June 19, 2024


"Knowledge is Power"

Propaganda: Then and Now

Propaganda today follows much the same roadmap once used by both the Axis and Allied forces during WWII. Reasons ranging from; gaining support for their own agenda, to undermining the confidence of the enemy were extolled. War propaganda was present almost everywhere. It could be seen in film, heard on the radio as well as print as shown on posters and in magazines, even advertising was getting in on the war propaganda. It was influential in many areas and crucial to the promotion of an ideology. Exploring not only examples of the usage of war propaganda, but also those who spread it and its effects will give an understanding of its importance during World War II and beyond. What is important to note is how propaganda was involved with perpetuating varied sentiments during the war. It was used to further political agendas and also applied to the economics of the time. Although each used their own tactics and for their own agenda the effects can be shown that in many ways, it was an effective addition to the war, but in some cases, also proved to be quite ineffective. Propaganda was a whole different war front during World War II; it was used to perpetuate each, their own ideology, further political agendas, and to encourage consumerism, enlistment, and labor.

To understand how it was used and why propaganda was so pervasive during WWII, one must first understand what it is. Propaganda as defined by Webster’s and as applied here:

“2. The spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person 3: ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause; also: a public action having such an effect”

Another definition of propaganda can be found in an unlikely place. Propaganda as defined by Adolph Hitler, in his book Mein Kampf.

“The function of propaganda is, for example, not to weigh and ponder the rights of different people, but exclusively to emphasize the one right which it has set out to argue for. Its task is not to make an objective study of the truth, in so far as it favors the enemy, and then set it before the masses with academic fairness; its task is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly.”

The very definition of propaganda explains that it is not always factual or fair; its sole purpose is to sway thoughts and ideas to benefit one’s own agenda. Media was widely used for this purpose often times overwhelming the masses. The avenues of use during World War II were mostly print, radio and in the form of newsreels that would be shown in the theaters. Some of the propaganda masters of the time were allied with the Axis countries and as such a great deal of information is available to evaluate how it was used and also its effectiveness.

An article in Life Magazine outlines why the Allies believed they were less effective at what was called “Political Warfare.” It is also noted in the article that, “The best propaganda is based on truth, but it must be forceful, inventive and consistent.” This was not always true of American propaganda, however, an example of the misuse of propaganda by the United States can be found in the posters and writings referring to the Japanese as rats, monkeys, and demons. What was the purpose of dehumanizing the enemy; other than to encourage feelings of hate or fear. Simply put, this style of propaganda was also an example of ways each would use these derogatory images. “Both countries realized the importance of eliciting an ethnic hatred for the enemy as well as creating a subhuman image of them. It is much easier to kill a big hairy white mongrel or vine-swinging, gun-wielding monkey than it is to kill another human being. The enemy was not human.”

Examples of this can be found throughout most of the derogatory forms of propaganda and in at least one case, that of the infamous Julius Streicher. He was an extreme propagandist who was found to be responsible for dehumanizing the Jews in his newspaper, “Der Stürmer.” His propaganda was so extreme and the anti-semitic nature of it was intended to vilify and dehumanize an entire race. But more than that it was an effective campaign in so far as it created in others the same feelings of hatred against the Jews. The effects of which were, at the end of the war assessed. He was tried during the Nuremberg trials and executed in 1946 for crimes against humanity. This and other examples highlight the ability propaganda has to influence others and the destructive means by which it is sometimes used. Many who have agendas to pursue use these very same tactics today right here in the good ole U.S. of A. We see political or ideological groups vilifying opponents, watch videos where people are screaming from rooftops that their cause is right and just yet cannot or will not address others who question them. This… This is propaganda at its finest. Touting a cause or stance that might have some truth, however unable to stand up to scrutiny, simply condemning others and attacking unrelated issues to discredit the opposition.

The article in Life Magazine is a shining example of doctrine indicating that the utilization of propaganda was another front on which the war was being fought. A war was being fought in the hearts and minds of each country’s citizens. This kind of warfare is also known as psychological warfare. This part of the war campaign is so important that there are whole branches dedicated to its use and implementation. But, what exactly is psychological warfare one might ask? Quite literally, it is systematically influencing the morale and sentiment of the enemy.

