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Propaganda

This article deals with public image and message control. For other meanings, see Propaganda (disambiguation).
North Korean propaganda showing a soldier destroying the United States Capitol building.

Propaganda is a specific type of message presentation aimed at serving an agenda. At its root, the denotation of propaganda is 'to propagate (actively spread) a philosophy or point of view'. The most common use of the term (historically) is in political contexts; in particular to refer to certain efforts sponsored by governments or political groups.

Table of contents

Purpose of Propaganda

The aim of propaganda is to actively influence people's opinions, rather than to merely communicate the facts about something. For example, propaganda might be used to garner either support or disapproval of a certain position, rather than to simply present the position. What separates propaganda from "normal" communication is in the subtle, often insidious, ways that the message attempts to shape opinion. For example, propaganda is often presented in a way that attempts to deliberately evoke a strong emotion, especially by suggesting non-logical (or non-intuitive) relationships between concepts.

An appeal to one's emotions is, perhaps, more obvious a propaganda method than utilized by some other less overt and perhaps even more insidious forms. For instance, propaganda may be transmitted implicitly. Propaganda can be transmitted as the presupposition or presuppositions within an ostensibly fair and balanced debate or argument. This can be done to great effect in conjunction with a broadcast news format. Here is an example of a hypothetical situation in which the opposing view points are supposedly represented: the hawk (see: hawkish) says, "we must stay the course", and the dove says, "The war is a disaster and a failure", to which the hawk responds, "In war things seldom go smoothly and we must not let set backs affect our determination", the dove retorts, "setbacks are setbacks, but, failures are failures." As one can see, the actual validity of the war is not discussed and is never in contention. In giving the appearance of representing opposing positions and view points, a debate (of what is really aspects of the actual, genuine, argument worthy issue) in which the debaters argue from the same basic assumptions, implicitly inculcates the presupposition(s) as sacrosanct truth, thus, establishing it as an accepted fact about the given issue.

The method of propaganda is essential to the word's meaning as well. A message does not have to be untrue to qualify as propaganda. In fact, the message in modern propaganda is often not blatantly untrue. But even if the message conveys only "true" information, it will generally contain partisan bias and fail to paint a complete and balanced picture. Another common characteristic of propaganda is volume (in the sense of a large amount). For example, a propagandist may seek to influence opinion by attempting to get a message heard in as many places as possible, and as often as possible. The intention of this approach is to a) reinforce an idea through repetition, and b) drown-out or exclude any alternative ideas.

In English, the word "propaganda" usually carries strong negative (as well as political) connotations. This is not necessarily so in other languages, and usage of the term may lead to misunderstanding in communications with non-native English speakers. For example, in Brazil and some Spanish language speaking countries, particularly in the Southern Cone, the word "propaganda" usually means the most common manipulation of information—"advertising."

Types of propaganda

U.S. Propaganda from WWII, urging citizens to increase production.
Soviet Propaganda Poster during the Great Patriotic War. The text reads "Red Army Soldier – SAVE US!"

Propaganda shares many techniques with advertising. In fact, advertising can be thought of as propaganda that promotes a commercial product; however, propaganda usually has political or nationalist themes. Propaganda can take the form of leaflets, posters, TV, and radio broadcasts and can also extend to any other medium.

Propaganda, in a narrower and more common use of the term, refers to deliberately false or misleading information that supports a political cause or the interests of those in power. The propagandist seeks to change the way people understand an issue or situation for the purpose of changing their actions and expectations in ways that are desirable to the interest group. Propaganda, in this sense, serves as a corollary to censorship in which the same purpose is achieved, not by filling people's heads with approved information, but by preventing people from being confronted with opposing points of view. What sets propaganda apart from other forms of advocacy is the willingness of the propagandist to change people's understanding through deception and confusion rather than persuasion and understanding. The leaders of an organization know the information to be one sided or untrue, but this may not be true for the rank and file members who help to disseminate the propaganda.

Brochure of the People's temple portraying cult leader Jim Jones as the loving father of the "Rainbow Family."

