Propaganda literature review

Stanley Zell’s (1985) expansive bibliography of open literature on deception.  His comments mostly illuminating.

It is divided into twelve sections:

(1) arms control and deception

(2) behavior of targets of deception

(3) bibliographies on deception

(4) China: military and political deception

(5) countering deception

(6) general deception studies

(7) historical studies

(8) human deception

(9) interspecies deception

(10) surprise attack and deception

(11) Soviet military deception

(12) Soviet political deception.

Silverstein, Brett (1987) ‘Toward a Science of Propaganda,’ Political Psychology, p. 49, Vol. 8, No. 1, March, International Society of Political Psychology.

… much propaganda research is being done but because it is dispersed among many disciplines it lacks a basic body of literature, a shared set of techniques, rules for evaluating its quality, and a channel of communication between scholars doing such research.

Every modern social system uses what Ellul calls the “propaganda of integration” to promote acceptance and support among its citizens for that system. Ellul (1973) claims that contrary to popular belief, as a result of their increased exposure to propaganda, highly educated, well-informed citizens of modern societies are more, not less, open to propaganda than are people who receive less information.

Ellul, J. (1973) ‘Propaganda,’ Vintage, New York.

Schlesinger and Kinzer (1982) were able to use archival methods to uncover the propaganda campaign organized by the CIA and the United Fruit Company in order to mislead the American public about the U.S. role in the coup that overthrew Jacobo Arbenz, the president of Guatemala, in 1954.

One of the techniques that has been used to foment antagonism toward nations that have been in conflict with the US are ‘hypothetical attacks,’ i.e. description in great detail of what attacks by the Soviets on the UK would be like if they ever occurred.  We find this used a number of times.

The linguistic semantic analyses used to study the misuse of language that occurs in much propaganda (Herman, E. S. (1984) ‘The New York Times on the 1984 Salvadoran and Nicaraguan elections,’ Covert Action, p. 10-11, No. 21.) finds that one of the basic forms taken by propaganda is the biased selection of the information that is presented.[1]

Edward Herman (1982) compared the number of times between January, 1976, and July, 1981, that Soviet dissidents were mentioned in the New York Times (e.g., Anatoly Scharansky-138, Andrei Sakharov-223) with the number of mentions made of dissidents who are fighting against nations that are allied with the US (e.g., Archbishop Camara of Brazil-4, Heri Akhmadi of Indonesia-0.) Herman, E. S. (1982) ‘The Real Terror Network,’ p. 139-199, South End, Boston.

Garber, William (1942) ‘Propaganda Analysis —To What Ends?’ p. 240, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 48, No. 2, September, The University of Chicago Press, had previously outlined the difficulties involved stating that propaganda analysis could not fruitfully proceed through a piecemeal dissection of particular examples of propaganda, followed by the application of static classification devices — the problem of truth or falsity was excluded.  For Garber the dynamic characteristics of the ‘field’ in which propaganda played its role were fundamental in determining the meaning of the specific techniques employed.  This was written as the Institute for Propaganda Analysis and other institutions were closed down for World War II.

Martin, L. John (1971) ‘Effectiveness of International Propaganda,’ p. 61-70, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 398, ‘Propaganda in International Affairs,’ November, Sage Publications, found propagandists were still ‘shooting in the dark’ in terms of being able to predict the outcome of the activities; despite ‘propaganda’ being extended to mean persuasive communication (‘facilitative communication’) inclusive of advertising, education and political campaigning.  Martin worked for USIA.

Allen, George V. (1961) ‘Are the Soviets Winning the Propaganda War?’ p. 1-11, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 336, ‘Is International Communism Winning?,’ July. Allen was director of USIA (and Executive Director of the Tobacco Institute).

Cantril, Hadley (1938) ‘Propaganda Analysis,’ p. 217-221, The English Journal, Vol. 27, No. 3, March.  “So far, in the twentieth century, propagandists have sold us everything from toothpaste to war.”

“The first of these propaganda principles is to connect the idea or object you are propagandizing with some attitude, symbol, or emotion that people already know and feel strongly about. The propagandist must, then, know people. Herr Goebbels has one rule of propaganda, which is to see with the eyes of the masses.”

“The second principle is to build up a new attitude around your product or idea by using subtle, concealed suggestion”

“Another method for building up the public attitudes regarding someone’s pet idea is to disguise propaganda as explanation”

“First, the great majority of the words in our language, or any other language, are freighted with emotion. Most of the time we do not react to the dictionary meaning of the word, but to a whole complex of feeling that surrounds that word. Take, for example, the word “strawberry.” We know what a strawberry is, but we always think it is a “good” thing.” A second reason why the propagandist is so successful is because most of us are unsure of ourselves. A third reason for his success is that most of us are anxious to preserve our own position in life, to maintain our status, or to enhance our status, and we have, therefore, a tendency to accept that type of propaganda that makes us feel superior to other individuals or makes us feel that our own status is better than the other fellow’s.