The Nazi’s called their propagandist department, the Ministry of Propaganda; while the United States called theirs the Office of War Information. Being apparent that there was indeed a section of the military dedicated to this, its own front, the front that psychologically affects the outcomes of war. This should tell us something about how this kind of warfare is fought. Even today there is an outline of U.S. military doctrine, as to the use and implementation of propaganda, also known as PSYOPS. In this manual, it is outlined what exactly PSYOPS is; it is to convey selected information to target audiences to affect their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately behavior to support objectives. This is done primarily without our knowledge. I am reminded of the movie starring Rowdy Roddy Piper in the movie They Live, where the people are being subliminally brainwashed into submission. The propaganda is so pervasive that it emanates even from beneath pictures as messages only the subconscious can discern. The lack of ability to fight this kind of war is what is difficult for most to understand.

In WWII these propagandists became masters of their own theaters of war. One of the most notable being Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister was a master of propaganda. Goebbels is well known for his propaganda campaigns, and in fact, it is the thing that he is best known for throughout the war; he was instrumental in the way the Nazi propaganda was carefully utilized to promote their ideology. He, alongside another master of the art Adolph Hitler; waged psychological warfare long before the war began. In his book Mein Kampf, it can be found in chapter 4, Hitler explains how he learned the importance of propaganda in the field of war. He tells us that during WWI the Allies were masters of the art, while his own country only made meager attempts at its use. Speaking of England he writes, “There, propaganda was regarded as a weapon of the first order, while in our country it was the last resort of unemployed politicians and a comfortable haven for slackers.” Realizing the importance of the art during the time of war, he made it a priority for the Reich to utilize the effects of psychological warfare to the fullest extent. This time around the Allied psychological war front was found lacking, and as such the Nazi propaganda machine became infamous.

Throughout the war and across the lines of war the ideological agendas were as differing as they were similar. It was hard to tell where an Axis country left off and an Allied began in the field of psychological warfare, each equally malevolent in their attacks on their enemy. The Nazi hatred of the Jew begins with propaganda against them, and morphs into a full scale genocide. The American hatred of the “Jap” also ends up equating to an imprisonment and view of each as subhuman and inferior. This view is perpetuated by the propagandists; and as each is vilified, the propaganda grows even more extreme and plays upon the emotions of its citizens to reinforce these views. There are a number of examples of this ideology. In one example, an essay by Joseph Goebbels, in a newspaper called Der Angriff, and titled The Jew, where he weaves a tale of anger and resentment; telling readers that if they say something derogatory about a Jew that the Jew will twist it and send it back in an attack. Magazine and newspaper articles were one of the ways propaganda was spread, but another little known fact is that while the propaganda was wildly spinning, another nefarious concept was involved in ensuring its success. That was the concept of censorship. Government control of the news ensured how it was handled and in the United States the Office of War Information would issue communications with respect to what could be reported. Like one issued June 28,1943 indicating the ‘codes of wartime practices for the American Press and American Broadcasters’ not publish any information about new or experimental weapons. The media was restricted and instructed as to what the masses would be fed for news. Can anyone see this very tactic being used today in our own media outlets, often times bought and paid for by some kind of political affilitation?

This kind of propaganda that vilifies or dehumanizes the enemy is the form of propaganda is known as, name calling.It is effective when promoting one’s own ideology over another. Goebbels goal in his article was to create animosity toward the Jew, reinforcing the ideology of the Nazi Party.While the article was written long before the atrocities of the death camps, it is one of the ways the Party was able to convince the German people that this was acceptable and even the right thing to do.The U.S. created similar stigma in the propaganda of the time by painting the “Jap” as rats or monkeys, murderers and thieves ; this paved the way for executive order 9066,ordering the internment of all those of Japanese descent, citizen or not, within the United States. Again, a tactic known as name calling to reinforce the ideology of one against another, painting a picture in the minds of the masses that is repulsive or insights fear to further one’s own objectives.Again in the United States another less obvious form of name calling was also being carried out against African Americans within our own military, stating they were less capable and took longer to train.They were therefore, kept in low positions and not recognized for their contributions to the war

Adolph Hitler is probably the best known political propagandist for his use of propaganda to further his political aspirations.In his book Mein Kampf, he outlines this and it is doubtful even he realized the far reaching effects of what he had produced.The utter brainwashing of a country was quite a feat indeed. Some of his doctrine is still in use today. Others hoped to further their political positions with the utilization of propaganda.One notable personality was William Joyce, also known as, Lord Haw Haw. His aspirations were ones of not only joining the Nazi party but hoping, that through his use of propaganda, he would gain favor with Hitler himself.He never met Hitler or even Goebbels for that matter, but for his anti-sematic propaganda he was hailed as a “Jewel” and “Best horse in the stable” by Goebbels.He could be heard across the airwaves with his familiar opening “Germany calling, Germany calling.” He would broadcast disinformation and threats regularly to strike fear and uncertainty in the hearts of the British. Eventually, captured and executed by the British, he was able to incite widespread fear across the British countryside.

