Sunday, February 14, 2010


5:26 PM Posted by Patrick , 4 comments
Propaganda is, by necessity, a lie. A distortion of the truth to shape beliefs and change actions. This CPI piece is an example.

A nameless menace rises out of a desolate waste of poison and dust. The rising spike of his Pickelhaube is the mark which names the menace. His hands are stained with blood. A terrified woman shields her babe with her own body. A grim picture.

How about the truth of this picture, as seen through my eyes.

His name is Otto. He is, or was, a farmboy, from a little village forty miles outside cologne, where his family has lived since before they kept written records.

Otto is seventeen. He joined to protect his homeland against foreign powers who have Germany hemmed in on both sides.

He has been fighting for a year. He used to cry himself to sleep every night, but it has been months since he was last able to cry. His best friend died in his arms, but the tears wouldn't come.

And now it is his time. The battle has passed on, but it does so without Otto. He has reached the end. Lying in the stench and the filth, he is scared; he doesn't want to die alone in the dark.

He hears a voice. A final hope stirs in his breast. Maybe, just maybe, he can spend his last minutes with another human being. Desperately, he struggles to pull himself toward the voice. As he pulls himself over the lip of a trench, his own blood streaming down over his hands, he sees her.

A young woman looks down to see him climbing from the trench. She abandons her search for her missing family and runs, praying that she escapes.

Otto, as darkness and silence swallow his last glimmer of hope, for the first time in months, cries himself to sleep. He slowly cries himself to his final sleep. Alone. In the dark.

Would Americans have fought Germans if that were the story they were told? Propaganda teaches us to do things we would never normally do. It teaches us that Otto is a monster, and that the Czar is our friend. It sent Americans to war when the majority was opposed, and then it told the majority to toe the line...gradually they began to support it.

Propaganda is an assault on reason. Reason, our best most noble attribute.


  1. Oh, but bide a moment yet; your point is well-made, but it doesn't precisely follow the premise, which is good, because the premise isn't precisely true. Most dictionaries define propaganda as something along the lines of "Ideas, facts, and rumors spread in order to hurt or hinder people, institutions, or political parties." Well, that and a historical Roman Catholic institution for missionaries.

    The way I think the word is used, the way I use it, the principal component of propaganda is its lack of logicality or objectivity; propaganda may incorporate actual facts, but ultimately what makes it propaganda is its intended effect of altering opinions/beliefs/actions by appealing to the emotions, and by taking advantage of the way the human brain assimilates and evaluates information—as opposed to offering a logically sound argument which supports a well-stated apologetic standpoint.

    This is the reason I am comfortable applying the term propaganda not only to the picture you've included in your post, but most commercial advertisements, most political campaigning, and the popular methods of advancing homosexuality.

    (As for this last one—what I mean by that, is that by my understanding, over the past few decades, those who wish the acceptance of homosexuality have simply saturated media and daily life with it—gay characters in movies and shows, outspoken gay advocates—so that simply by a mental numbness, the discomfort or disgust that many people automatically have felt for homosexuality has gradually been worn away. Yes, this is something I read in some book, but it's also something I have witnessed extensively in contemporary media.)

  2. Pardon— the definition sentence in my first paragraph should read, "Ideas, facts, and rumors spread in order to help or hinder people, institutions, or political parties."

  3. In fact, following with the definition of propaganda, you could very easily construe my comments as propaganda.

    I should have qualified. I was dealing entirely with the propaganda of war. A much respected, if snarky, individual said that the proof that we ignore the lessons of history is that we still fight wars. War propaganda is concerned with making the hideous glorious, and making clear cut distinctions of good evil, when really it is just evil.

    That is not to say that war is avoidable for our broken humanity. There will always be times when men have to fight. There are also times when an unwilling majority is coaxed into it against their better judgement, gradually swayed by distorted emotional appeal.

    But your point on the nature of propaganda as a whole is well taken. I thank you for clearing up that nasty little ambiguious idiocy, which threatened the soundness of my surmise as a whole. Danke.

  4. Bitte sehr.

    Well, your comments were propaganda, essentially, except that they were presented objectively, for the purpose of canceling out other propaganda (the poster), and so become not-propaganda. That is, if you used your comments alone to try to convince people that the Germans were simply right and those who opposed them were simply wrong. But the entire point of your comments, your very plausible story (moreso, indeed, than the story that ends with the soldier harboring only evil in his heart, delighting in bloodshed and eager to murder a defenseless woman and her child), were to show that there's as much reason to humanize the German soldier as any other soldier, or the woman—after all, they're all humans.

    In any case. Propaganda is really a fundamental part of human arguing, and so it's hyperbole to think of escaping it entirely; only something like a mathematical proof could do that (and certainly not, say, a president's address to his nation in a time of war). If we're really being anal, the fact that I'm taking the time to phrase these sentences in what I hope is an aesthetically-pleasing way itself smacks of propaganda. But at that point the matter is insignificant. Where the matter is not insignificant is that the rational debater should make sure that propaganda does not become the primary substance of his argument, and he should likewise be on the lookout for that same flaw in his opponent's argument.