This book presents a history of propaganda from the ancient world to the present day. The ancient Greeks, best remembered for their enduring contributions to civilization, recognized that propaganda was an essential ingredient of an organized and effective society. The book begins with the suggestion that it is the intention behind propaganda that needs scrutiny, not just the propaganda itself. It is intention that has caused and prolonged wars. Increased use of persuasive techniques intended to benefit humanity as a whole requires some fundamental rethinking about how people popularly regard propaganda. Differences of opinion between people and nations are inevitable, but they can only remain a healthy aspect of civilized society if violence, war and terrorism are avoided. Since 9/11, people need peace propagandists, not war propagandists: people whose job it is to increase communication, understanding and dialogue between different peoples with different perspectives. A gradual process of explanation can only generate greater trust, and therefore a greater willingness to understand our perspective. And if this dialogue is mutual, greater empathy and consensus will emerge. The historical function of propaganda has been to fuel that fear, hypocrisy and ignorance, and it has earned itself a bad reputation for so doing. But propaganda has the potential to serve a constructive, civilized and peaceful purpose if that is the intention behind conducting it.
In England, the emergence of parliamentary liberty and religious toleration following the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 provided a safety valve for ideological dissent. The Press became an essential part of the English political process. Small wonder that Horace Walpole was to call the press 'a third House of Parliament'. With the restoration of the monarchy, the 1662 Printing Act placed the Press under strict parliamentary control. Following the revolutionary settlement of 1688, government showed itself less inclined to censor, but in 1695 the old Long Parliament's Licensing Act expired. This meant that the Press was now free from official censorship prior to publication; freedom of the press as we understand it today can therefore be said to have begun in 1695. In England, the press provided an outlet for dissent and criticism of constitutional government, a liberating force without recourse to violent change.
With the die cast, American revolutionary propaganda blossomed, from Liberty Songs to ballads, from paintings and poetry to printed caricatures, from plays to pamphlets. Although stories of legendary frontier riflemen were circulated in an attempt to frighten the British, the American marksmen actually lacked discipline in battle and tended to flee before advancing columns of redcoats and their bayonets. The wide-ranging propaganda campaign launched by Congress extended to Canada and also to England and France. In charge of wooing the French was Benjamin Franklin who, together with Silas Deane and Arthur Lee, proved highly effective in winning sympathizers in Paris. To the French, Franklin was the American Revolution, and the ageing philosopher-scientist appeared as an American Voltaire, although the anti-monarchical elements of revolutionary ideology had to be watered down for fear of offending Louis XVI. The American Revolution had demonstrated that men were motivated by ideology, patriotism, and nationalism.
In England, the press may have been comparatively free to criticize, and thus became a nuisance and an irritant to government. It did provide an outlet for dissenting views, the frustration of which might otherwise have provoked more extreme action. It used to be thought that the absence of such 'democratization' in France contributed to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. But recent research has shown that, despite censorship, the eighteenth-century French press was more active in communicating political ideas than had been previously realized. Under Napoleon, France became the first truly modern propaganda-based State. An example of the degree to which his propagandists orchestrated every aspect of French life followed the assassination of French delegates by the Austrians in 1799. Napoleon had suffered at the hands of hostile journalists working for the massively expanded revolutionary press during his campaign in Italy.
The extent to which the ordinary people of Europe for a generation had been affected by, and involved in, the Napoleonic wars narrowed the gap between ruler and ruled still further than ever before. The nineteenth century saw attempts to widen that gap again, notably in Victorian Britain. But the forces of change could not be stemmed and, as a result of technological innovations, the century saw a steady rise in the role of public opinion and in the use of propaganda by governing elites to influence it. Politicians of the late nineteenth century recognized that they were operating in a new kind of world, a world in which public opinion across a wide spectrum was becoming increasingly important in a mass industrialized society. This recognition was accompanied by a concerted effort to influence that opinion through the intermediary forces that shaped public attitudes.
The twentieth century saw the arrival of a fundamentally different kind of warfare: 'Total War'. The new warfare brought battle closer to the lives of ordinary citizens than ever before, whether in the form of women being recruited into factories or in the form of civilian bombing. The twentieth century also saw the arrival of the modern mass media. In one remarkable year, the principal means of mass communication press, radio, and film came into their own and the communications revolution made a quantum leap. It was the convergence of total war and the mass media that gave modern war propaganda its significance and impact in the twentieth century. At first the impact of the new media in the conduct of war propaganda was comparatively small. Certainly, in the Boer War (1899-1902), the popular press became increasingly jingoistic while the masses also enjoyed their war through music hall songs.
Atrocity stories were, of course, a time-honoured technique of war propagandists. The First World War was no exception. Atrocity stories, as ever, helped to sustain the moral condemnation of the enemy. Perhaps the most infamous atrocity story of the Great War concerned the alleged German 'Corpse-Conversion Factory'. If the First World War was really to be the 'War to end all Wars', then wartime recriminations would need to be forgotten essential if Germany was to pay her reparations and Britain her war-debts. The popularity and virulence of wartime atrocity propaganda in particular led to a different meaning being assigned to the term and to the British abandoning their initiatives in this field. The British had demonstrated to the world the enormous power of propaganda in war but had abandoned it in peacetime; Soviet Russia and, later, Nazi Germany now took up where the British had left off.
The Bolshevik Revolution may well have taken Russia out of the First World War, but it also led to a new and significant development in the conduct of international affairs. After 1917, propaganda became a fact of everyday life. For Lenin and his successors, propaganda also became an essential ingredient in the ideological war against capitalism and the struggle for world revolution. The Great War gave impetus to the Bolshevik cause, particularly when, following the abdication of the tsar in February 1917, Russia continued its involvement. The Allied invasion of Russia in support of the White counter-revolutionaries began before the First World War ended. Moreover, influenced by Trotsky's theories of world revolution, the role of propaganda in spreading an international class-based ideology that recognized no national frontiers was a serious threat to established regimes suffering from the intense socio-economic and political chaos caused by the First World War.
The Second World War witnessed the greatest propaganda battle in the history of warfare. The entire German nation was involved in total war, and civilians too began to suffer at the hands of Allied air raids. It was this development that provided Nazi propaganda with its chance to unite the nation. The Allies, with their call for unconditional surrender, identified the German people with the Nazi party to an extent that Goebbels had never been able to do. They were all in the same boat now, as the total war drive confirmed. It was this nationalism that was often confused with propaganda. Nazi propaganda identified patriotism with propaganda to such an extent that, once the Allies had reached Berlin, they knew they would have to embark upon a comprehensive post-war programme of de-Nazification.
In the United States, the start of the Cold War was accompanied by a hate-inspired anti-Soviet propaganda campaign that permeated all aspects of American life, especially between 1947 and 1958. Propaganda can escalate a conflict but it usually comes after the policy has been decided. The Cold War, once it was under way, demanded that policy and propaganda be conducted hand-in-hand. Many propagandists working in various western information agencies argued that the Soviets always held the initiative because their propaganda was so interwoven with their policy. The western democracies had to learn that, in order to survive an ideological confrontation, they would need to fight fire with fire. The conflict that erupted in the South Atlantic following the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands Islands was to provide a model for any democratic government wishing to conduct a propaganda war in the television age.