Thursday, August 6, 2009

Advertising and Propaganda

Advertising and propaganda are twins. Both seek to influence the way a person thinks and feels. Both are geared more toward feeling than thinking because most people make decisions based upon emotions and attribute it to thinking. The goal of advertising is to influence people to buy a product whether they need it or not. The goal of propaganda is to change the way people think and feel about a specific philosophy or worldview. Both want people to think in a specific way, and feel specific emotions, and act upon those thoughts and emotions. All of these elements are defined by those creating the advertising or propaganda.

You will do what your head and heart tell you to do. It is important the whole person be involved in making decisions. Those who allow their heads to dominate their actions, ignoring their hearts, are despotic. Those who allow their hearts to dominate their actions, ignoring their heads, are fanatical. Sound decisions are based on knowing (intellectually and intimately) the truth and acting upon that truth. Truth is not relative or individual, but can be interpreted in a relative manner.

"The American Historical Association produced the G.I. Roundtable Series to help win World War II. Or so they were led to believe. In fact the U.S. Army sought the pamphlets as part of a larger effort to prepare for the transition to the postwar world, and represent a novel effort at social control."

[Excerpts from "What is Propaganda" by Ralph D. Casey, July 1944, G I Roundtable Series, W 1.55:2]

Democratic vs. Enemy Propaganda

Hitler and his partners in aggression are not the only experts in propaganda, however. The weapon of propaganda in the modern world must be parried and the blows returned by counter-propaganda. In the struggle for men’s minds that is constantly being waged by propagandists there is, however, a fundamental difference between the propaganda of dictatorship and the propaganda of democracy.

Hitler himself, in Mein Kampf, laid down his rules for dictatorship. He stated the “principle of the whopping lie” and of the gullibility of the masses. If you are going to tell a lie, he said, and nobody doubts that he intended to, don’t tell a little one, because it will be recognized as a lie. Tell the biggest and most unlikely lie you can think of, keep on telling it, and the people will think it must be the truth and believe it. “The greater the lie, the more effective it is as a weapon,” said the master of the alleged “master race.”

Moreover, he went on, don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to sway the influential people—the leaders of opinion—to your side first. “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.” In a word, he believes that it pays to take advantage of ignorance and that it is therefore best to keep the people ignorant.

Defining Propaganda

While most persons who give the matter a thought make distinctions between an objectively written news report and propaganda, they encounter difficulty when they try to define propaganda. It is one of the most troublesome words in the English language. To define it clearly and precisely, so that whenever it is used it will mean the same thing to everybody, is like trying to get your hands on an eel. You think you’ve got it-then it slips away.

When you say “policeman” or “house,” everybody has a pretty clear idea of what you mean. There’s nothing vague about these terms. But when you try to mark off the exact boundaries of “propaganda,” you wrinkle the brows even of the men who spend their lives studying the origin and history of words. And the problem of defining propaganda is all the more tangled because in the first World War it acquired certain popular meanings that stick to it like burrs to a cocker spaniel.

How to Size Up Propaganda

He should not forget that there are safeguards and checks for sizing up the merits of propaganda and the self-interest that may lie back of it. One authority on propaganda suggests two tests:

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:

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

If some individual or group is trying to influence opinion and action, is the effort selfish or is it unselfish? Will action resulting from the propaganda benefit the individual or group responsible for it? Or will it benefit those who act upon the suggestion given in the propaganda? Or will it benefit both?

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?


To see this pamphlet on the Internet click here. Donald Duck is a Walt Disney character, used with permission by the War Department of the United States Government.

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