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Nazi Propaganda

Nazi Propaganda

Robert Gauguin

SFU

Nazi Propaganda

Propaganda is the organized attempt through communication to affect belief or action or


inculcate attitudes in a large audience in ways that circumvent or suppress an individual's adequately
informed, rational, reflective judgement. (Marlin, 22)
Totalitarian propaganda is the most comprehensive form of propaganda, it uses the total control
of all forms of media and backs it up with the threat of violence to e nsure as complete an assimilation
of the party message by the citizenry as possible. The Nazi party is the paragon of this type of
propaganda; no other historical example has honed the art and science of it to the extent that the Nazi
party had. Through its tight control of all communication mediums in the country, Nazi Germany
achieved an unparalleled level of mass inculcation, harmony, and ubiquity. A combination of insights
compiled or incepted by Hitler and Goebbels allowed the party to explore uncharted propaganda vistas.
Some of these insights include: the concept of the Big Lie, concepts from Edward Bernays and
Gustave Le Bon, false flag operations, and the expansion of techniques originated by the Allies in
WWI.
Totalitarian states exact the attention of people by force. (Marlin, 97) What makes the
propaganda of totalitarian governments so effective compared with that of free societies is its ability to
force people to pay attention and to ensure ubiquity of message without any opportunities for dissent.
All potential objections are eradicated by force.
That is not to say that the Nazis never backed up their brawn with brain. Josef Goebbels's the
mastermind behind Nazi propagandaapproach to propaganda was influenced by some of the most
prominent theorists on the subject, including Edward Bernays and Gustave le Bon (Tallmer). Bernays
was an early proponent of public relations and made some landmark contributions to the field. His
public relations tactics took inspiration from Bon's book on the psychology of crowds as well as the
psychological theories of his uncle, Sigmund Freud. Bernayss Crystallizing Public Opinion was a
key influence on Goebbels. Goebbels acknowledged the importance of this book's ideas to Nazi
Germany when he spoke of it during a tour he was giving of his personal library. He said that its ideas
were the basis of the Nazi's campaigns against the Jews.
Crystallizing Public Opinion was a book on what public opinion is, what forces it is comprised
of and how to manipulate it. One can imagine that Goebbels took some inspiration from the section
titled An Outline of the Methods Practicable of Modifying the Point of View of a Group (168). In it,
Bernays states that the key to shifting public opinion is to imagine yourself as a member of each
demographic you are trying to appeal to. From there, you extract those things that would appeal to as
many of these groups as possible and incorporate them as recurring themes in your propaganda.
Gustave le Bon was a social psychologist who greatly influenced the propagandist ideas and
techniques of the early 20th century totalitarian powers. Starting with Mussolini's Italy, then manifesting
in Nazi Germany, Bon's observation that people act in a way very similar to herds of animals when they
get together in groups was a foundation for totalitarian propagandist thought. Contained in his book
The Psychology of Crowds is the theory that when individuals form a group, they shed their
individual wills in favour of a collective one (Iron Youth Reader, 224). The group now has no
capacity for critical thinking; the psychological state of a crowd being unconscious and instinctual.
Also, due to the anonymity that the crowd affords, individuals in one lose their sense of responsibility

Nazi Propaganda

and will commit actions that would have been unfathomable to them outside such a state. Members of a
crowd will also willingly sacrifice themselves for the crowds purpose; their sense of self becomes
indistinguishable from the body of the crowd.
It is unequivocal that Bon's book of the late 1800s was an inspiration for the fascist leaders of
the early 20th century. Its ideas of the masses as petty, unintelligent and subject to manipulation justified
the intrusion of a strong leader in their affairs to rein them in. Bon's emphasis on race as the primary
distinguishing factor of how different crowds behave played right into the racial theories of Adolf
Hitler (Tallmer). Mussolini even kept a copy of The Psychology of the Crowd at his bedside table
(Steiner).
Hitler proved to be an important propaganda thinker in his own right with his book Mein
Kampf. The book contained the ultra-important concept of the Big Lie. It basically states that
people are paradoxically more willing to believe a lie in proportion to how big it is. This is because
people will often tell small liesand so will be sceptical when people tell similar liesbut will often
reserve suspicion when others tell big lies because they cannot imagine someone having the audacity
and knavery to tell such a lie. The claimed international Jewish conspiracy is one example of the Big
Lie. Hitler also thought that the war guilt placed upon Germans for the outbreak of WWI was an
example of the Big Lie (Marlin, 80).
Hitler mentions in his book Mein Kampf another example of the Big Lie that took place during
WWI. He said the propaganda the Allies used made the Axis look barbarous and gave the soldiers less
qualms with killing their enemies. One can see what Hitler was talking about when you read the cor pse
factory story. The story was presented in newspapers of the time and it claimed that Germans were
boiling their own dead to make various products derived from the bodies (Marlin, 71).
The construction of enemies was an inherent part of Nazi Germanys propaganda tactics.
Murray Edelman, in his book Constructing the Political Spectacle, states that a political entity can
have opponents without having enemies. An opponent is an entity that can be respected and considered
legitimate (67). Edelman gives the relationship of a police officer with an offender as a case of
opponents rather than enemies. The two groups form an anta gonism as part of a procedureone that has
negotiable limitsoutside of which they seize to be antagonists. Sports teams are another good example
of opponents; they are voluntary adversaries for the purpose of a match. An enemy is an entity whose
existence is considered illegitimate. With enemies the focus is on their character, which is deemed
irremediably evil, whether or not the enemies take any action against each other. Edelman specifically
gives the example of the Nazis and Jews as prototypical political enemies (67). The Jews did no harm
to the Nazis, but their designation as enemies of the party helped serve the Nazis political aims and
provide a focus point for their vitriol. Edelman states that the lack of deleterious actions by an enemy
can be seen as evidence of underground activity and conspiracy against the group who labelled them
enemies (68). This is especially true of the Nazis, who believed that Jews organized conspiracies on an
international scale against Europeans and the Aryan Race.
Edelman goes on to state: to personify an issue by identifying it with an enemy wins support
for a political stand while masking the material advantages the perception provides. (68) This is
exactly what the Nazis did by conflating the economic hardships wrought by the Treaty of Versailles
with the essence of the Jewish people. Thus the Jews became catch-all enemies to be blamed for
every social grievance clamoured about by the public, and the Nazis were the natural solution.

