Karen DeCoster

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Propaganda's
Fools

Statism
parades itself in various forms. Most noticeably, it puts a chokehold
on individuals through its progressive taxation policies, micro-lawmaking,
and ultra-regulation of everyday lives. Yet one of the most creeping
ways in which statism affects us directly is in the form of its
propaganda.

Every
act of state propaganda requires a cause to make it necessary. That
cause needs a catchy theme that conveys how one should think about
it. As with political polls, the simplified purpose of propaganda
is to tell us what to think. Each cause, therefore,
requires a crisis – or a perceived crisis – in order for
the masses to more readily accept the symbolism disseminated in
the name of that cause. And with crisis, fear may be a factor. And
currently, in the midst of such disquieting geopolitical volatility,
what could be more fear-provoking than the crisis of war?

For
instance, the new patriotism that is sweeping the nation is unyielding
in its grip on Americans anxious to show their love of country.
Terrorism at home and the looming threat of war with insurrectionary
jihad makers begets a massive anxiety. And fear, as a rule, tends
to be assuaged via a sense of coming together. From the mass-produced
"God Bless America" signs to pro-USA T-shirts and lapel
pins and hats, folks are snapping up this merchandise like mad.
They do so because they are told that such actions help to overcome
adversity and serve to support the affected. And the state is highly
successful in promoting such thoughts. However, all the symbolism
proves to be pointless rah-rah that intends support for the government's
actions, whether they are actually sanctioned by the electorate
or not.

Nowadays,
the "patriotic" lip service promoted by the State is eerily
reminiscent of that during World Wars I and II, when the Wilson
and FDR administrations and their assorted government entities gave
rise to a tide of mind-numbing posters meant to instill a sense
of duty among citizens devastated by war. WWII propaganda is perhaps
more compelling because of its ultimate goal in promoting outright
socialism and the building of foreign alliances abroad.

The
horrible statism symbolized by WWII-era posters sometimes harped
on feel-good themes of doing one's part and being useful, or they
may have even exploited fear by inflating crises and threatening
impending disaster. The feel-good propaganda, in particular, played
upon the natural inclination people have toward participation and
accomplishment, and it boasted of individuals playing their proper
role in the war effort; those roles for participants being that
of conserving rubber, lumber, petroleum, paper, food and other items
that are typically in high demand during times of war. A smiling
housewife boasting about her family's food rationing was intended
to provoke a general submissiveness on the part of families toward
government diktat. And conserving one's tires or lumber was a way
of having a hand in helping to provide supplies for the boys overseas.
All the while, the citizenry was unknowingly mocked into surrender
of their individuality and family-first guiding principles. Immediately,
one can understand how a move away from such docility could spark
a rising independence in society that might no longer mandate a
government's full-blown war.

Other
good behavior included abiding by price controls and believing in
the ultimate value of such, and certainly, avoiding black markets
to serve one's daily needs. A good American would rather "do
without it" was the message. And the offices of War Information,
Price Administration, and War Food Administration were adept at
conveying that meaning.

Another
form of efficacy was portrayed in the form of constant production,
with hard work being the means to the end of winning the war. After
all, who could possibly be against a good work ethic? Increased
production called for women to sacrifice domestic bliss for the
sake of her men and country. And non–war-bound men were made
to sense that they couldn't work hard enough to overcome the lack
of a draft card and military uniform. And the most outlandish State
propaganda always assured that those not meeting the demands of
the day were, in fact, working for the enemy.

Then
there was crisis and disaster. This was always portrayed in the
sense of "you can do something to prevent it." This theme
preyed on the natural human instinct to do all that one could in
order to stave off calamity. Loose lips sink ships, we were told,
and blabbermouths ultimately killed men directly. And of course,
the ultimate catastrophe was for evil to encroach upon American
shores and strike us right here at home. WWII propaganda posters
are perhaps most memorable in this sense because of the availability
of pop-culture villains from which to draw motivation. Mussolini,
Stalin, and especially Hitler provided a heap of fodder for the
statists.

