The Church of Rome, holding certain beliefs about mankind in relation to God, sought to propagate its faith.
From this origin derives the word “propaganda.” Long in good usage as it referred to religious beliefs, the word has gained currency throughout the world since the Great War of 1914-1918, and because’t was widely used at that time in another sense.
Since then, the word has been applied to any set of opinions beliefs advanced, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of Persuading others to accept certain views.
Those views may concern, not only religion, but also theories of government, economic or business practices, political, racial or social questions; ideas about persons, nations, business groups and other general subjects.
Propaganda as a political power has been put to increased use as public education has tended to emancipate the masses from their earlier acceptance of government by the few for the benefit of the few.
Even dictatorial or totalitarian governments nowadays profess to serve the public welfare. Under the earlier authoritarian government, the leaders commanded. Now they try to persuade instead.
Hence, for all its perils, the very fact that the leaders use propaganda in government to the extent they do, indicates a sort of advance along the road of civilization. Propaganda is information with a ‘bias, or impressions with a bias, while objective fact is unbiased, so far as such a thing is humanly possible.
The propagandist, by emphasizing certain ideas and obscuring or suppressing others, shuts out the light of truth.
His task is simplified by censorships and by the readiness of most persons to believe what they want to believe, or to believe what tradition, convention, custom, sentiment, inhibitions or self-interest say they should believe.
Before the Great War some shrewd minds understood the power of propaganda, although they may not have called it that.
William Cobbett, about 1800, would use a lesson in grammar as a means of propaganda. Ostensibly illustrating the use of the verb “to be,” he would write, “To say that ‘all Kings and priests are liars and oppressors of the poor’ is not correct, but it is correct to say that ‘all Kings and priests are liars and oppressors of the poor.
During the War of Independence the American Colonies maintained in Holland a bureau which was chiefly concerned with handling propaganda favorable to the colonial cause, seeking support in Europe.
A plan for an organized propaganda bureau in England, to influence opinion both at home and abroad, was proposed at about the end of the eighteenth century, but was rejected by the authorities.
Napoleon operated what amounted to a “press bureau,” and which was, in fact, engaged in propaganda activities.
Prince Bismarck was even more aware of the power of propaganda, and used it extensively. There were others statesmen, industrialists, journalists who used such skill as they possessed in shaping public opinion of their own purposes.
Louis XI of France (1461-1483) expressed thus early the guiding principle of propaganda in his formula for diplomatic practice, “If they lie to you, you lie still more to them.”
This principle discounts the value of official government statements, whether affirmations or denials of purposes and views.
British statesmen long have maintained close relations with the press, usually through friendship or acquaintance with editors, not always because they wished to disseminate propaganda through the newspapers, but sometimes because they were sincerely concerned about having a fair presentation of their own and of the government views and purposes.
Edmund Burke was one of the earliest British statesmen to appreciate the press for what it was worth, and it was he who first called it the “fourth estate” as a tribute to its importance. Others whose relations with the press were close and usually cordial enough have included Canning, Palmerston, Disraeli, Castlereagh, Aberdeen, Gladstone, Salisbury, Lloyd George and any number of others.
Government officials and politicians in the United States also have been on intimate terms with the press, while in France journalism and politics have been so interrelated as to be almost indistinguishable.
In Germany alone, among the greater countries of the world, statesmen commonly remained somewhat uncommunicative where the press was concerned. But there were exceptions, even in Germany notably Bismarck, Hammann, and von Bulow, and farther south, in Austria, there was Metternich.
For some years prior to the outbreak of the Great War, Russia and other countries were, as governments, spending large sums of money to buy the support of newspapers, particularly in France, to further their national aims.
Alexander Isvolsky, the Russian Ambassador to Paris from 1906 to 1910, was charged with the distribution of the funds where they would accomplish the most good, from Russia’s point of view, and his pay-roll included the names of some of the most widely known newspapers and most prominent journalists and statesmen of France.
The same situation unquestionably obtained in other countries of Europe. Commercial and industrial groups, selling munitions and other products, were similarly engaged in buying support.
Large-scale use was made of propaganda as a weapon of offense as well as defense by all countries involved in the Great War.
The primary object was to persuade and unite the entire populace of a country concerning the justice of their own cause, and to inspire the purpose of carrying on the War with a single-minded devotion.
A secondary purpose was to combat enemy propaganda and weaken the morale of enemy people. A third purpose was to convince the people of other countries that there was only one right views of the War and, if possible, to persuade neutral countries to join forces with the propagandist country, or to aid it in other ways.
