasion. The subtle differences between these two varieties are key in determining whether or not an act of propaganda or persuasion is justified, and there are many examples in history that can be used. In many cases such discussions are simply reduced to a simple question; that being a critical inquiry into the supposed balance between a democracy’s ability to think and act, and a government’s responsibility to lead their nation into the future while at the same time achieving noticeable results. Propaganda is a technique that has been in use since the beginning of recorded history. Governments and political bodies have employed some variety of psychological warfare as a means to achieve some kind of result—be it domestically, or internationally. Far before the introduction of radio and television, propaganda had been in use in the form of the written and spoken word. William III of Orange, the Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic in the late 17th century, had launched an extensive propaganda campaign in England, quite a few years before he planned to take the English throne for himself (Claydon, 2002). Using posters, letters, and cleverly planted supporters that had the ear of key parliamentary members, William III was able to subvert the influence of the current English monarch, Charles. Naturally, with the advent of radio and television, the use of

Propaganda - 4 propaganda has changed—the speed at which information can now travel is markedly quicker than in the 17th century. Radio and television can ensure a message reaches an entire nation within twenty-four hours. Radio was a popular format for propagandists in World War II, specifically Italy and Nazi Germany. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, was the man responsible for orchestrating and deploying the various types of propaganda throughout Germany and abroad. Using the radio, Goebbels’ reach was far and wide, and his message clear—he was a proponent of the Big Lie, as propagated by Hitler, “…the bigger the lie, the more easily it will be believed, provided it is repeated vigorously and often enough.” (Bergmeier & Lotz, 1997). One of the most popular of Hitler’s radio propagandists was an American-born German named William Joyce, a radio personality who affected an English accent when addressing the Allied world. Dubbed “Lord Haw-Haw” by the Allies, Joyce was well known, and well hated (Bergmeier & Lotz, 1997). The evolution of propaganda was not limited to radio—the written word had also undergone a drastic change. In the First World War, both sides in the conflict made use of aircraft in dropping leaflets on enemy troops. Brief messages that were intended to demoralize, falsify and coerce, it was a tactic that had never been used on such a grand scale. Over sixty million leaflets were dropped on Germans during the First World War by Allied forces (Bergmeier & Lotz, 1997). Right at the onset of the Korean Conflict, American forces began immediately dropping leaflet bombs—bombs that had instructions on where to surrender, informed the Koreans that they would be protected, and would be allowed to return home after the violence had passed (“Psychological Warfare in Korea”, 1950). It has only been in recent years, however, that the world has seen a drastic evolution in the use of propaganda,

Propaganda - 5 specifically in the area of mass media and television. Television and cable news have revolutionized the way people receive information—the globe has grown much smaller, as it does not take long at all for news from the east to reach the west, or from the west to reach the east. The control television has over a large population is also quite substantial—many North Americans receive their information from the evening news or the morning newspaper. Both vehicles of communication have the potential to significantly impact large populations. Noam Chomsky, an acclaimed linguistic scholar and political activist, is well known for his theories on the mass media, as well as his work on Manufacturing Consent with Edward S. Herman. Chomsky and Herman both believe that a propaganda model exists and is in use, and that it exists in mass media and millions of people are exposed to it daily. This is a new type of propaganda that revolves around “filters” that are established to determine what gets published or broadcasted, and what does not. The ownership of the medium; the medium’s source of funds; the medium’s source of information, “flak” or disciplining of the medium, and an anti-communist ideology (Herman and Chomsky, 1988) are all filters that contribute to what information the public digests. Professor Chomsky predicted in the coming years that the anti-communist filter would be replaced with an Islamic or anti-terrorist filter—which it most assuredly has, especially in a post-9/11 world. These filters are very interesting to consider when examining the affects of the mass media—take the medium’s source, or sourcing. Many small radio stations and television networks receive their information or news stories from the New York Times and Associated Press wire (Achbar, 1994), and as a result one company or conglomeration is essentially controlling what is national news. What the average North