Nazi Propaganda

There is typically little correspondence between the measures people take against political
enemies and the harm the latter do, says Edelman (75). This is obvious when you consider that,
whatever harm the Jews may have done to Germans, if any, the initiation of their total abolition by
Nazis is beyond incommensurate.
The displacement of resentments onto personified targets who are vulnerable and available for
political and psychological use is pervasive in enemy construction. This often means displacement
from those who hurt to those who are politically weak, says Edel man (78). This was exactly what the
Nazis intended when they directed rage towards the Jews away from the Allies of WWI. The Allies
were not a group to be easily punished for what they had done, so a weak scapegoat could suffice for
cathartic purposes.
Despite all they did to set up the Jews as the nemesis of the German people, Nazi Germany was
not espousing an entirely new train of thought. Many of their beliefs had a foundation that was already
present in the sentiments held by many of Germans at the time. The Book The Protocols of the Elders
of Zion, published in 1903 in Russia as well as the many pogroms that occurred in the early 20th
century and throughout history demonstrate that anti-Semitism was widespread prior to Nazi
ascendancy (Princess Radziwill Quizzed at Lecture). They merely had to assert that injustices and
hardships were the result of the Jews because they knew a decent segment of the population would
willingly accept it.
The burning of Reichstag was seen as great propaganda opportunity by the Nazis. Goebbels was
delighted when it happened (Marlin, 83). After a portion of it burned in a fire in 1933, President von
Hindenberg declared a state of emergency and basic freedoms were annulled (Marlin, 83). Hitler
blamed communists for starting the fire, and after the Nazi party won 47% of the seats in parliament
during the election that was happening at the same time, the Nazis passed the Enabling Act which gave
Hitler dictatorial powers. After gaining such power, the party set about using the burning of the
Reichstag as a pretext for destroying their enemies, who they blamed for it.
Hitler said that the German nation or Marxism would be the result of the election. This is the
tactic of the false dichotomy. It limited the Germans to only two options and the way the dichotomy
was phrased clearly favoured the former one, which is obviously what the Nazi party was representing
themselves as (Marlin, 85).
Once their dominance was unquestionable, they set about implementing their propaganda plans
via the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (MPEP), headed by Goebbels. Upon being
inaugurated, the organization immediately set to work overhauling all major means of communications.
The MPEP formed censorship committees for major mediums. A film had to first be approved by their
film committee before it could reach the German public (Marlin, 84). Various newspapers were
dismantled under allegations of holding public institutions in contempt and journalists were now
required to obtain a license from the ministry (Marlin, 83). Goebbels felt that the key to inculcation
was endless repetition. This is an example of semper aliquid haeratalways something sticksif
you throw enough of the same thing at people, and the Nazis knew this well (Marlin, 80).
Another particularly deceptive technique used after the MPEP gained control of the papers was
to report facts in such a way that they made strong implications without making explicit statements. By