More in line with the religious roots of the term, it is also used widely in the debates about new religious movements (NRMs), both by people who defend them and by people who oppose them. The latter pejoratively call these NRMs cults. Anti-cult activists and countercult activists accuse the leaders of what they consider cults of using propaganda extensively to recruit followers and keep them. Some social scientists, such as the late Jeffrey Hadden, and CESNUR affiliated scholars accuse ex-members of "cults" who became vocal critics and the anti-cult movement of making these unusual religious movements look bad without sufficient reasons. [1], [2]

Anti-Japanese propaganda from the United States from World War II

Propaganda is a mighty weapon in war. In this case its aim is usually to dehumanize and create hatred toward a supposed enemy, either internal or external. The technique is to create a false image in the mind. This can be done by using special words, special avoidance of words or by saying that the enemy is responsible for certain things he never did. Most propaganda wars require the home population to feel the enemy has inflicted an injustice, which may be fictitious or may be based on facts. The home population must also decide that the cause of their nation is just.

Propaganda is also one of the methods used in psychological warfare.

In an even narrower, less commonly used but legitimate sense of the term, propaganda refers only to false information meant to reassure people who already believe. The assumption is that, if people believe something false, they will constantly be assailed by doubts. Since these doubts are unpleasant (see cognitive dissonance), people will be eager to have them extinguished, and are therefore receptive to the reassurances of those in power. For this reason propaganda is often addressed to people who are already sympathetic to the agenda.

Propaganda can be classified according to the source. White propaganda comes from an openly identified source. Black propaganda pretends to be from a friendly source, but is actually from an adversary. Gray propaganda pretends to be from a neutral source, but comes from an adversary.

Anti-Japanese propaganda from the US Office for War Information.

Propaganda may be administered in very insidious ways. For instance, disparaging disinformation about history, certain groups, or foreign countries may be encouraged or tolerated in the educational system. Since few people actually double-check what they learn at school, such disinformation will be repeated by journalists as well as parents, thus reinforcing the idea that the disinformation item is really a "well-known fact," even though no one repeating the myth is able to point to an authoritative source. The disinformation is then recycled in the media and in the educational system, without the need for direct governmental intervention on the media.

Soviet poster reads: Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live!

Such permeating propaganda may be used for political goals: by giving citizens a false impression of the quality or policies of their country, they may be incited to reject certain proposals or certain remarks, or ignore the experience of others.

Russian revolution

Russian revolutionaries of the 19th and 20th centuries distinguished two different aspects covered by the English term propaganda. In their terminology were two words: агитация (agitatsiya), or agitation, and пропаганда, or propaganda, see agitprop.

Basically, Propaganda meant dissemination of revolutionary ideas, teachings of Marxism, and basic economic knowledge, theoretical and factual; while agitation meant forming public opinion and stirring up political unrest.

See also: black propaganda, marketing, advertising

History of propaganda

U.S. propaganda poster, which warns against civilians sharing information on troop movements (National Archives)

In late Latin, propaganda meant "things to be propagated." In 1622, shortly after the start of the Thirty Years' War, Pope Gregory XV founded the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide ("Congregation for Propagating the Faith"), a committee of Cardinals to oversee the propagation of Christianity by missionaries sent to non-Christian countries. Therefore, term itself originates with this Roman Catholic Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (sacra congregatio christiano nomini propagando or, briefly, propaganda fide), the department of the pontifical administration charged with the spread of Catholicism and with the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in non-Catholic countries (mission territory).

The actual Latin stem propagand- conveys a sense of "that which ought to be spread." Originally the term was not intended to refer to misleading information. The modern political sense dates from World War I, and was not originally pejorative.

U.S. propaganda poster, depicting a Nazi stabbing a Bible.

Propaganda has been a human activity as far back as reliable recorded evidence exists. The writings of Romans like Livy are considered masterpieces of pro-Roman statist propaganda.

Propaganda techniques were first codified and applied in a scientific manner by journalist Walter Lippman and psychologist Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud) early in the 20th century. During World War I, Lippman and Bernays were hired by the United States President, Woodrow Wilson to participate in the Creel Commission, the mission of which was to sway popular opinion to enter the war on the side of Britain.

The war propaganda campaign of Lippman and Bernays produced within six months so intense an anti-German hysteria as to permanently impress American business (and Adolf Hitler, among others) with the potential of large-scale propaganda to control public opinion. Bernays coined the terms "group mind" and "engineering consent," important concepts in practical propaganda work.

The current public relations industry is a direct outgrowth of Lippman and Bernays' work and is still used extensively by the United States government. For the first half of the 20th century Bernays and Lippman themselves ran a very successful public relations firm.

