WWII Pamphlet “What is Propaganda”

A WWII pamphlet created for GI’s returning home from the war is being used for source material by teachers to instruct students on the most important propaganda characteristic.

It doesn’t get any better than this… Let’s see, government run schools are using pamphlets created by the government in 1944 to make sure the kids know everything they need to know about propaganda and how it works in 2014.

Delicious irony and an instance of propaganda itself?  You tell me!

Pamphlet: What is Propaganda?

By Ralph D. Casey

Professor, School of Journalism, University of Minnesota

(Published July 1944)

The American Historical Association was paid by the US War Department to create numerous pamphlets to be used in the GI roundtable discussion series implemented with troops at the end of WWII.

Introduction To Propaganda

As an introduction to basic propaganda characteristics, the author starts off by explaining that the word is one of the most troubling to understand in the English language and nearly impossible to firmly grasp. Since the word acquired a bad reputation during the first world war, rehabilitating its reputation has proved almost intractable in the general population.

Nefarious Propaganda Characteristics Refuted

The author attempts to show that defining propaganda by any of the characteristics listed below is misguided and incomplete.

• Persuasion/promotion that is deceitful

• Persuasion/promotion that seeks “bad” ends (not in the public good)

• Persuasion/promotion that uses emotional appeals

• Persuasion/promotion that uses concealment of motives

• Persuasion/promotion that seeks to push forward controversial ideas

An example of the author’s counter arguments include the following rationale:

The difficulty with such a view [That an essential aspect of propaganda is an attempt to achieve “bad” ends] is that welfare groups and governments themselves secure benefits for a people through propaganda. Moreover, national propaganda in the throes of a war is aimed to bolster the security of the non-aggressor state and to assure the eventual well-being and safety of its citizens. No one would deny that this kind of propaganda, intelligently administered, benefits every man, woman, and child in the land.

According to the author, the use of what he terms “propaganda” for the promotion of “good” ends forces us to settle for the broad and basically benign idea of propaganda as described below.

Propaganda has to do with any ideas and beliefs that are intentionally propagated, attempting to reach a goal by making use of words and word substitutes (pictures, drawings, graphs, exhibits, parades, songs, and similar devices).

It is not clear why the words “persuasion” and “promotion” could not be used to designate campaigns that are designed for good ends, while leaving propaganda as a label for persuasion/promotion campaigns that include one or more of the negative characteristics listed above.

And in his final appeal, the author re-assurances the GI that whatever propaganda may be… at least its not violence and bribery for heaven’s sake.

While propaganda influences the behavior of individuals, it is important to bear in mind that it is only one of the means by which man’s behavior is influenced. There are other forms of inducement employed in winning assent or compliance. In limited or wholesale degree, depending upon the political organization of a given country, men have used force or violence to control people. They have resorted to boycott, bribery, passive resistance, and other techniques. Bribes, bullets, and bread have been called symbols of some of the actions that men have taken to force people into particular patterns of behavior.

Whatever propaganda may be, it differs from such techniques because it resorts to suggestion and persuasion.

Propaganda About Propaganda?

In reality this whole piece sounds like propaganda. Why do I say this?

1. History- WWI ushered in the era of mass persuasion. Fledgling techniques were so incredibly successful at the end of the first war, that Edward Bernays [part of the Committee On Public Information) was able to command an excellent salary adapting those techniques to civilian life for corporations and organizations. From 1920 onward these techniques were being rapidly developed and deployed, creating a veritable juggernaut of power and influence for those who commanded them.

2. The nature of man- To think that these powerful tsumani-like techniques of mass persuasion would be only be used for beneficent ends is hopelessly naive.

3. The theme of the pamphlet- Unquestionably gives the impression to the serviceman returning home from war, that propaganda is nothing at all to worry about when historically we know that this is not the case.

A Deeper Look At The Pamphlet As Propaganda

Comparing the main ideas of the pamphlet with historical realities, the following revelations come to light.

Concealment- Pamphlet disguised as material created to help the GI’s, instead appears to diminish their ability to identify and detect a harmful influence in American Society.

Deceit-The American Historical Association was commissioned to write the series so that the government influence was hidden and the work would be seen as “objective’. In reality, the government evaluated and finalized the approval of all pamphlets.

“Bad” ends for individuals-GI’s will be less aware of how propaganda is being used to influence them.

“Bad” ends for society-Republic can only survive with alert and active citizens.

Use of emotional appeals- Appeals to expert authority throughout the chapter.

Push forward controversial ideas– Having a name or label for something allows people to identify that reality and communicate about it. Destroying the common understanding of propaganda as a malicious influence and reducing the ability to define its essential characteristics does a grave disservice to those most likely to be the victims of propaganda. Had this objective been clearly stated, it would have been seen as a highly controversial goal or outcome.

What do you think?

Explore the topic in more detail: Propaganda characteristics-Jacques Ellul


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Micheal Winston
Micheal Winston

PropagandaGuard was created for the purpose of alerting citizens to the ever present dangers of propaganda, helping them to recognize and protect themselves and families from its corrupting effects. You cannot protect yourself from things which you are not aware. Understanding does not stem from a simple dictionary or wikipedia definition. In the end, the question you must answer is...Have you made your way out of the Matrix?