World War Ii
According to Philip M. Taylor, World War II "witnessed the greatest propaganda battle in the history of warfare." All the participants employed propaganda on a scale that dwarfed that of other conflicts, including World War I. Britain's principal propaganda structures were the MOI for home, Allied, and neutral territory and the Political Warfare Executive (PWE) for enemy territory. The programs of the BBC proved an asset long after the war had ended. When Sir John Reith (1889–1971), the former director general of the BBC, was appointed minister of information in 1940, he laid down two fundamental axioms, that "news is the shock troops of propaganda" and that propaganda should tell "the truth, nothing but the truth and, as near as possible, the whole truth." Although Hitler believed implicitly in the "big lie," Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, claimed that propaganda should be as accurate as possible. Similarly, in the early part of the twentieth century Lenin had proclaimed that "in propaganda, truth pays off"; this dictum has largely been accepted by propagandists.
During what is known in Russia as "The Great Patriotic War," propaganda played a central role in rallying the population to resist the Nazi invasion. Soviet propaganda was supervised by the Directorate of Propaganda and Agitation of the Central Committee under A. S. Shcherbakov and administered by the newly established Soviet Information Bureau. The story of American propaganda during World War II can be divided into two phases: a period of neutrality from September 1939 to December 1941, during which debate raged among the population at large, and the period of U.S. involvement in the war, when the government mobilized a major propaganda effort through the Office of War Information (OWI). The United States used propaganda to orient troops (most famously in the U.S. Army Signal Corps film series Why We Fight) and to motivate its civilian population. In all phases of war propaganda the commercial media played a key role.
The extraordinary level of government and commercial propaganda during the war continued during the period of economic and political hostility between communist and capitalist countries known as the Cold War (1945–1989). Propagandists on all sides utilized their own interpretations of the truth in order to sell an ideological point of view to their citizens and to the world at large. U.S. president Harry S. Truman described (1950) the conflict as a "struggle above all else, for the minds of men." The Soviet leadership under Joseph Stalin (1879–1953), untroubled by the negative connotations of propaganda, viewed the role of the media as mobilizing and legitimizing support for expansionist policies. Stalin's determination to control the countries "liberated" by Soviet armies led to a growth in arms production and strident anticapitalist propaganda, which contributed to growing tensions. The Department of Agitation and Propaganda (Agitprop) of the Central Committee of the Communist Party fed official propaganda to the media, closely scrutinized by the Soviet censors, while the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) in September 1947 began a systematic campaign, masterminded by Agitprop, to marshal international support for Moscow against the West.
In the United States, the Smith-Mundt Act (1948) created the legal framework for a permanent overseas information effort, using the media, exchange programs, and exhibitions to counter the massive disinformation campaigns launched from Moscow to discredit the United States. From the mid-1950s, U.S. policy-makers believed that cultural diplomacy would successfully complement psychological warfare and that in the long term it might prove more effective. From the 1950s the export of American culture and the American way of life was heavily subsidized by the federal government and was coordinated by the United States Information Agency (USIA), which operated from 1953 to 1999. Cultural exchange programs, international trade fairs and exhibitions, and the distribution of Hollywood movies were some of the activities designed to extract propaganda value from the appeal of America's way of life, particularly its popular culture and material success. From the 1960s the Voice of America (VOA) utilized the popularity of American rock music with audiences behind the Iron Curtain, using the music to boost the standing of the United States. While radio remained an important weapon in waging psychological warfare against the Soviets, broadcasting was also seen by American authorities as a means by which the United States could win hearts and minds throughout the world through a long-term process of cultural propaganda. Throughout the Cold War, the United States was also able to call upon the appeal of products of private and multinational concerns such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and others. The universal popularity of such symbols of "Americanization" testified to the success of this approach. Such "cultural imperialism" was designed to convert the world into a "global village" dominated by American values.
The far-reaching impact of the Cold War led to new political and sociological theories on the nature of man and modern society—particularly in the light of the rise of totalitarian states. Individuals were viewed as undifferentiated and malleable while an apocalyptic vision of mass society emphasized the alienation of work, the collapse of religion and family ties, and a general decline in moral values. Culture had been reduced to the lowest common denominator and the masses were generally seen as politically apathetic, yet prone to ideological fanaticism, vulnerable to manipulation through the media—particularly the new medium of television—and through the increasing sophistication of propagandists. Accordingly, propaganda was viewed as a "magic bullet" or "hypodermic needle" by means of which opinions and behavior could be controlled.
This view was challenged by a number of American social scientists, including Harold Lasswell (1902–1978)—a pioneer of propaganda studies—who argued that within the context of an atomized mass society, propaganda was a mechanism for engineering public opinion and consent and thus acted as a means of social control (what Lasswell referred to as the "new hammer and anvil of social solidarity"). In recent years the French sociologist Jacques Ellul (1912–1996) has taken this a stage further and suggested that the technological society has conditioned people to a "need for propaganda." In Ellul's view propaganda is most effective when it reinforces already held opinions and beliefs. The "hypodermic" theory was largely replaced by a more complex "multistep" model that acknowledges the influence of the mass media yet also recognizes that individuals seek out opinion leaders from their own class and sex for confirmation of their ideas and in forming attitudes. Many early twenty-first-century writers agree that propaganda confirms rather than converts—or at least that it is more effective when the message is in line with the existing opinions and beliefs of its consumers.
The second wave of the feminist movement in the second half of the twentieth century is an example of this. Known as "women's liberation," radical feminism developed in the United States and Britain in the 1960s among a group of women involved in a series of protest movements that challenged social norms and traditional values. Women began forming organizations to address their role and status, applying tactics of social agitation. In particular, they focused on employment and pay issues, child care, sex discrimination, and childbearing. Feminism became more mainstream during the 1970s and was addressed by a number of government-backed propaganda initiatives such as the International Women's Year (1975). As divisions within the movement appeared, a backlash of antifeminist propaganda from the media and right-wing politicians began in the 1980s, particularly in the United States.
The spread of television as a mass medium from the 1950s opened up the possibility of a radical new level of exposure of civilian populations to the "realities" of war. The term media war came into common usage during the Gulf War in 1991. In the Kosovo war (1999) both sides in the conflict understood the importance of manipulating real-time news to their own advantage. Moreover, the war witnessed the first systematic use of the Internet to disseminate propaganda, including its use by nongovernmental players. Kosovo highlights the forces of change between the pre–Cold War era and the current globalized information environment. The centrality of propaganda was apparent once more in the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, which were planned for their media impact, as acts of propaganda by deed. Propaganda became a major feature of the "war against terrorism" that followed. The war to remove Saddam Hussein as leader of Iraq began on 19 March 2003 with an invasion by the United States and Great Britain. Officially, this was part of the campaign against international terrorism, but it also became a plan for the "liberation" of Iraq by "Coalition Forces," the latter a propaganda device placing the U.S. and British military in a flattering light. Media coverage of this war and the war's psychological dimension were of particular concern to the student of propaganda: it produced a number of innovations, particularly the decision to "embed" reporters and television journalists as members of the invasion forces, on the one hand allowing an immediacy never before possible, on the other introducing a new intensity of information overload.