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Propaganda in America

Updated on July 10, 2017
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George Creel was picked to head the propaganda bureau, the Center for Public Interest, during World War I. In his 1920 How we Advertised America he bragged about his role inducing war fever in a nation at peace:

While America's summons was answered without question by the citizenship as a whole, it is to be remembered that during the three and a half years of our neutrality the land had been torn by a thousand divisive prejudices, stunned by the voices of anger and confusion, and muddled by the pull and haul of opposed interests. These were conditions that could not be permitted to endure. What we had to have was no mere surface unity, but a passionate belief in the justice of America's cause that should weld the people of the United States into one white-hot mass instinct with fraternity, devotion, courage, and deathless determination. The war-will, the will-to-win, of a democracy depends upon the degree to which each one of all the people of that democracy can concentrate and consecrate body and soul and spirit in the supreme effort of service and sacrifice. What had to be driven home was that all business was the nation's business and every task a common task for a single purpose.

Walter Lippman and Edward Bernays both worked for the C.P.I.

Walter Lippman was a prominent journalist and a distinguished example of the utmost upper crust - the scabrous crust protecting the raddled & rotten meat just beneath. It is useful for the upper classes to believe that the people are ignorant and crazy and bigoted and dangerous thus justifying control and manipulation of the masses. The mob, the hoi polloi, must be managed by experts – our all-wise and entirely disinterested masters. Our gracious elites always know best and we should be grateful when they tell us what to think.

Walter Lippman in his 1922 book Public Opinion wrote:

That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough.

The creation of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one which was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technic, because it is now based on analysis rather than on rule of thumb. And so, as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power.

Within the life of the generation now in control of affairs, persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government. None of us begins to understand the consequences, but it is no daring prophecy to say that the knowledge of how to create consent will alter every political calculation and modify every political premise. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.

Here’s Lippman in Phantom Public lecturing us on the many deficiencies of the rabble - the irrational riffraff: “We must assume as a theoretically fixed premise of popular government that normally men as members of a public will not be well informed, continuously interested, non-partisan, creative or executive. We must assume that a public is inexpert in its curiosity, inter­mittent, that it discerns only gross distinctions, is slow to be aroused and quickly diverted; that, since it acts by aligning itself, it personalizes what­ever it considers, and is interested only when events have been melodramatized as a conflict.” What we desperately need are lots of managers and bureaucrats and officials and administrators - models of creativity and benevolence and efficiency, paragons who are good enough to ignore our wishes and make our decisions for us. According to Lippman we should aim for “the least possible interference from ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” (that is the citizens). He warns of the doleful consequences if we listen to the people: “For when public opinion attempts to govern directly it is either a failure or a tyranny.”

Edward Bernays, who has been called “the father of public relations” seemed even more eager than Lippman to turn citizens into puppets. So many of the elite were delighted by the opportunities offered by world war. Here’s what Bernays wrote in his 1928 work Propaganda:“It was, of course, the astounding success of propaganda during the war that opened the eyes of the intelligent few in all departments of life to the possibilities of regimenting the public mind.” Bernays wanted to see a small group of men leading a human herd of millions, a set of masters pulling “the wires which control the public mind.” Bernays also wrote: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.”

Bernays was influenced by proto-fascist Gustave Le Bon, in particular his ideas about the primitive impulses of crowds. Bernays believed in the necessity of glorifying rulers. He wrote: “The criticism is often made that propaganda tends to make the President of the United States so important that he becomes not the President but the embodiment of the idea of hero worship, not to say deity worship. I quite agree that this is so, but how are you going to stop a condition which accurately reflects the desires of a certain part of the public? The American people rightly sense the enormous importance of the executive's office. If the public tends to make of the President a heroic symbol of that power, that is not the fault of propaganda but lies in the very nature of the office and its relation to the people.” Bernays acknowledged in his autobiography that Doctor Goebbels took notice of Bernays’ propaganda efforts and employed his techniques.

Hollywood happily engaged in manipulation. Louis B. Mayer said movies provide “invaluable aid to the government and its various propagandas.”

Charlie Chaplin Wartime Propaganda

Erich Von Stroheim Propaganda

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