World War II saw continued use of propaganda as a weapon of war, both by Hitler's propagandist Joseph Goebbels and the British Political Warfare Executive.

In the early 2000s, the United States government developed and freely distributed a video game known as America's Army. The stated intention of the game is to encourage players to become interested in joining the U.S. Army. According to a poll by I for I Research, 30% of young people who had a positive view of the military said that they had developed that view by playing the game.

Nazi Germany

Nazi poster portraying Adolf Hitler, subtly comparing him to Jesus. Text: "Long Live Germany!"

Most propaganda in Germany was produced by the Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (Propagandaministerium, or "Promi" (German abbreviation)). Joseph Goebbels was placed in charge of this ministry shortly after Hitler took power in 1933. All journalists, writers, and artists were required to register with one of the Ministry's subordinate chambers for the press, fine arts, music, theater, film, literature, or radio.

"This person suffering from hereditary defects costs the people 60,000 Reichmarks during his lifetime. People, that is your money. Read 'New People'." see T-4 Euthanasia Program


The Nazis believed in propaganda as a vital tool in achieving their goals. Adolf Hitler, Germany's Führer, was impressed by the power of Allied propaganda during World War I and believed that it had been a primary cause of the collapse of morale and revolts in the German home front and Navy in 1918 (see also: November criminals). Hitler would meet nearly every day with Goebbels to discuss the news and Goebbels would obtain Hitler's thoughts on the subject; Goebbels would then meet with senior Ministry officials and pass down the official Party line on world events. Broadcasters and journalists required prior approval before their works were disseminated. In addition Adolf Hitler and some other powerful high ranking Nazis like Reinhard Heydrich had no moral qualms about spreading propaganda which they themselves knew to be false, and indeed spreading deliberately false information was part of a doctrine known as the Big Lie.

A 1941 poster by Boris Efimov countering Nazi propaganda about the Aryan race

Nazi propaganda before the start of World War II had several distinct audiences:

  • German audiences were continually reminded of the struggle of the Nazi Party and Germany against foreign enemies and internal enemies, especially Jews.
  • Ethnic Germans in countries such as Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Soviet Union, and the Baltic states were told that blood ties to Germany were stronger than their allegiance to their new countries.
  • Potential enemies, such as France and Britain, were told that Germany had no quarrel with the people of the country, but that their governments were trying to start a war with Germany.
  • All audiences were reminded of the greatness of German cultural, scientific, and military achievements.
1940's propaganda flyer printed on back of a devalued German Inflation banknote (GermanNotes.com)

Until the Battle of Stalingrad's conclusion on February 4, 1943, German propaganda emphasized the prowess of German arms and the supposed "humanity" German soldiers had shown to the peoples of occupied territories (the existence of the Holocaust was virtually unknown at this point). In contrast, British and Allied fliers were depicted as cowardly murderers, and Americans in particular as gangsters in the style of Al Capone. At the same time, German propaganda sought to alienate Americans and British from each other, and both these Western belligerents from the Soviets.


After Stalingrad, the main theme changed to Germany as the sole defender of what they called "Western European culture" against the "Bolshevist hordes." The introduction of the V-1 and V-2 "vengeance weapons" was emphasized to convince Britons of the hopelessness of defeating Germany.

Goebbels committed suicide shortly after Hitler on April 30, 1945. In his stead, Hans Fritzsche, who had been head of the Radio Chamber, was tried and acquitted by the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal.

Cold War propaganda

Soviet propaganda. Text: "The People and the Army Are One!"
Large image of Joseph Stalin looms over Soviets.

The United States and the Soviet Union both used propaganda extensively during the Cold War. Both sides used film, television and radio programming to influence their own citizens, each other and Third World nations. The United States Information Agency operated the Voice of America as an official government station. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, in part supported by the Central Intelligence Agency, provided grey propaganda in news and entertainment programs to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union respectively. The Soviet Union's official government station, Radio Moscow, broadcast white propaganda, while Radio Peace and Freedom broadcast grey propaganda. Both sides also broadcast black propaganda programs in periods of special crises. In 1948, Britain's Foreign Office created the IRD (Information Research Department) which took over from wartime and slightly post-war departments such as the Ministry of Information and dispensed propaganda via various media such as the BBC and publishing. Records are listed here (external link) and reports here (external link). George Orwell had worked in propaganda and his anti-Stalinist book Animal Farm was promoted in translations abroad by the IRD.