Propaganda - 6 American might know about the world depends upon a select few news executives, who decide what should be news, and what should not be news—the fact that these decisions might be made with filters inspired by corporations and government discipline is unsettling. In the massive corporate world of America, it is important to know who controls what enterprise—who owns the news medium? What corporate sponsorships exist that could influence broadcasts? What kind of disciplining or coercion exists from the state or other private corporations? These questions, Chomsky believes, are important in explaining the subtle and seemingly invisible propaganda that exists in mass media today (Achbar, 1994). Propaganda has always been perceived as something malign, deceitful and coercive. Many associate the use of propaganda with Nazi Germany, North Korea and Soviet Russia—but propaganda has been in use by many western democracies as well, and in many cases its use was, for the most part, for the greater good. The old phrase “does the end justify the means?” comes to mind, and that question could easily be posited when analysing the well-intentioned propaganda that has occurred in the past. Ralph White (1917), in an article on Propaganda, stated that the difference between persuasion and propaganda lay in the “evil” overtones of the latter form. While the term “evil” might be a strong world, there is no doubt that the term propaganda does carry a certain malicious overtone, while persuasion has a rather neutral connotation to it. White lists several elements to persuasion, both legitimate elements and questionable elements that divide persuasion from propaganda. Legitimate elements include attracting and maintaining attention and rapport, building credibility, appealing to emotions and motives and involving action. Five other elements are flagged as questionable; lying, innuendo,

Propaganda - 7 presenting opinion as fact, deliberate omissions and implied obviousness (White, 1971). On the extreme side of the spectrum, incorporating both the legitimate elements with the questionable elements produce a kind of propaganda one might see in Nazi Germany, while innocent use of the questionable forms of persuasion might result in the various war posters and advertisements as seen in Canada, the U.S. and Britain during the war years. With this information in mind, the deployment of propaganda leaflets in the World Wars and the Korean Conflict do not seem as malign, and indeed, might have proved effective in limiting casualties. Coupled with White’s analogy on persuasion and propaganda, and Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model of 1988, it makes sense that most forms of “propaganda” evident in modern mass media is, for the most part, innocently used. There are only so many stories that can be played in the evening news, and so some will not receive coverage—but it is worth considering that there might be some form of malign force contributing to which story receives attention, and which does story does not. Propaganda will continue to be a word to be avoided and feared—but that will not impede its evolution. Although many North Americans would balk at the insistence that propaganda is in use in the media today, there is no denying that some form, be it benign or subversive, is in use throughout cable television, radio, and the printed word. There is no telling what other form propaganda will take in the future, as developments in communication technology continue. Its affects and use have changed, this is certain, and it will continue to change as society evolves. The use of propaganda has been classically identified as a balance between governmental control, and the rights and freedoms of citizens—but it changed somewhat, and its deployment has taken a new form in the mass

Propaganda - 8 media. While the role of the government is arguably involved at some level, the distribution of this new persuasive technique finds a partner in the corporate sector of America—a sector that has an exorbitant amount of influence over cable television, news, and daily newspaper. It is important, then, that freethinking, democratic enthusiasts arm themselves with the necessary information so that they might be better equipped to identify the more subtle forms of propaganda and persuasion in use today—it is hardly as obvious as Hitler and Goebbels’ rhetoric, and will undoubtedly take a keener eye to spot.

David Trenholm


Propaganda - 9 Achbar, Mark. (1994). Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. Montréal: Black Rose Books. Bergmeier, Horst J.P. and Rainer E. Lotz. (1997). Hitler’s Airwaves: The inside Story of Nazi Radio Broadcasting and Propaganda Swing. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. Buitenhuis, Peter. (1987). The Great War of Words: British, American and Canadian Propaganda and Fiction, 1914-1933. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. Claydon, Tony. (2002). William III: Profiles in Power. London: Pearson Education Limited. Herman, Edward S. (1988). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books. Interim Report. (1951). Psychological Warfare in Korea. The Public Opinion Quarterly, 15, 65-75. White, Ralph K. (1971). Propaganda: Morally Questionable and Morally Unquestionable Techniques. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 398, 26-35.

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