It would be untrue to say that the Great War was the first conflict in which the force of propaganda was used.
But it was the first conflict in which the word was used to designate that force, and it was the occasion for the most important and extensive use of propaganda up to that time.
Both the Allied propagandists and the Central Powers’ propagandists were successful, on the whole, in enlisting the support of their own peoples.
This end they accomplished by intense programs of disseminating information with a bias and by excluding, through censorship, information that might hinder or hamper their own efforts.
The campaign directed toward neutral countries was successful in some instances, although naturally both sides could not win in that campaign. The fact that the Allies brought more new adherents to their banners is attributable, as the world has come to realize, very largely to the superiority of their propagandists.
The effort to maintain solidarity among allied nations was successful, except for Russia, and the campaign to demoralize the enemy was a success so far as the Allies were concerned, but a failure for the Central Powers.
The “atrocity” stories, which revealed in the greatest detail the alleged cruelties practiced by German invaders of Belgium and France, especially during the early months of the War, were widely circulated in the United States and made a great impression.
After the War it was revealed that many of them were fakes, typical of every war, and designed to arouse hatred of the enemy among the Allied people and to gain the sympathy and cooperation of neutrals. They proved their value.
The campaign, intended to bring Italy into the War on the Allied side, and sponsored in Italy itself by the Mussolini brothers, Benito and Arnaldo, was successful, so that in 1915 the battlefront was extended to the Italo-Austrian front, although not until Italy gained a quid pro quo in the form of secret treaties giving her the right to an Adriatic port, Fiume, and other concessions.
Wartime experiences taught most governments that they could control public response to their acts most effectively if they would cooperate with the press, since the press was and is the greatest agency for disseminating current information.
They followed the lead, more or less, of the League of Nations, which made the Information Section a most important part of the Secretariat, winning reams of publicity, and nowhere more than in the United States which was not a member of the League!
So they established press bureaus, usually in conjunction with the Foreign Office, especially to deal with foreign press representatives, and very often in other departments, as well, to explain their activities to interested journalists.
Even though a government also maintained a censorship on outgoing dispatches, or on the domestic press, it might aid journalists in gathering information about government affairs. At international gatherings, governments would place press relations in charge of some official. It even proved useful to send press officers to certain embassies and legations abroad.
There are two attitudes assumed by governments in their relations with the press. The first attitude, exemplified by the United States Department of State, is that everything that is not secret has to be given out.
The second attitude, exemplified by the British Foreign Office, is that everything that does not have to be given out should be kept secret. Other governments follow one or the other of these attitudes, with slight variations.
There also are two general types of press bureaus dealing with foreign correspondents. One is the central type, such as is maintained by Italy. There one bureau acts as a clearing-house for all government news, or virtually all.
The other is the scattered type, well represented in the United States, where each department and many bureaus, also, maintain their own press relations. There also is the circumstance where a government has so limited a contact with the press as to defy classification in either of these categories.
That would be true of Russia and perhaps of Germany as well, so far as the foreign press is concerned, although the native press is almost uncomfortably close to the government. Yet every government knows how to prepare statements for the press, when circumstances arise in which it wishes to make known its attitude.
When a government wishes to win a favorable response for some one of its undertakings it puts out propaganda for consumption at home or abroad, or both. The United States did it during its Latin-American military adventures in the ‘twenties.
France did it at the time of its occupation of the Ruhr, issuing reports that were totally false, but which would seem to prove the French contention that there was a great need for its troops in the area because of German military activity there.
Great Britain has done so at naval conferences. Italy sought to influence foreign opinion in favor of its Ethiopian invasion in 1935. Japan did the same thing when it invaded Manchuria in 1931.
The purpose of foreign propaganda efforts is to shape opinion in nations which might be induced to loan money or provide some other form of support.
The press bureaus and “press clubs” set up by governments, particularly in European countries, thus seek to control what correspondents learn, and what they send out of the country.
Success for these press departments has depended largely upon the skill of the press officers. They must be personally likable, suave, genial, and apparently very frank.
Yet they must not tell too much. So, a press officer of the British Foreign Office might disarm correspondents by introducing a subject with a remark such as, “Now, if you will excuse me, gentlemen, I’ll give you a little propaganda.”
An able and well-liked official of the United States Department of State was skilled in telling the truth without revealing too much.