First, to understand the technique of the propagandist and the aims and goals he has in mind. Second, to understand our own biases, the forces in the environment that have given us our particular status and our particular opinions and that have tended to make us reject other opinions which do not serve our own selfish interests. This means, essentially, that education is propaganda’s most deadly enemy and is the reason why the propagandists themselves are frightened when they see people being educated in the methods that the propagandists use, for education is critical, not one-sided.

Nichols, John Spicer (1984) ‘Wasting the Propaganda Dollar,’ p. 129-140, Foreign Policy, No. 56, Autumn. New U.S. Information Agency (USIA) Director Charles Wick began early in 1981 to formulate plans to give his agency “the velocity of a projectile” in countering Soviet propaganda.  Preaching to converted?

Doob, Leonard W. (1950) ‘Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda,’ p. 419-442, The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 3, Autumn, Oxford University Press. Policy Policy Coordinator of the Overseas Branch of the Office of War Information during World War II, is Professor of Psychology at Yale University. Goebbels’ original document is with the Hoover Institute. Lochner, Louis (Ed., trans.) (1948) ‘The Goebbels Diaries,’ Doubleday & Company.

1. Propagandists must have access to intelligence concerning events and public opinion.

2. Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority:

  • a. It must issue all the propaganda directives.
  • b. It must explain propaganda directives to important officials and maintain their morale.
  • c. It must oversee other agencies’ activities which have propaganda consequences.

3. The propaganda consequences of an action must be considered in planning that action.

4. Propaganda must affect the enemy’s policy and action:

  • a. By suppressing propagandistically desirable material which can provide the enemy with useful intelligence.
  • b. By openly disseminating propaganda whose content or tone causes the enemy to draw the desired conclusions.
  • c. By goading the enemy into revealing vital information about himself.
  • d. By making no reference to a desired enemy activity when any reference  would discredit that activity.

5. Declassified, operational information must be available to implement a propaganda campaign.

6. To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium.

7. Credibility alone must determine whether propaganda output should be true or false.

8. The purpose, content, and effectiveness of enemy propaganda; the strength and effects of an expose; and the nature of current propaganda campaigns determine whether enemy propaganda should be ignored or refuted.

9. Credibility, intelligence, and the possible effects of communicating determine whether propaganda materials should be censored.

10. Material from enemy propaganda may be utilized in operations when it helps diminish that enemy’s prestige or lends support to the propagandist’s own objective.

11. Black rather than white propaganda must be employed when the latter is less credible or produces undesirable effects.

12. Propaganda may be facilitated by leaders with prestige.

13. Propaganda must be carefully timed:

  • a. The communication must reach the audience ahead of competing propaganda.
  • b. A propaganda campaign must begin at the optimum moment.
  • c. A propaganda theme must be repeated, but not beyond some point of diminishing effectiveness.

14. Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans:

  • a. They must evoke desired responses which the audience previously possesses.
  • b. They must be capable of being easily learned.
  • c. They must be utilized again and again, but only in appropriate situations.
  • d. They must be boomerang-proof.

15. Propaganda to the home front must prevent the raising of false hopes which can be blasted by future events.

16. Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level:

  • a. Propaganda must reinforce anxiety concerning the consequences of defeat.
  • b. Propaganda must diminish anxiety (other than that concerning the consequences of defeat) which is too high and which cannot be reduced by people themselves.

17. Propaganda to the home front must diminish the impact of frustration:

  • a. Inevitable frustrations must be anticipated.
  • b. Inevitable frustrations must be placed in perspective.

18. Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.

19. Propaganda cannot immediately affect strong counter-tendencies; instead it must offer some form of action or diversion, or both.


[1] Lasswell Harold D. & Blumenstock, Dorothy (1939) ‘World Revolutionary Propaganda,’ p. 109-111, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, distinguished four key forms (‘method symbols’) indicative of propaganda: Form I. Imperative form of the verb, with the object of address either stated or understood (most commonly the latter). Form 2. Fuller imperative form of the verb in which the object of address is always stated.  Form 3. Subjunctive of wish.  Form 4. Action phrase: an elliptical phrase with active meaning.  The problem of truth or falsity is however excluded from Lasswell’s analysis.

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