Posted by Rusty Henderson on January 13, 2002 at 22:38:37:

As a society that feels we are just and good, we would doubt that we ourselves are bombarded daily by many forms of propaganda. We tend to feel that the very word “propaganda” means something underhanded and inherently evil. On the contrary there are many forms these “persuasive” messages can take, and many varied intentions. Propaganda can be as blatant as a swastika or as subtle as a joke. Politicians, advertisers, journalists, radio personalities, and others who are interested in influencing human behavior regularly apply its persuasive techniques. Propagandistic messages can be used to accomplish positive social ends, as in campaigns to reduce drunk driving, but they are also used to win elections and to sell malt liquor.
I’ve chosen for this assignment to focus more on the war-uses of propaganda. With recent events, the use of media and information has been thrust upon the American people more than ever, and it’s important to recognize and decipher the intended message clearly. This is not an anti-propaganda report rather I’m more interested in letting my fellow Americans know that this is not some far off foreign technique of persuasion, but something that is done hundreds of times over right here in our own backyard. For better or worse, propaganda is a valuable tool in motivating, aspiring, and even crushing opposition.

The use of propaganda through the media is not a new occurrence. On October 10, 1868, Carlos M. Céspedes issued the Grito de Yara and initiated the Ten Years' War in Cuba (1868-1878), the independence movement that served as the forerunner of the 1895 Insurrection and the Spanish American War. This lead into the formation of El Partido Revolucionario Cubano, (Cuban Revolutionary party), in January 1892 by Jose Julian Marti y Perez. Back home here in the states the country was fascinated and appalled by stories of the Cuban struggle. A new form of persuasion called “Yellow Journalism” propagandized them. Both William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, through its sensational reporting on the Cuban Insurrection, helped strengthen anti-Spanish sentiment in the United States. On January 19, 1897, Richard Harding Davis reported the execution of Cuban rebel Adolfo Rodríguez by a Spanish firing squad, in the article “Death of Rodríguez” in the New York Journal. On October 8, 1897, Karl Decker of the New York Journal reported on the rescue of Cuban Evangelina Cisneros from a prison on the Isle of Pines. This type of information was used and in many cases embellished to provide the U.S. Government with the much needed “public support” to go forward with the John T. Morgan/Donald Cameron resolution which recognized Cuba’s belligerency and independence. After McKinley is inaugurated into office on March 4, 1897 he begins critizing Spain’s handling of the Cuban crisis and agrees that Cuba should have its independence. Then in February of 1898, Spain’s ambassador to the U.S., Enrique Dupuy de Lôme resigns his office and returns to Spain. The very next day the Pulitzer-owned New York Journal publishes Spanish Minister Enrique Dupuy de Lóme's letter criticizing President McKinley. Although wanting to avoid war at all costs McKinley he is shuttered when on February 15 1898 in Havana Harbor Cuba, the battleship U.S.S. Maine explodes ruining any attempt of a compromise between Spain and America. This triggers the newspaper’s cries of “Remember the Maine”, and thousands of young men rushed to enlist in America’s “Splendid little War.”

I believe in all truth and honesty though, this era was running hard through our own illustrious “Industrial age.” In our leaps and bounds in technology, we realized that sometimes even a democracy has to be imperialistic in order to meet its supply and demand of valuable resources. This meant that the Government needed the support of the public and with this condoned such embellished stories. If the federal government here in the United States didn’t want the media to run a particular story against their own interest, they wouldn’t. In the same regard if they wanted them to publish a certain literary “pep rally” to rally us to a war for instance, the newspapers would run that all day, all night. As Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson point out in their book Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion, "every day we are bombarded with one persuasive communication after another. These appeals persuade not through the give-and-take of argument and debate, but through the manipulation of symbols and of our most basic human emotions. For better or worse, ours is an age of propaganda."

During World War Two, before Pearl Harbor, Germany and England both were buying for America’s interest or lack they’re of. Although our cousin’s the English were going to win our support no matter, both countries wanted something from us. They wouldn’t go as far as dropping things from planes, but in subtle and more general ways each would target their own countrymen living here in the United States. What’s more interesting is how the Nazi’s tried to reach Marxists. If you think it’s hard to reach a democratic people, try reaching communists. In an essay written by Dr. Joseph Goebbels (Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment under Adolf Hitler) titled, “Reaching the Marxists” Goebbels wrote, “In opposing Marxism, we oppose a deeply-rooted worldview that is based on over sixty years of intensive work. It is in turn founded on the still older liberal worldview and economic order. It enjoys not only the protection of tradition, but also the strength a younger movement can bring to bear against an older one. Liberalism was not able to resist Marxism.” Although internally evil in foresight and goal, Germany had a very powerful tool in Goebbels. He laid out the basic fundamentals. Don’t separate. By separating their two movements, they would divide their only good weapon in the war, public opinion. If you live in a country surrounded by several types of government like Germany, with Russia to the east and England to the west, your people our open to many different mediums in which to be influenced by. This is one of Goebbels strongest points though. “We shouldn’t hate or discriminate our brothers for straying, embrace them and learn what you can to develop the social movement.” Or, how I like to say it best, “Be kind and dutiful towards your brothers, and you shall be contributing to Government.” I didn’t really say it, but Confucius and I have a lot in common.

Still fresh in our mind is the events that transpired on September 11th. Immediately springing into our minds was Osama Bin Laden and his clan of terrorists. Now I by now means am against America’s “New War”, I am against or rather sickened by the constant coverage. Like I’m one to talk. I’m used to now getting up in the morning and turning to CNN’s new station simply titled, “Crisis Coverage.” To think we have a whole channel, or more like 5 or 6, completely dedicated to providing us with the “up to the minute”, we have grown to crave. After seeing first hand the destruction as it happened, we are hoping not to miss a moment in our “new drama.” I do feel it’s the medias obligation to report news that is crucial for our interest, and to a point this constant coverage is an open tool we can readily use to be up to date. After the attacks though, it seemed like the fever was in the air. I can here President Bush right now talking to his advisors saying, I want war, you want war, they want war, lets clean house. Why didn’t we go after Osama Bin Laden when he blew up those embassies? Or after he ordered the bombing of the U.S.S. Kohl? It’s simple really. Americans wouldn’t want any drawn out campaign if it were for foreign property. They would never think of putting our men in harms way, which we felt or foreign policy and CIA could take care of. Then it happened. We couldn’t believe it. We were so safe and secure. Big brother was watching our back. While mistakes are a way of life and no one but God can be everywhere at once, I really feel that I was let down. I bet the Executive was thinking the same thing. This could go two ways, for us or against us. Instead of an outcry about foreign policy and homeland security, this became a much larger outreach, flags flying and GM commercials saying be an American. Buy GM.

Although in philosophy and goal, propaganda can be a good tool for a Government to “control” the opinions and attitudes of its people in a productive way, there are many examples of the misuse of media and information. Whether we recognize it or not, propaganda is thrust upon us daily. It’s up to us what we disregard and what we run with.

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