The ideological and border dispute between the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China resulted in a number of cross-border operations. One technique developed during this period was the "backwards transmission," in which the radio program was recorded and played backwards over the air.

In the Americas, Cuba served as a major source and a target of propaganda from both black and white stations operated by the CIA and Cuban exile groups. Radio Habana Cuba, in turn, broadcast original programming, relayed Radio Moscow, and broadcast The Voice of Vietnam as well as alleged confessions from the crew of the USS Pueblo.

One of the most insightful authors of the Cold War was George Orwell, whose novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are virtual textbooks on the use of propaganda. Though not set in the Soviet Union, their characters live under totalitarian regimes in which language is constantly corrupted for political purposes. Those novels were used for explicit propaganda. The CIA, for example, secretly commissioned an animated film adaptation of Animal Farm in the 1950s with small changes to the original story to suit their needs.

Afghanistan

PsyOps leaflet dropped in Afghanistan. Text: "They're about to fall!" Names: Haqqani, Bin Laden, Mutawakkil
In the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, psychological operations tactics (PsyOps) were employed to demoralize the Taliban and to win the sympathies of the Afghan population. At least six EC-130E Commando Solo aircraft were used to jam local radio transmissions and transmit replacement propaganda messages.

Leaflets were also dropped throughout Afghanistan, offering rewards for Osama bin Laden and other individuals, portraying Americans as friends of Afghanistan and emphasizing various negative aspects of the Taliban. Another shows a picture of Mohammed Omar in a set of crosshairs with the words “We are watching”.

Techniques of propaganda generation

A number of techniques which are based on social psychological research are used to generate propaganda. Many of these same techniques can be found under logical fallacies since propagandists use arguments that while sometimes convincing are not necessarily valid.

Some time has been spent analyzing the means by which propaganda messages are transmitted. That work is important but it is clear that information dissemination strategies only become propaganda strategies when coupled with propagandistic messages. Identifying these messages is a necessary prerequisite to study the methods by which those messages are spread. That is why it is essential to have some knowledge of the following techniques for generating propaganda:

An Iraqi cartoon from the 2003 Iraq war depicts an oil-grabbing USA bombing a protesting world.
  • Appeal to fear: Appeals to fear seek to build support by instilling fear in the general population, for example, Joseph Goebbels exploited Theodore Kaufman's Germany Must Perish! to claim that the Allies sought the extermination of the German people.
  • Appeal to authority: Appeals to authority cite prominent figures to support a position idea, argument, or course of action.
  • Bandwagon: Bandwagon and inevitable-victory appeals attempt to persuade the target audience to take the course of action that "everyone else is taking."
    • Join the crowd: This technique reinforces people's natural desire to be on the winning side. This technique is used to convince the audience that a program is an expression of an irresistible mass movement and that it is in their best interest to join.
    • Inevitable victory: invites those not already on the bandwagon to join those already on the road to certain victory. Those already or at least partially on the bandwagon are reassured that staying aboard is their best course of action.
  • Direct order: This technique hopes to simplify the decision making process. The propagandist uses images and words to tell the audience exactly what actions to take, eliminating any other possible choices. Authority figures can be used to give the order, overlapping it with the Appeal to authority technique, but not necessarily. The Uncle Sam "I want you" image is an example of this technique.
  • Obtain disapproval: This technique is used to persuade a target audience to disapprove of an action or idea by suggesting that the idea is popular with groups hated, feared, or held in contempt by the target audience. Thus if a group which supports a certain policy is led to believe that undesirable, subversive, or contemptible people support the same policy, then the members of the group may decide to change their original position.
  • Glittering generalities: Glittering generalities are intense, emotionally appealing words so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that they carry conviction without supporting information or reason. They appeal to such emotions as love of country, home; desire for peace, freedom, glory, honor, etc. They ask for approval without examination of the reason. Though the words and phrases are vague and suggest different things to different people their connotation is always favorable: "The concepts and programs of the propagandist are always good, desirable, virtuous."
Saddam Hussein pictured as a decisive war leader in an Iraqi propaganda picture.
  • Rationalization: Individuals or groups may use favorable generalities to rationalize questionable acts or beliefs. Vague and pleasant phrases are often used to justify such actions or beliefs.
  • Intentional vagueness: Generalities are deliberately vague so that the audience may supply its own interpretations. The intention is to move the audience by use of undefined phrases, without analyzing their validity or attempting to determine their reasonableness or application.
  • Transfer: Also known as association, this is a technique of projecting positive or negative qualities (praise or blame) of a person, entity, object, or value (an individual, group, organization, nation, patriotism, etc.) to another in order to make the second more acceptable or to discredit it. This technique is generally used to transfer blame from one member of a conflict to another. It evokes an emotional response, which stimulates the target to identify with recognized authorities.
  • Oversimplification: Favorable generalities are used to provide simple answers to complex social, political, economic, or military problems.
An ADL poster uses the image of a young Chinese boy to argue that anti-Semitism hurts not only Jews.
  • Common man: The "plain folks" or "common man" approach attempts to convince the audience that the propagandist's positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and style of the target audience. Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms (and clothe their message in face-to-face and audiovisual communications) in attempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person.
  • Testimonial: Testimonials are quotations, in or out of context, especially cited to support or reject a given policy, action, program, or personality. The reputation or the role (expert, respected public figure, etc.) of the individual giving the statement is exploited. The testimonial places the official sanction of a respected person or authority on a propaganda message. This is done in an effort to cause the target audience to identify itself with the authority or to accept the authority's opinions and beliefs as its own. See also, damaging quotation
Soldier loads a "leaflet bomb" during the Korean war.
  • Stereotyping or Labeling: This technique attempts to arouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates, loathes, or finds undesirable. For instance, reporting on a foreign country or social group may focus on the stereotypical traits that the reader expects, even though they are far from being representative of the whole country or group; such reporting often focuses on the anecdotal.
  • Scapegoating: Assigning blame to an individual or group that isn't really responsible, thus alleviating feelings of guilt from responsible parties and/or distracting attention from the need to fix the problem for which blame is being assigned.
  • Virtue words: These are words in the value system of the target audience which tend to produce a positive image when attached to a person or issue. Peace, happiness, security, wise leadership, freedom, etc. are virtue words.
  • Slogans: A slogan is a brief, striking phrase that may include labeling and stereotyping. If good ideas can be made into slogans, they should be, as good slogans are self-perpetuating.
  • Unstated assumption: This technique is used when the propaganda concept you want to transmit would seem less credible if explicitly stated. It is instead repeatedly assumed or implied. Market populism was mostly spread this way — few came out and said the market should replace democracy, but many talked about how much more responsive and efficient the market was, how it was overthrowing the old order, etc.

See also: doublespeak, meme, cult of personality, spin, demonization

Techniques of propaganda transmission

US Marines 350th PSYOPS Company passes out leaflets and broadcasts messages in Al Kut, Iraq on May 2 2003.

Common methods for transmitting propaganda messages include news reports, government reports, historical revision, junk science, books, leaflets, movies, radio, television, and posters. In the case of radio and television, propaganda can exist on news, current-affairs or talk-show segments, as advertising or public-service announce "spots" or as long-running advertorials. The magazine Tricontinental, issued by the Cuban OSPAAAL organization, folds propaganda posters and places one in each copy, allowing a very broad distribution of pro-Fidel Castro propaganda.

See also

Main article: List of topics related to public relations and propaganda

References

Wikiquote quotations related to:
Propaganda
  • Appendix I: PSYOP Techniques (Aug. 31, 1979). Psychological Operations Field Manual No.33–1. Washington, D.C.: Headquarters; Department of the Army. (partial contents here)
  • Edwards, John Carver. Berlin Calling: American Broadcasters in Service to the Third Reich. New York, Prager Publishers, 1991. ISBN 0–275–93705–7.
  • Howe, Ellic. The Black Game: British Subversive Operations Against the German During the Second World War. London: Futura, 1982.
  • Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World Revisited, New York: Harper, 1958
  • Ellul, Jacques, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes. Trans. Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner. New York: Knopf, 1965. New York: Random House/ Vintage 1973
  • Linebarger, Paul M. A. (aka Cordwainer Smith). Psychological Warfare. Washington, D.C., Infantry Journal Press, 1948.
  • Rouse, Ed. The PsyWarrior. Retrieved from http://www.psywarrior.com.
  • Young, Emma (Oct. 10, 2001) Psychological warfare waged in Afghanistan. New Scientist.
  • Shirer, William L. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934–1941. New York: Albert A. Knopf, 1942.
  • SourceWatch, the encyclopedia of propaganda. Available at http://www.sourcewatch.org.

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