Thursday, May 31, 2018

Propaganda: How can we detect it?

History Book Club

A History of Public Relations
Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday, May 30, 2018:  A History of Public Relations. Managing the news, propaganda, image-building. Hitler’s Joseph Goebbels. Ancient persuasive techniques. How information, false. Tainted or factual, can be used to elect leaders, start wars, and more. [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]

Taylor, Philip M., Munitions of the Mind: A history of propaganda from the ancient world the present era. Third Edition. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003.

            Philip Taylor has painted the picture of propaganda from the very earliest days of recorded history, because the idea of using words and images to shape the minds of countrymen, enemies or allies has been around that long. 

            Propaganda often conveys the idea of dirty tricks, or hidden persuaders or mind manipulators….  Brain washing, or Orwellian Big Brother.

            Propaganda, however, is not necessarily bad.   It is the intention behind it which needs scrutiny. Propaganda forces us to think and do things we might not otherwise have done. It distorts our view of the world. It thickens the fog of war.  Propaganda becomes the enemy of independent thought.

            We are all propagandists to a degree, just as we are all recipients of propaganda. Taylor describes the picture of multifaceted images as “the glass onion.”

            The Vatican gave us the word propaganda in the 17th century, and it simply means “propagation” in Latin.  Faced with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic church established an organization “The Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.”, or propaganda fidei.

            I just slipped through Taylor’s history up until World War II.  It appears that propaganda, as a weapon of warfare really came of age at this time.
Crowds greet Hitler with "Heil"

            Hitler and the Nazis developed it to its lethal extreme. Hitler had learned the importance of controlling the “truth” in war and peace.  He mapped out his plans for this in Mein Kampf, and he learned well from his failures in the 1920s, so when he finally rose to power in 1933 he was ready for action. 

            In Mein Kampf Hitler laid out his plans.  He hated the post-World War I German Flag, so he designed his own black and red and white flag with the hooked crosses or swastika at its center. He developed the “Heil Hitler” salute as he created the concept of loyalty not only to the Reich, but to the Nazi party and to its leader.

            He also stage managed huge parades and mass demonstrations, torchlight parades with thousands marching precisely, and shouting party slogans—Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil).
            Coupled with all of this was to play on the fears and suspicions of the people.  Knowing that many in Germany were suspicious of Jews, he exploited this, and we all know how this ended with the extermination of some 6,000.000 Jews.

            Hitler also knew how to lie and taught in his book how to tell a really big lie, and keep telling it, relying upon the gullible masses to accept it. “The greater the lie, the more effective it is as a weapon,” he wrote.

            Hitler avoided trying to convince the influential people and intellectuals. He aimed his propaganda at the uneducated masses. 

             “Toward whom must propaganda be directed,” he asked, “toward the scientific intelligentsia or toward the uneducated masses?” His answer was, “It must always and exclusively be directed toward the masses. The teachability of the great masses is very limited, their understanding small, and their memory short.

Left to right, Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and Hess

            Hitler’s man for propaganda was Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), and Goebbels was a master orator and propagandist, expert in making Hitler larger than life to the German people.      
            Goebbels was equally expert in shaping “reality” for enemies and allies. He received unlimited funds to carry out his work of stirring up hatred, distrust and fear. He combined propaganda with terror, he used threats and bribes, arranging kidnappings and beatings, as the Nazis prepared the ground in Austria and the Sudetenland for Anschluss.

            The Nazis did the same in France, and all the other countries they conquered. They coopted local leaders to become their visible enforcers. In Norway, their “man” was Vidkun Quisling, and for the rest of time, “Quisling” will mean a collaborator and traitor.

            The following is from "What Is Propaganda?" by Ralph D. Casey, published in July 1944 by the American Historical Association. It gives an example of Goebbels’ work:

            A few Londoners are drinking ale in their neighborhood pub. The time is July 1940. The French have signed Hitler’s armistice terms, but Britain is still holding out. The pub keeper turns the dials of the tavern radio to tune in on “Lord Haw-Haw,” the Berlin broadcaster, and the voice booms out:
“England is ripe for invasion. ... You might as well expect help from an army of mastodons as from the United States. ... You are on a doomed ship. ... Whether or not the people of Britain want to see their fields turned into graveyards and their cities into tombs is a matter for themselves and Mr. Churchill. Perhaps if the British people could speak, they would ask for peace. But since the official voice of England asks not for peace but for destruction, it is destruction we must provide.”

            And also: An American sits at home tinkering with his short-wave set and he picks up an English-language broadcast beamed to North America from Germany.
“The German government and the German people have only the friendliest of feelings for the United States, the home of so. many American citizens of German descent.” The words of the radio speaker are honeyed words. “Let it be said for once and all,” the broadcaster continues, “that a German victory in this war is no threat to English democracy—and certainly not to American democracy.”
The propaganda voice of appeasement. Here is the strategy of attempting to hypnotize a people with an assertion of the “peaceful intentions” of the Nazi war machine.
            As for using propaganda, the leaders of the Soviet Union were also expert at all aspects of this art. In totalitarian states, it’s what you expect.  

            Many years after World War II (over 30) I experienced Soviet propaganda during my two-year tour of duty in Moscow.  I had been reading Pravda and other Soviet newspapers and listening to Radio Moscow for years as I studied Russian, and I felt I had a real appreciation for the stultifying effect of this on the Russian people.  Of course, it wasn’t a fair judgement for me, because I always had other sources of information available to me. It was interesting to see how Soviet citizens were able to read between the lines in their papers.

            Great Britain, of course, was not a totalitarian country, but Taylor describes the expertise of the British at white and black propaganda, at censorship, and the skill of leaders like Winston Churchill in their speeches, their writings, and all the other methods they used to fight and win this war.