One of the ways we could see propagandas usage was also in the encouragement of consumerism, enlistments or labor. These posters were used to link and reinforce the connection between the factory and front lines, it pointed out that the soldier depended on the factories. Another large campaign was that of the Government to encourage citizens to buy war bonds. The war was very expensive and to help offset the expense the government turned to its citizens. The plea to purchase war bonds came from posters, celebrities, cartoons and other areas; Americans were inundated with this pervasive form of propaganda also known as the bandwagon tactic. Everyone hopped on this bandwagon, from individuals to clubs and societies and even schools would encourage children to buy war stamps by bringing in spare change. Propaganda seemed to permeate every aspect of American society. Disney cartoons and DC comics got in on the act with war cartoons. People were infused with war propaganda at every turn. Looking at Life Magazines of the era it is interesting to note how the advertisements also carried the same propaganda messages. Just looking thorough the ads we find, ones by Mobile Gas, yet another by Stetson saying, “loose talk can cost lives. Keep it under your Stetson.” This not only an ad for a hat but also the propaganda message not to disclose information any place. GM promotes war bonds with car sales. American Meat Institution offers a war time recipe book to cook the other cuts of meat (since the good cuts are sent to the battle fields).

According to Hitler propaganda had to be simple, concentrating on only a few points and be repeated often, emphasizing emotional responses of love or hate. Looking at the wide-ranging use of propaganda, it was for the encouragement of an idea, use in “name-calling” of opposition, or used in changing a view of something. Personalities during WWII and their use of propaganda have shown us how the use of propaganda can have an effect on the way a war is fought. Ways in which the dehumanization of the enemy, and the persuasion of and ideology affected those subjected to it; in focusing on the Nazi propaganda, examples are numerous. As in the examples from the Nazi Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. “The Ministry’s aim was to ensure that the Nazi message was successfully communicated through art, music, theater, films, books, radio, educational materials, and the press.” Today we fight a similar war. In every election, we see the vilification of the opponent or the opposite party. In protests, each side polarizes around some kind of propaganda that sometimes one would question if they even researched this topic or if they simply jumped on the next “cool” bandwagon.

Like that propaganda machine, the tactics of politicians of late have bordered on these same principles and as such become questionable tactics for anyone leading our country. It has become the “go-to” tactic for all manner of groups from Antifa to BLM to various groups for whatever chosen sexuality, choices, movements, and even religious extremist viewpoints along with so many more. So you might think that this list is limited to many of the liberal groups and poo it as some kind of right-wing propaganda itself, however, it is not. Others I might add to this are the fear mongers who set themselves up as truth-sayers who are simply seeking a platform to spew yet another form of hate think about the KKK for example and the biggest purveyor of all propaganda? “Mainstream media.”

ALL of these groups pretend to care for the rights of others while trampling the constitution beneath their propaganda machines. If for some reason a prior accepted doctrine, be in Biblical, Constitutional, or otherwise must be changed to fit the propaganda, you can probably assume it is not correct thinking.

DJ Cooper
DJ Cooper

Prominent post-apocalypse author of the Dystopia Series of books and other works.

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Goebbels, Joseph. “The Jew.” Der Angriff.

Hitler, Adolph. “Mein Kampf: War Propaganda.” Hitler Historical Museum.

“Julius Streicher.” Nuremberg Trial Judgements: Julius Streicher.

Miles, Hannah. “WWII Propaganda: The Influence of Racism.” Artifacts Journal – University of Missouri. March 2012.

“Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“The Psychology of Warfare.” Psychological Warfare.cs.stanford.edu

United States. Department of the Army. Field Manual (FM) 3-05.301: Psychological Operations Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. 2003.

United States. Office of Censorship. By Byron Price. June 28, 1943.

“U.S. Losing the war on words.” Life Magazine 14, no.12. March 22, 1943. 11-15.

Welch, David. “Propaganda, Power and Persuasion: From World War I to Wikileaks.” London: I.B.Tauris, 2014.