In Brief—Propaganda is information, or most often “misinformation,” designed by nations or groups to influence people into believing what the proponent wants them to believe. America is just one of many countries using propaganda to influence its citizens. Smaller groups use such information to further an agenda not apparent to the target.
Propaganda is defined as “information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or to harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc…” (The Random House Dictionary of the English Language). It can be thought of as ideological warfare.
I was planning a piece on the importance of maintaining a healthy degree of skepticism regarding what one reads in the press, but the situation in Crimea has altered my plans. The press, both the mainstream and the online press, is dominated these days by the situation in Crimea. I will get to my intended piece on the importance of skepticism soon. However, I must add that skepticism is also critical in the case of propaganda.
Some readers may get upset when I maintain that America as well as other nations and assorted groups use propaganda to influence attitudes. As a student of history, I point to how our nation and others have used propaganda to get the people to fall into line with the government’s message.
When you see propaganda, most thinking individuals immediately recognize it for what it is, but it usually is subtle enough that it flies below the radar of the average person. As a matter of fact, the advertising industry uses the milder form of it regularly to get customers to buy a product. Given that fact, we can readily recognize that there is a sliding scale of acceptability from advertising a product to the use of propaganda by nations to influence the people into blindly supporting their message. Some examples will illustrate the uses of propaganda that have led or are leading humanity dangerously astray.
Examples of Propaganda—
The most obvious example is Nazi Germany’s use of propaganda to demonize the Jews and others they felt were detrimental to the interests of the regime. The enemies of the Nazis became the ”other” that was responsible for the economic pain Germany felt after World War I. It was a way for Hitler and his supporters to use existing anti-Semitism and widespread suffering to redirect the anger created by the allies’ punitive policies after the war.
In America following Pearl Harbor, the government imprisoned hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese-Americans and German-Americans, labeling them a threat to national security. The general public, thoroughly propagandized and fearful, supported their incarceration.
In the 1950’s, J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph McCarthy used propaganda to stigmatize radicals, communists and liberals in the arts, unions, academia and even the military and parts of government. They were driven by both political fervor and an irrational fear that Russia’s revolutionary excesses thousands of miles away would bring down the American government. Not only were innocent people unjustly pilloried and denied employment, but some were driven to commit suicide by the relentless stigmatization.
In the Vietnam War era, as during World War II, the government used propaganda to fill the ranks of the military and bolster a sense of fear and anti-communist hysteria. Through dehumanizing the ”enemy,” they led the people to see the Asians as ”gooks” and ”slopes.” Sincere conscientious objectors were imprisoned as were others whose conscience led them to refuse to take part in the slaughter. Opponents of the war were called ”enemies,” were spied upon, persecuted and even killed (Kent State). Eventually, the war was ended but not before causing millions of deaths that continue even today.
What about the Iraq War begun by the Bush administration in 2003? Was propaganda used to sell it and prosecute it? What is the evidence? What were the fables of false heroism of Jessica Lynch (Iraq) and Pat Tillman (Afghanistan) about? What about the prosecution of whistleblowers who sought to alert the American people to what was being done in their name? Are Americans being propagandized on that front as well?
Now, let’s shift to domestic political propaganda used to unjustly stigmatize people of color, gays, Muslims, environmentalists, women and others. The targets are people who want to work, vote, love whom they will, protect the planet and make decisions about their own bodies.
One major political party in America has, with a notable lack of credible evidence, propagandized a portion of the American populace into believing a variety of falsehoods. Some common myths are that the ”other” is too lazy to work, that all Muslims want to destroy America, that folks from south of the border are going to steal American jobs, that voter fraud is rampant in the land, that gay marriage will destroy the institution of marriage, that climate change is a myth and that a grown woman is unfit to make decisions about her own body and health care choices. They have tried to make us believe that their particular brand of religious belief is the only worthy belief and that disbelief in religion is abhorrent. How are they doing this? Propaganda. To the true believer, propaganda is truth.
Go back to the first paragraph and reread the definition of propaganda. Pick up any dictionary and read the definition. If it seems partisan that propaganda is used in America, you’re not paying attention. An open mind will lead a rational person to conclude that propaganda is alive and well in America. Remember, please, that we’re talking about America here. That other nations have much the same approach does not detract from what’s going on in America.
My next piece will be how the print press misleads readers. And lest you think that television and radio get a pass, they are doing at least their fair share of misleading the public. What’s more, the media are busily spreading propaganda. Be skeptical. Be very skeptical.