            With Britain at war with Nazi Germany, Churchill tried desperately to enlist the United States of America or his side, but we had a strong vein of isolationism in our country. President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw that we needed to assist our European allies, but several powerful Republican Senators and many voters were bitterly opposed to our intervention in Europe’s war.  When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, isolationism became unpopular, and our government leaped into action with overt and covert propaganda, or as some of it was called, “information”.

            When we finally went to war, after Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Hollywood swung into action, producing hundreds of documentaries, cartoons and feature-length films that carried American propaganda themes, to rally Americans, and to shape opinions of other viewers, wherever the films were shown.

            Here we are today with a daily torrent of information and misinformation sprayed at us in television broadcasts, print media, on-line publications and social media, all aimed at influencing us to buy this or vote for or against this plan or this person.

            We hear and see daily information about our government in action all over the world. We hear about Robert Mueller, pursuing an investigation into possible Russian collusion with Donald Trump’s campaign for President, and we see Trump’s efforts to discredit the law enforcement agencies.

            We hear and see that the nuclear deal with Iran was bad and that now the United States has withdrawn from it.

            We think we have an understanding of the science of Global Warming, and now the United States has withdrawn from a world-wide effort to take the first steps to mollify the effects of it.

            We are faced with a new and very aggressive member of the club of nuclear armed nations, and now we see our President engaged in a high-stakes exercise to limit that, with the not quietly veiled threat of pre-emptive strike against that country.

            Our President calls news reports from papers and television networks that we have generally considered reliable as “fake news”.

            What can we believe? How can we discern propaganda right in our face?  

            Quoting again from "What Is Propaganda?" by Ralph D. Casey in 1944 is this handy guide:

            l. Is it really propaganda? Is some individual or group consciously trying to influence opinion and action? Who? For what purpose?

            2. Is it true? Does a comparison of independent reports show that the facts are accurate? Does such a comparison show that the suggestions made are soundly based?

            There are other tests that can be applied by the thinking citizen:

            a. Which fact or set of facts in a piece of promotion are important and relevant? Which are irrelevant?

            b. If some individual or group is trying to influence opinion and action, is the effort selfish or is it unselfish?

            c. Will action resulting from the propaganda benefit the individual or group responsible for it?
            d. Or will it benefit those who act upon the suggestion given in the propaganda? Or will it benefit both?

            e. What is likely to be the effect of the action or of the opinion that the propaganda is trying to set in motion?

            All these points boil down to some very simple questions: What is the source of the propaganda? What is its authority? What purposes prompted it? Whom will it benefit? What does it really say?



Languages of Italy

Wednesday, June 27, 2018: The History of Language. Can you understand the English spoken by Chaucer? [WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote; The droghte  of Marche hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich  licour,]  Choose any language and learn how it grew from its ancient roots, how it absorbed other languages, how it spread, and its variations in use in the world today. Did you know that only one in 40 Italians spoke Italian in 1861?  What language is most widely spoken in the world today? How are languages changing in modern times? [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]

MORE HINTS: The languages of Africa are divided into six major language families: Afroasiatic languages are spread throughout Western Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and parts of the Sahel. Austronesian languages are spoken in Madagascar.

North American languages include those spoken in Canada and the United States while those of Mexico belong to Meso-America. When the Europeans came to North America there were perhaps 300 to 400 languages spoken by several million native people.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018:  Immigration to America. How did we all get here?  Read about the history of immigration, at any stage – from first settlers to the great immigration waves of the 19th and early 20th centuries; victims of the Irish Potato famine, Jews fleeing persecution in Europe, Europeans suffering poverty in their countries, Africans brought here as slaves, Chinese brought here to build railroads; Fugitives of war everywhere; Mexicans and Central Americans coming to pick crops. Read about immigration policies and national drives to keep out or encourage immigration. [Suggested by Walt Frederick.]

Wednesday, August 29, 2018.  Fighting the U.S. Constitution.  Times and events when the Americans and even Presidents went against the freedoms in our Constitution. E, g, Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, Indian Removal Act under Jackson, Mexican American War, suspension of Habeas Corpus under Lincoln, Red Scare in 1920, McCarthyism in 1950’s, and Patriot Act 2001.  [Suggested by William Tobin]

Wednesday, September 26:  Religion and Politics in America. Religious impact in American political events. E.g.: Puritan Exceptionalism, justification of Slavery through the Bible, Abolition Movement, treatment of Native American Christianization movement, Justification of Imperialism’s Christianization mission. [Suggested by William Tobin]

Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment (Afro-American) at Fort Wagner, SC

Wednesday, October 24, 2018.  (vice Oct. 31):  African American Warriors and their place in American History. From the American Revolution, during the Civil War to Korean War. E.g.: Contraband to Massachusetts 54th, Buffalo Soldiers and Native American Wars, Spanish American War and Truth about Battle of San Juan Hill, World War I and use of African American soldiers with French combat troops, World War II and Segregated all African American combat units: Armor, Transport, Tuskegee Airmen, Desegregation and Korean War.  [Suggested by William Tobin]

Wednesday, November 28, 2018: Guns in American History. E.g. American Revolution and the Minutemen; Going West with new technology: six guns, repeating rifles, Twentieth Century automatic weapons after World War I, : pistols, rifles, Tommy guns, The St. Valentine’s Massacres of 1929 and 2018. Control vs. freedom of gun use. and Machine Gun laws, mass shootings in America: rifles, pistols, military style weapons, Guns laws in 21st century America. [Suggested by William Tobin]

December 2018: No meeting.