[February 1, 2021] My Junior High School civics teacher had been some kind of counter-intelligence official during WW2. I remember nothing about him other than his wartime service and the time we studied propaganda. He told a bunch of wide-eyed kids that someday we would need what he was saying. He was right.
Propaganda is a form of communication, biased or misleading, and aimed at influencing a targeted population (see my earlier article and references here). It is my believe that for propaganda to work, effective leadership is required.
I’ll call my civics teacher Mr. Smith; not his real name. I remember he gave us many examples in the use of propaganda in world history. We learned about the Nazi Goebbels and Stalin’s censorship agency. We were introduced to two sides of propaganda, it is either designed to unite people in pursuit to a good cause or propaganda is created to divide to control the population.
Mr. Smith warned us how propaganda (when done correctly) is psychologically effective and difficult to detect and to counter. For some reason, it is most effective on those who live a life based on lies and deceit but not necessarily on those with low intelligence. This is counterintuitive to arguments we find today on propaganda.
He also taught us counterpropaganda – how to halt or minimize its effects.
To be effective at countering the most fundamental requirement is to be truthful. Mr. Smith pounded this into us repeatedly. Even when the counter propaganda message appears to hurt your cause, telling the truth must remain the bedrock of counterpropaganda. His students were lucky to have Mr. Smith as their teacher – his idea that the truth is the core of life continues to ring true.
While truth is important, it must also be delivered precisely and simply.
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” – Abraham Lincoln
While our teacher never mentioned President Lincoln (at least that I can remember). I quote Lincoln here because the truth is central to good living, properly serving our community and family, and central to countering propaganda. However, in Lincoln’s quote we find another point of importance; implied but still important. Bringing the “real facts” to the people is difficult.
Mr. Smith would have agreed with President Lincoln.