Propaganda, simply put, is the manipulation of opinion.
Propaganda, simply put, is the manipulation of opinion. This, however, is the only thing simple about it. In its nuances and implications, propaganda’s basic appearance belies its utter complexity. To begin with, the propagandist aims to communicate messages at the level of the emotions rather than thought. The more emotional the message is, the more successful the propaganda will be in persuading its audience. It is important to avoid logical thought; members of the target audience must become so enchanted with the message that they are seduced into a state of willing disbelief. Confusion and deception, rather than discussion and debate, rule the day for this subterfuge. Through the telling of partial truths and the omission of others, the propagandist attempts to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and directly control the behavior of the intended audience.
While propaganda can be utilized by governments or groups to push forward social agendas or movements, it holds its most powerful potential in warfare. In warfare, propaganda often conveys a message concerning a real or imagined threat. Here propaganda is aimed at two targets: the nation’s own citizens and the enemy.
A World War II propaganda poster reminds Americans never to reveal sensitive information to anyone, because “loose lips sink ships.”
Propaganda has taken as many different forms as there are societies in which it has been used. In its broadest sense, propaganda is information intended to persuade or orient its audience toward a certain way of thinking. Some examples are personal, such as the tattoo-covered Caddo warrior, whose body attests to every victory, accomplishment, or god worshiped. Some are thunderous, such as Hannibal’s titanic war elephants advancing across the Italian plain. Some are deafening, such as the “rebel yells” of Confederate soldiers proclaiming that a charge was about to ensue. Some are subtle, such as the poster of a coquettish woman announcing that if she were a man she would join the U.S. Navy. Some are persistent, such as North Korean radio, announcing good morning from the Great Leader as the Sun peeks over the horizon. Some are selective, such as the media’s decision to show jetliners colliding into the World Trade Center but not to show civilians leaping from windows and plummeting to their deaths. All of these examples of propaganda, while seemingly disparate, have a common purpose: They serve to rally a group of people around an image or to manipulate the morale of an common enemy. All are forms of propaganda.
Both the people of Imperial
In the ancient world, the success of a society depended on many things, but predominantly on the size of the population. One of the ways this was promoted was to persuade the people that they were somehow set apart. Historically, building the notion of the “greatness” or “moral superiority” of the group has been accomplished in many ways–from early tribal organizations that taught that the gods held their people in special favor to later civilizations in which the leaders themselves claimed some form of divine right. To doubt the group’s moral superiority, therefore, was to doubt the gods, tantamount to a form a sacrilege. As civilizations advanced, architecture was used as a physical symbol to illustrate the greatness of the state.
Methods of communication enhanced the ability of civilizations to broadcast their superiority, especially the development of written forms. At first these symbols were limited to pictographs that recounted the greatness of the society. Early examples can be found in the prehistoric
The collapse of the Western Roman Empire marked the entry of Europe into the medieval age. With the breakdown of large-scale infrastructure in the West, a void was created that was filled by the increasing power of the Roman Catholic Church, the development of the feudal system, and the growth of aristocracy and monarchy. Each of these elements of society used some form of propaganda to justify its position of authority.
During the late tenth through twelfth centuries When they [the infidels] wish to torture people by base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to the stake. . . . On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and of recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you? You, upon whom above other nations God has conferred remarkable glory in arms, great courage, bodily activity, and strength to humble the hairy scalp of those who resist you. . . .
When they [the infidels] wish to torture people by base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to the stake. . . . On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and of recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you? You, upon whom above other nations God has conferred remarkable glory in arms, great courage, bodily activity, and strength to humble the hairy scalp of those who resist you. . . .
What prompted this appeal was not only a call from Byzantine emperor
Perhaps the most important tool of propaganda developed near
During the modern age, propaganda has become more vivid and widely used, as an ongoing revolution in communications media has allowed for the easier distribution of inflammatory imagery and messages. Should the government need its population to take action against a real or perceived threat, the focus of propaganda becomes the unquestioned supremacy of the group. Propaganda has continued to be used to dehumanize and incite hatred toward the enemy–an enemy that can be either external or internal (that is, anyone who stands against the ideal the propagandist supports). To this end, the propagandist manipulates the use of symbols. The enemy is reduced to a malicious, dehumanized
Some groups used these tactics simply to put forth their agendas. The
Combining language with imagery and symbols has allowed propagandists to increase their effectiveness. As a greater percentage of the population became literate, the power of words was used to advance propagandists’ positions. For propagandists, the message was best kept simple and short. Like visual forms of propaganda, the words had to be clear, concise, and repeated–hammering home the same emotional message. With the advance of technology, the modern propagandist had a wide assortment of rhetorical tools on which to draw to persuade the people, from transparent appeals to fear, prejudice, or groundless personal attacks to subtler messages that associate positive imagery with behaviors the propagandist wishes to promote or negative imagery with groups the propagandist wishes to demonize.
An excellent example of how a small minority used the power of language, stereotype, frustration, and fear to further its message can be seen in the reporting of the 1770
Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre of 1770.
Through the utilization of words and imagery, newspaper magnate
World Wars I and II offer some of the most famous instances of propaganda, on both sides.
The New York World two days after the USS Maine exploded in Havana harbor.
Propaganda became global during the
In the so-called
Aldrich, Richard J. The Hidden Hand: Britain, America, and Cold War Secret Intelligence. New York: Overlook Press, 2002. Details the covert activities by British and American intelligence units beginning in World War II and continuing as the enemy changed from Germany to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Edwards, Mark U. Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Addresses the question of to what extent the Reformation was a “print event” by examining Protestant and Catholic pamphlets c. 1518-1530, made possible by the proliferation of Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press. Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979. Examines the advent of printing and its impact as a force for social change, especially during the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the rise of modern science. Fleming, Thomas. Liberty! The American Revolution. New York: Penguin Putnam, 1997. Presents the story of the coming of the American Revolution from the personal perspectives of both loyalists and patriots, including propagandists such as Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. Konstam, Angus. San Juan 1898. New York: Osprey, 1998. Examines the Spanish-American War, including the use of propaganda in promoting both the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine and the Rough Riders’ charge up San Juan Hill. Krivitsky, Walter G. In Stalin’s Secret Service: Memoirs of the First Soviet Master Spy to Defect. New York: Enigma Books, 2000. The autobiography of the first top Soviet intelligence officer to defect to the West, whose life came to an end at the hands of a Soviet assassination squad. Leighton, Marian. Soviet Propaganda as a Foreign Policy Tool. London: Freedom House, 1991. An analysis of the development of Soviet propaganda and its expression on the world stage. Maier, Pauline. From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776. New York: W. W. Norton, 1991. A detailed account of the rise of the ideology that led to the American Revolution, including the activities of the Sons of Liberty and Committees of Correspondence, which used propaganda as tools to increase the feeling for revolution. O’Neill, William L. A Democracy at War: America’s Fight At Home and Abroad in World War II. New York: Free Press, 1993. Analyzes American involvement in World War II through the lens of the war fought to transform the American people from isolationism to a war mentality. Snyder, Alvin A. Warriors of Disinformation: American Propaganda, Soviet Lies, and the Winning of the Cold War–An Insider’s Account. New York: Arcade, 1995. Written by the former director of the United States Information Agency’s Television and Film Service, this account details the American propaganda campaigns against Soviet Communism during the 1980’s. Zacour, N. P., and H. W. Hazard, eds. The Impact of the Crusades on Europe. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989. Includes a chapter, “Crusade Propaganda,” that examines the use of propaganda and its reception during the Crusades.
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