Enlisting Hearts and Minds: Propaganda and World War II

Propaganda is the art of persuasion, it is the art of inducing people to think and feel the way you want them to think and feel, and to assume that such thinking and feeling is perfectly natural and justified. As such, propaganda is all around us and in some form or another it is used by all those in authority at all times. Propaganda is often associated with totalitarian regimes and the dissemination of lies, but this ignores the extent to which democratic states employed the arts of persuasion and blurs the distinction between 'propaganda' and 'information'. For example, during the First World War Great Britain developed a series of highly sophisticated propaganda campaigns using all types of media, including the new technology of film and cinema, to demonize the enemy. No less a person than Adolf Hitler recorded his admiration for British war-time propaganda in Mein Kampf, calling it 'psychologically sound' and fulfilling its function of maintaining morale and recruitment whilst simultaneously engendering hatred and fear of the enemy.

On this course we will focus on the uses of propaganda by four of the major belligerents of World War II: Great Britain, the USA, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. All these regimes asked fundamentally the same questions when devising propaganda campaigns for their respective citizens and soldiers: What are we fighting for? How are we fighting? What action can the individual take to further the cause? And, most importantly, know your enemy! Using a wide range of illustrations we will examine some of the ways the four regimes responded to these questions. As we do so, we will consider whether there is a difference between the propaganda produced by the democracies as opposed to totalitarian regime and whether, in the final analysis, we can make any sort of judgement as to the effectiveness or otherwise of propaganda in wartime.

Dr Andrew Lacey
October 2017

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