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.
From the perspective of the modern information and communications age, the word 'propaganda' continues to imply something evil. Propaganda is a powerful tool for perpetuating power relationships. The problem in much propaganda theory is that the recipient is felt to be empowered as well, in other words, he or she can reject the messages - provided they can be detected. This book may almost be regarded as a handbook to aid that detection. If war is essentially an organized communication of violence, propaganda and psychological warfare are essentially organized processes of persuasion. The book explains why propaganda and war have always been inextricably connected. The munitions of the mind, like other conventional weapons, have admittedly become more sophisticated with advances in technology, but yesterday's epic poem or painting is really no more than the equivalent of today's propaganda film or television broadcast.
By the middle of the fourteenth century BC, when the Assyrians were challenging the Babylonians for supremacy, they brought with them heroic military poems and hymns. The Assyrian Empire provides a much richer source of war propaganda than the Babylonian. By the first millennium BC, the rulers of the Assyrian Empire were perfecting the use of documents and monuments to create desired behaviour among their own subjects, to demonstrate divine support. Fortifications and palaces, together with their decorations of statues and murals, all reflected the power and prestige of the king and revealed his preoccupation with war. Although religion provided war propaganda with its first real theme, a relationship which has remained a potent means of justifying aggression throughout history, the Assyrians were more warlike than religious. If religion provided the origins of war propaganda, terror can be seen to have provided the origins of psychological warfare.
War propaganda came of age under the ancient Greeks. After about 750 BC city-states emerged as the dominant political unit in Greece, replacing the tribal kingdoms of earlier periods. Reflecting this increasingly structured society, warfare also became more organized with the development of heavily-armoured citizen phalanxes and a wave of colonization. The Greeks had recognized the need for propaganda to galvanize and inspire their citizen-soldiers and had articulated its role within a civilized society. They appreciated the importance of public works as a psychological means of encouraging civic pride and popular loyalty and understood the need for censorship and propaganda campaigns to promote public support for specific military campaigns. The ancient Greeks, therefore, best remembered for their enduring contributions to civilization, recognized that propaganda was an essential ingredient of an organized and effective society. Subsequent civilizations ignored this legacy at their peril.
War was an integral part of early Roman life and was the key to Roman expansion, first beyond the city boundaries into Peninsular Italy and then beyond into wider Europe. Military service was an essential qualification for political office throughout the Roman Republic (510-27 BC). For a young aristocrat with political ambitions, selection as military tribune was essential to his career in the Senate and to his appointment as consul - a post which demanded military and political skills. The formative educational experience of such men was in the army. War, in other words, was the lifeblood of a Roman aristocrat's political and social well-being. Glory and honour were here being evoked as motivating ideals, not just for the city of Rome, but for the Republic as a whole in whose name the Senate governed.
The slow and tortuous collapse of the Roman Empire in the west at the hands of the Germanic invaders saw the disappearance of the Roman legion as the principal instrument of warfare. We do often have less information about war and communication in the so-called Dark Ages than we do about the Roman period, with few surviving detailed descriptions of battles. Between 840 and 865, the Franks reacted ineffectively but thereafter more effective resistance was organized and the Vikings changed their tactics. Here they began to assimilate feudalism and Christianity, invaded England in 1066, and moved south into France and southern Italy. Armed with their unique double-handed axe and with weapons stolen from their enemies, the pagan Vikings terrorized Europe militarily and psychologically. Such was the fate of regimes which relied heavily upon terror for their power at the expense of a sustained campaign of propaganda to accompany it.
For the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, at least, we do have a considerable record of the role of propaganda in medieval warfare, left to us by William of Poitiers. Apart from William of Poitiers' invaluable, though biased account, we do of course also have a unique visual record of the battle: the Bayeux tapestry. The work was commissioned by Bishop Odo for his new cathedral at Bayeux in or about 1017 and as such can be regarded as a near-contemporary record inspired by one who was actually present at the Battle of Hastings. In the build-up to the invasion, and even during the battle of Hastings itself, Bishop Odo's role is depicted as being almost as prominent as that of the Conqueror, revealing the degree to which the enterprise had both Church and family support.
From the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, the chivalric 'code' determined the way in which western nobles fought and behaved in battle. The war-torn eleventh and twelfth centuries were fuelled by the chivalric code, which often led to a love of war for war's sake and a romantic glorification of fighting skills. Chivalric songs provide us with an excellent insight into what made medieval men fight. They were an important element of morale-boosting for the most effective propaganda is that which entertains as well as instructs and exhorts but they also provide us with certain insights into the chivalric code. In the Song of Roland, we have the portrayal of an ideal knight. Roland is said to have fought against overwhelming odds, choosing to fight rather than flee in accordance with the chivalric code, and died for his cause.
It is with the Crusades that the study of war propaganda is provided with the most fertile evidence to date. The First Crusade, which began the year after the People's Crusade had ended in slaughter at the hands of the Turks at Civetot in Asia Minor, has to be explained in terms other than revenge or the chivalric code. At the siege of Antioch, the critical battle of the First Crusade, the Crusaders were heartened by reports of visions by the alleged discovery of the Holy Lance that had pierced Christ's side, and by the intervention of God himself. The Second Crusade, proclaimed by Pope Eugenius III in 1146, attempted to capitalize upon the success of the first. After Saladin defeated the Crusaders at the battle of Hattin in 1187 and captured Jerusalem, the Third Crusade was launched to recover the Holy Land.
The Hundred Years War, which in fact lasted intermittently from about 1337 to 1453, was a struggle between the English and French kings. It was but one of a number of conflicts which plagued Europe in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, such as the advance of the Ottoman Turks, the Hussite wars in Germany, the campaigns of Philip the Good and Charles the Bold, and the wars in Italy. But it is a conflict which illustrates well many of the changes in warfare. The Hundred Years War saw medieval rulers cling to the now outdated use of heavy cavalry. Perhaps the most celebrated English victory was the battle of Agincourt (1415), immortalized for centuries by Shakespeare's Henry V. The English king's invasion of France was designed to reclaim lands lost during the previous fifty years. The battle illustrates the persistence of various themes of medieval war propaganda.