An Introduction to Propaganda

    (C) 1999, William A. Levinson

    Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (1913-1966) is better known as the science fiction author Cordwainer Smith. Linebarger was an eminent Sinologist, and was the godson of Sun Yat Sen.

    What is Propaganda?

    The word "propaganda" has some negative associations; people often associate it with dishonesty and lies. The working definition is, however:

        "Propaganda consists of the planned use of any form of public or mass-produced communication designed to affect the minds and emotions of a given group for a specific purpose, whether military, economic, or political."

          Linebarger, Paul Myron Anthony. 1954. Psychological Warfare, 1954, Combat Forces Press, Washington (p. 39)

        "Propaganda consists of the planned use of any form of communication designed to affect the minds, emotions, and action of a given group for a specific purpose." (page 39)

    White, Grey, and Black Propaganda

    From Psychological Warfare, page 44

    Example of Black Propaganda

    Guard Against Venereal Diseases

      Lately there has been a great increase in the number of venereal diseases among our officers and men owing to prolific contacts with Filipino women of dubious character.
      Due to hard times and stricken conditions brought about by the Japanese occupation of the islands, Filipino women are willing to offer themselves for a small amount of foodstuffs. It is advisable in such cases to take full protective measures by use of condoms, protective medicines, etc.; better still to hold intercourse only with wives, virgins, or women of respective [sic] character.
      Furthermore, in view of the increase in pro-American leanings, many Filipino women are more than willing to offer themselves to American soldiers, and due to the fact that Filipinos have no knowledge of hygiene, disease carriers are rampant and due care must be taken.

                                U.S. Army

      (Source: Psychological Warfare, page 123). Now, do you think this was an anti-VD leaflet that was given to American troops? It was actually dropped on Filipinos by the Japanese! The Japanese propagandists wanted Filipinos to believe that the United States was the origin of this derogatory material, thereby reducing cooperation with the United States.

    Effective Propaganda

    The best propaganda often drives a wedge between the other side's leaders and its rank-and-file members. The effectiveness of such propaganda depends on the enemy leaders' conduct.

    Desertion Leaflet from Bunker Hill (Linebarger, p. 21)

    Prospect Hill [where the British officers were quartered?]

    1. Seven Dollars a month
    2. Fresh Provisions, and in Plenty
    3. Health
    4. Freedom, Ease, Affluence and a good Farm

    Bunker Hill

    1. Three Pence a Day
    2. Rotten Salt Pork
    3. The Scurvy
    4. Slavery, Beggary and Want

    This leaflet does not indicate its source, so it is grey propaganda (see definition below). "Artful use was made of the sharp class distinctions then existing between British officers and enlisted men; fear was exploited as an aid to persuasion; the language was pointed." Linebarger calls this "a classic example of how to do good field propaganda." A similar pro-Japanese propaganda leaflet from the Second World War (India theatre) shows an English family enjoying a lavish meal while Hindus starve in the streets.

    A Nazi leaflet, "The Girl You Left Behind" shows an American soldier's girlfriend being courted, and eventually seduced, by Jewish war profiteer "Sam Levy." The soldier eventually comes home without a leg to find his girl in a fur coat and in the possession of the Jew. "Sam has no scruples about getting a bit intimate with Joan. And why should he have any? Tall and handsome Bob Harrison, Joan's fiancÚ, is on the front, thousands of miles away, fighting for guys like Sam Levy." (Linebarger, pp. 138-139) The effectiveness of this leaflet's anti-Semitism among American GIs might have been dampened by the presence of Jewish buddies at the front ("The Jewish guy in my outfit is roughing it out here with the rest of us"), but it could still have promoted the idea that certain privileged individuals could avoid military service and profit from the war. The United States was certainly more vulnerable to the latter attack during the Vietnam War, when civilians at home did not even have to endure rationing as they did during the Second World War.

    Effective First World War propaganda would have shown generals living in comfortable chateaux (they did!) while they ordered their troops into senseless battles. The cartoon of an enemy general dining on an expensive meal a comfortable manor while his soldiers lived in a cold and wet trench should have been obvious to the propagandists (if their own generals weren't doing the same thing.) Such propaganda follows Sun Tzu's advice to foment divisions between leaders and followers.

    Sample "desertion leaflet," gun control issue

    Leaders of the Gun Control Movement: Dianne Feinstein, Ted Kennedy, various Hollywood celebrities

    • Gun permits issued to the elite few, the lords of the manor (e.g. Feinstein)
    • Armed bodyguards (e.g. Kennedy)
    • Protected, gated communities and expensive security systems
    • Speaking honorariums, publicity, and votes

    The Common Citizen who Supports Gun Control

    • Not entitled to police protection (according to various court rulings)
    • Defenseless against violent criminals
    • Entitled only to give his or her money and vote to the antigun movement's leaders

    Attack the Enemy Leaders

    "In estimating the propaganda situation, the vulnerability of the leaders to personal attack is one of the major elements. Properly handled, it can be of real value." (p. 157) Linebarger points out that George Washington was a major asset during the American Revolution because his personal character could not be attacked effectively. Members of the Continental Congress were, however, vulnerable to British propaganda. American propagandists could, meanwhile, attack King George III and many members of his Cabinet as "boors, fuddy-duddies, too-little-and-too-laters, and conspicuous nincompoops."

    A Nazi leaflet showed Franklin Roosevelt as the Grim Reaper, who was scything down American soldiers while saying, "I assure you again and again that no American boys will be sacrificed on foreign battlefields" (quoted from Roosevelt, 10/31/1940). The basic idea was correct, but the leaflet's effectiveness must have been reduced by the fact that the Nazis' ally Japan attacked us, and then Hitler declared war on us.

    Class differences, especially those between the privileged elite (see examples above) and the rank-and-file, can often be exploited.

    Mistakes in Propaganda

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