October 24, 2022

Militarized advertising and public relations and the imperative of war

From The Fall of the Dynasties: The Collapse of the Old Order 1905–1922, Edmond Taylor (Doubleday, 1963):

«Two world wars and a decade of cold war between the West and the Communist-bloc nations have made us all familiar with the miscellaneous manipulations and unpleasantnesses that for purposes of administrative or journalistic convenience are lumped under such headings as “psychological warfare” or “political warfare.” … The words are relatively new, and so of course are some of the techniquest, but the basic tactical patterns go back to the dawn of human history. …

«During the first world conflict, however, these black arts of war (and of diplomacy) were practiced so systematically and on such an unprecedented scale that they virtually constituted a new dimension of warfare. For the first time in history, elaborate specialized machinery was set up to furnish unorthodox support to the conventional operations of armies, foreign offices, and police departments. That peculiar modern phenomenon, the psychological (or political) warrior – the militarized version of the advertising man or public relations expert and the bureaucratic cousin of the professional revolutionary – was born.

«At the beginning of the war the emphasis, at least in the propaganda field, was defensive rather than offensive, and focused on the home front (in itself a new concept). … As Professor Harold A. Lasswell remarks in his classic work, Propaganda Technique in the World War, “propaganda is a concession to the willfullness of the age.” In the twentieth century – or at least in its first decade – men could no longer simply be ordered to give up their right to private happiness at a ruler’s whim; they had to be persuaded. The spread of literacy and the development of rapid mass means of communication facilitated the task of persuasion. Naturally – though at first glance paradoxically – the worst propaganda excesses were committed in the Western democracies, where the common man was, in Lasswell’s terminology, the most “willful.”


«One type of Western morale-building propaganda which proved to be particularly self-defeating and even traumatic in the long view was the abusive appeal to the latent idealism of the masses through slogans such as The War to End War (originally inspired by H. G. Wells) and Make the World Safe for Democracy (derived from President Wilson’s message to Congress of April 2, 1917). No doubt the politicians who thus exploited the hopes of their peoples with these high-sounding but demagogic pledges of a better world were the first victims of their own propaganda; the unending wonder, when we look back upon it, is how intelligent and cultivated men – including a trained historian – could ever have deluded themselves into believing that prolonging the sordid massacre in Europe would make it possible to build a better world. The apathy and skepticism of the Western masses a generation later, when confronted with Hitler’s naked threat to the survival of their most elementary freedom, can be traced in good measure to the overdoses of war medicine that the new witch doctors had brewed for their fathers between 1914 and 1918.

«Even more deadly in its ultimate effects than the propaganda of misdirected idealism was the propaganda of hate. Again the democracies  were the worst offenders. In France a kind of forgery mill, supported by secret government funds, ground out fake photographs of German atrocities to back up the no-less-cold-bloodedly fabricated news reports of Belgian babies with their hands wantonly hacked off, of women with their breasts cut off by German bayonets or sabers, of factories for making soap out of human corpses. The British were a trifle more subtle, but hardly more scrupulous in exposing the outrages of the savage “Hun” …. Twenty years later the scars left on the public mind by this wartime atrocity propaganda – which of course was speedily exposed after the fighting ended – were still so inflamed, that American newspaper correspondents in Europe had the greatest difficulty in persuading their editors to print authenticated reports of authentic Nazi atrocities.

«As the war advanced, the propaganda activity of the chief belligerent powers became increasingly intensive and organized. … In all the belligerent countries the propaganda bureaus worked more or less closely with the General Staff, with the military censors, with the secret police and intelligence services and with an extensive volunteer (sometimes covertly subsidized) network of journalists, writers and politicians. The end result was a series of what amounted to immense – and immensely powerful – lobbies with a vested interest in fighting the war to the bitter end; the remorseless pressure of these bellicose lobbies on both the German and the Entente governments seems to have been a substantive factor in blocking the movement for a compromise peace that was launched so promisingly by the [new] Emperor Karl in March 1917.

«The political warfare activities of the several belligerents, aimed at demoralizing or splitting up their enemies, were an even greater impediment to peace negotiations. … As the deadlock continued, each side became increasingly irresponsible and unscrupulous in attempting to foment revolution behind the enemy’s front. Every racial or religious minority, every disaffected social category became the target of subersive incitements and appeals. Every group hatred, fear, or greed was played upon; every irredentist ambition was encouraged. Generally, it was only the most extreme minority leaders who would accept to work for, or with, the enemies of their nominal fatherland. Sometimes, however, the heavy-handed repressiveness of the wartime dictatorships – or hatred of the war itself – drove previously responsible and moderate minority leadership into collaborating with the enemy; in such cases it inevitably turned extremist, and in the process sometimes succeeded in committing its new allies to more radical objectives than they had originally contemplated.

«The career of Thomas G. Masaryk, the son of a Bohemian coachman who became the founder and first President of the Czechoslovak Republic, was a case in point. …»


“To the Bitter End”

«… For the Bolsheviks, the awakening was terrible. As a starter the Central Powers demanded that Russia cede Poland and the Baltic territories. Recognition of Finnish independence was soon added to the conditions. Then came the crusher: Russia must also recognize the independence of the Ukraine, which had been proclaimed by the anti-Bolshevik and pro-German local government in Kiev on January 1 [1918]. Some of the Austrian and even German delegates felt that the precarious Soviet regime was being strained to the breaking point, but this did not worry General Ludendorff, the occult dictator of Germany and the real author of the Brest-Litovsk diktat. “Paranoia had him in its grip,” declares John W. Wheeler-Bennett in his masterly Brest-Litovsk: The Forgotten Peace, and the diagnosis seems plausible. Ludendorff’s ultimate aim was the total dismemberment of Russia and though this objective implied the final liquidation of the Romanov dynasty it had seemingly been approved by the Kaiser. In fact, according to Wheeler-Bennett, a dangerous rivalry had developed among the minor German royal or princely houses over the distribution of the expected Eastern spoils …»