In
1942, the War Production Board released a series of posters that
depict how Hitler was everywhere. According to the propaganda cretins
he was in our neighborhoods if we didn't support the war and in
our car if we didn't carpool. After all, in times of such profound
suffering and despair, there had to be ends that individuals and
families could strive for to justify the means. The evil images
of a Hitler gone mad in our personal spaces conveyed the most deliberate
messages of all.

Because
this crisis of Hitler in our homes was portrayed as bona fide, American
women were often represented as willingly giving their men to the
State to die for its war. After all, without the propaganda of encroaching
horror to engender absolute fear into a nation of peace-loving people,
the State could not possibly expect to be able to clutch loved ones
from the home and toss then into harm's way. Without this ultimate
goal from which to convey the necessity of the ultimate sacrifice,
a War-making State would have few subjects from which to garner
enough support for ongoing war. Imagine the average American being
asked to die for Churchill, or to serve the purpose of U.S. imperialist
adventures promoting puppet governments abroad?

Hence,
the notion of sacrifice was perhaps the most compelling of all during
this time because of the corollary that was presented as the alternative:
the squashing of the entire nation by its global enemies. Therefore,
the life of one man within the ambit of a gigantic whole was devoid
of any parallel worth. FDR socialism was hard at work.

And
in a less compelling sense, families were to sacrifice their vacations
and save resources for the greater cause. Staying home was said
to be beneficial toward the war effort. In fact, it was a great
way to contribute by simply doing nothing. An oxymoron, but patriotic
nonetheless. In addition, people were convinced to sacrifice laissez-faire
commuting plans for car pools; individuality was entirely eschewed
in favor of collective ambitions, as is always the case within the
framework of statism.

And
lastly, perhaps the most common type of WWII propaganda abounding
was that pushing war bonds. Of course, financing a war presented
more than just conventional money-raising problems; it also meant
that government first needed to acquire a gainful approval rating
– from an already overtaxed public – for spending the
populace into further debt. Once again, people were instructed how
to behave via posters produced by, typically, the United States
Treasury or the War Finance Division. Purchasing bonds meant directly
supporting the husbands and sons overseas, and spending ten-percent
of one's weekly paycheck was a minimum criterion in order to meet
the standards of sufficient patriotism.

All
in all, WWII successfully marketed its persuasion upon a willing
American audience just waiting to be coerced into thinking something,
believing anything, and merely following the Head Persuader.

However,
the propagandists must always first build a reputation and credibility,
even if they merely feign it as opposed to actually possessing it.
After all, persuasion is one of the keys to the democratic process,
hence, the revulsion that some of us have to “democracy” and governing
by the politicized masses.

Interestingly,
Aristotle noted that propaganda (or persuasion) was to be only used
by those of good character or good moral standing, otherwise, it
ceased to be trustworthy or to have credibility. Modern propaganda
as practiced by the State gains its "credibility" because,
as a precursor to its persuasion tactics, the State has – through
its Cradle-to-Grave-role – already exercised a seemingly legitimate
form of rule in that they are the final arbiter of all that is significant,
from taxes to the military to monopolized goods and services. Therefore,
the pre-conditions have been set for a massive campaign of telling
people how to think, act, and carry out their daily tasks.

Be
aware that the pre-WWII era was a time of isolationist impulse;
a time when an entire generation had already experienced world war,
and afterwards, only desired to stay home and tend to their domestic
lives instead of being dragged off into another series of foreign
entanglements. In spite of this, FDR's various agencies proved masterful
in their endeavor to shift the opinions of an entire nation from
coveting peace to supporting war.

For
war, it seems, had became the norm for the maintenance of a healthy
and growing State, and hence, the same propaganda lives on today
in a similarly effective role. On balance, shouldn't we all pull
together to prop up our government's wars?

May
24, 2002

Karen
De Coster, CPA, [send
her mail
] is a paleolibertarian freelance writer, graduate student
in Austrian Economics, and a business professional from Michigan.
She is writing her first book, which is a treatise against all things
statist. See her Mises
Institute archive
for more online articles.

Karen
De Coster Archives

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