One of his methods was to accept a badly asked question literally, at its face value, and by answering it literally, also, cover up certain facts. Thus, he might be asked:
“Has there been any diplomatic communication between the United States and Japan over the Manchurian situation within the last week?”
“No,” he would say, and it was true, so far as it went, for there had been no “diplomatic communication” as such between the two governments. However, the United States Ambassador in Tokyo had been instructed in a private cable to talk informally to the Japanese Foreign Minister on the subject.
If the question had been phrased to embrace the other possibilities, the answer given would not have sufficed, although another method of evasion might then have been found.
The Great War, with its vast emphasis on propaganda, and the subsequent outpouring of literature on the subject, gave not only to governments, but to many individuals a new concept of the power which a clever practitioner of the art could exercise over the public. Industry was quick to adapt the new-found force to its own purposes.
Advertising men, publicity men and journalists became “counsels on public relation” or “vice- presidents in charge of public relations.” The best of them ignored the older publicity tricks of circus and theatrical press agents. Their methods were more urbane.
Instead of trying to outwit the press, tricking the papers into using a story with publicity value, as the old press agents did, the new generation tried to help the press. If they “made news happen,” it was still news, and could legitimately be used, and many times could not be ignored.
They made information available much more readily, and brought an end to a feud that had been waged between the press and big business, and to a lesser extent between the press and politicians or government officials. In this respect they were of service to both parties.
Discussion and argument are a legitimate and necessary part of the social order. It may be natural for a person holding a decided belief on any subject to try to persuade others to accept his view.
He believes he is right, as perhaps he is, and in that event he may be doing the other persons a real service by correcting their mistaken ideas and putting them on the right track.
In so far as propaganda is an effort to persuade men to accept a given set of beliefs that will promote the public welfare, it may be defensible and right. Yet perhaps that kind of persuasion is not propaganda at all, but education.
It sometimes is said that there is nothing bad about propaganda per se; that it may be good or bad and that each case must be judged on its merits.
Perhaps that is not quite exact. Argument or debate in an open discussion, with all factors exposed, is one thing.
But propaganda is not always so frank in its purpose or motivation. The public receives information, but cannot judge its value, probably does not even recognize it as propaganda, and so does not defend itself against the warped thinking induced.
Some persons, defending the work of the “counsel on public relations,” assume that if the source of a statement or the sponsorship of an address or action is known, everyone will understand how to appraise it, and discount it as much as necessary. Admittedly, it is better than no indication of source, but it still is not enough.
First of all, relatively few persons are informed about the special attitudes, views, prejudices and interests of the individuals, associations, societies and pressure groups figuring in the news; they are names and nothing more. Second, even when they believe they know about the organization, they may not know its true sponsorship or purpose.
To illustrate: Although they may expect the Navy League in the United States to agitate for a “big navy,” will they understand that the organization is not inspired by purely patriotic motives, as it would have the public believe, but that it was started and is largely supported by steel concerns and other industries which profit greatly through the building of war vessels?
Or, how many of the German people knew that the National Socialist party was supported and financed by great chemical and steel groups in Germany, and even in France, groups that would profit financially by Hitler’s rise to power, and the consequent rearming of the Reich?
For each group formed to make propaganda for one purpose, another is formed to make propaganda for the opposite ideas.
The result of such propaganda and counter-propaganda, the world over, iterated and reiterated, is not so much to persuade as to breed confusion among the peoples.
Not knowing what to believe, a people will take no positive, intelligent action, even on vital subjects.
The result is a policy of “muddling,” of apathy based on confusion, which means that nothing is done until a situation becomes so acute that action of some kind must be taken to avoid a disaster.
But by that time, it may be too late to do more than devise a patched-up solution of an inferior variety. In this way, propaganda becomes a force for evil, forestalling decisions, perpetuating wrongs, and delaying the realization of what is good.
Yet the ultimate solution for the multiple problem of tendentious news, of propaganda, of censorship, of narrow-minded editors and readers, cannot come through any technical provisions of law. It must come through educating the public to desire a clear and adequate supply of facts, and to want it sincerely enough to support periodicals which provide it.
Propagandists will continue to operate so long as there are those who have strong prejudices or opinions, or so long as there are greedy men. But correspondents and editors can learn to detect propaganda and, even when it must be printed for news reasons, they can able it as such, so providing readers with a discount.
When censors have exercised their talents, readers also may be so informed. And, most important, readers may be taught to want facts, rather than flattering support for their own prejudices, and they may be shown how to make proper discounts as they read the news.