Nazi Propaganda

emphasizing a group of seemingly innocuous facts while downplaying or ignoring others, you can
create mental pictures of the world inside your audience that coincide with your own without ever
really deviating from the facts (Marlin, 86). The facts bring their own interpretation, says Nobecourt,
a writer on German propaganda (Marlin, 87). One example of this technique is when Nazi papers
reported that 2,000,000 American soldiers were being sent home due to lack of military suitability
while at the same time in other outlets promulgating that crime was on the rise since Roosevelt took
office (Marlin, 87).
The Nazis were even able to launder their propaganda into the enemy's own newspapers
through the superficial neutrality of a foreign newspaper. An example of this came from two Swedish
papers, owned by Thorsten Krueger, a Swedish Nazi (Marlin, 86). When his papers reported that the
British had sent an expeditionary force to Archangel, the story was immediately picked up by the Allied
papers, such as the New York Times. The story was bogus, and only served to give false hope to the
allies who were waiting for an Eastern Front to open up in the war to ease the pressure of the Western
one. In this case, the Nazis knew how to exploit wishful thinking in order to encourage division among
their enemies. Goebbels also managed to sneak stories connecting Jews with lice into Allied papers
using similar methods (Marlin, 86).
It would not have been possible for us to take power or to use it in the ways we have without
the radio. ... It is no exaggeration to say that the German revolution, at least in the form it took, would
have been impossible without the airplane and the radio. ... [Radio] reached the entire nation, regardless
of class, standing, or religion. That was primarily the result of the tight centralization, the strong
reporting, and the up-to-date nature of the German radio. (Goebbels) Goebbels believed that radio was
the eighth great power and the MPEP gave grants to radio manufacturers so that the latter could make
cheaper, better products (Goebbels). Radios of the Nazi regime were also designed in such a way as to
be unable to pick up signals not originating from within Germany, an absolutely crucial feature as
unanimity of message is needed for totalitarian propaganda to be fully effective (Chalk). Radio was
considered especially important because it was a means of disseminating Hitler's oratory, itself a wellhoned propaganda tool. Goebbels made sure that Hitler's speeches were recorded on phonograph so
that people wouldn't miss it (Marlin, 84).
The Nazis used the radio to broadcast propaganda to French troops. Goebbels hired some native
French speakers to write and perform scripts that would pacify the French by fostering images of home
and fomenting an attitude of distrust with their allies in Britain (Marlin, 85). Some oft-repeated slogans
included: England will fight Germany down to the last Frenchman and Danzig is not worth fighting
for (Marlin, 85). They even told the soldiers that the British were telling people which soldiers had
wives back home so that other men could make out with them.
Edmund L. Taylor in his book The Strategy of Terror remarked that the intention of the Nazis
in these actions was not to gain converts, but to demoralize the enemy, destroy cohesion, discipline
and collective morale of hostile social groups. (Marlin, 85) By spreading anti-Semitic propaganda,
Taylor claimed that the Nazis hoped to get the gentiles fighting among themselves over the Jewish
question.
Goebbels also got a Brit to conduct a radio program intended as propaganda for his countrymen
(Marlin, 85). His name was Williams Joyce, Lord Haw Haw, who was a supporter of Oswald
Mosley, the British fascist party leader. Joyce told his countrymen humorous stories that ridiculed the

Nazi Propaganda

upper class and also warned his audience of Nazi air strikes, making it worthwhile to listen to his
program.
The justification for the Invasion of Poland was itself a form of propaganda masterminded by
the Nazi regime (Manvell, 76). Operation Himmler was a false flag military action in which undercover
agents from the SS and the SD attacked a German customs post wearing Polish uniforms. They were
instructed to carry out minor acts of vandalism, inaccurately shoot their weapons, and leave behind
bodies of concentration camp victims who had been dressed up as Polish soldiers (Allen, 51). This
incident was supported by many other staged attacks along the Polish/German border, as well as the
transmission of fabricated anti-German messages sent across a radio station after the pseudo-capture of
outposts (Ailsby, 112). Hitler responded with this speech in front of the Reichstag:
"I can no longer find any willingness on the part of the Polish government to conduct serious
negotiations with us. These proposals for mediation have failed because in the meanwhile there, first of
all, came as an answer the sudden Polish general mobilization, followed by more Polish atrocities.
These were again repeated last night. Recently in one night there were as many as twenty-one frontier
incidents: last night there were fourteen, of which three were quite serious. I have, therefore, resolved
to speak to Poland in the same language that Poland for months past has used toward us." (Address by
Adolf Hitler)
Thus WW2 was started under a pretext of self-defence.
In summation, we can see the determination, intelligence, thought, technology and lack of
scruples behind the formidable Nazi propaganda machine. As Albert Speerthe former Nazi chief
architectsaid, Hitler's dictatorship differed in one fundamental point from all its predecessors in
history. His was the first dictatorship ... which made the complete use of all technical means for
domination of its own country. Through technical devices like the radio and loudspeaker, 80 million
people were deprived of independent thought. It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one
man. (Snell, 7) And that is why the Nazis are the paragon of totalitarian propaganda.

Nazi Propaganda

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