70 Years Since the Outbreak of the Second World War

Freedom is in PerilSo, here we are, September 3rd, 2009, 70 years after the Second World War was officially declared…  Some of the stories that have caught my attention:

And the Ministry of Information was Formed, with Lord Macmillan the First Minister of Information appointed on 4th September 2009:

Extract from PhD thesis. © Rebecca Lewis, 2004 (The 3rd chapter goes into far more detail) Please note that this information is COPYRIGHTED, so please reference this URL, or the thesis itself.

Propaganda is as old as history and several studies investigate propaganda through the ages.[1] In many minds propaganda is associated first and foremost with the Nazis,[2] then the Soviets,[3] and certainly with totalitarian states.[4] As we saw in the Introduction, propaganda was not only a tool of the totalitarian states. Propaganda itself is neutral, it is how it is used that is significant. The British had certainly used propaganda in the past, although whether it had been labelled as such is a different matter. Propaganda is not only transmitted through the medium of print, but through rituals, pageantry, symbolism, flags, music and parades, to name but some forms. Bartlett claims that it ‘has been customary for democratic countries to neglect official political propaganda until they are faced by some serious crisis’,[5] and that this therefore makes it extremely difficult for those who are called on to direct propaganda in times of crisis. With the changed nature of war, mass war, in the First World War, propaganda obtained a new significance.[6] It still took three years in the First World War before a Department for Information was formed in 1917, and it did not become a Ministry of Information (MOI) until 1918. Previously there was a variety of ‘agencies which – constantly merging and splitting – discharged the various functions related to morale, news, censorship and propaganda’.[7] The MOI was formed to instil some order into the chaos, and had been intended to control and influence opinion at home, and in allied, neutral and enemy countries.[8] The Nazis believed that the British experience of propaganda in the First World War was so good that Goebbels took it as his model for Nazi propaganda.[9]

Whereas totalitarian propaganda is often backed by violence, democracies need, at the very least, to give the impression that viewers have a choice.[10] The population had to be cajoled, encouraged and persuaded rather than being forced. The state needed co-operation from its populace.[11] Jackall describes the era from the Great War to the Cold War as ‘the axial age of propaganda’. Throughout this age state propaganda machines developed as major powers competed ‘for the allegiance and good will of their own civilian populations’. Democratic states needed civilian morale in order that ‘the vast industrial apparatus that produced ships, weapons and bombs and thus made total war possible’ could function.[12] Historians have argued that the disbanding of the MOI at the end of the First World War showed a distaste by the British for state propaganda, but discussions were still held in 1918-19 regarding the possible formation of information machinery to serve the whole of Whitehall.[13] Departmental publicity machinery grew in the interwar years. By 1939, virtually every Whitehall department possessed ‘some form of established information or publicity machinery’.[14] The Government recognised the need to use propaganda as ‘the service departments were under some pressure to maintain a good public image and satisfactory recruiting levels’. There was a recognition of the need for ‘effective advertising’, covering areas such as health education, road safety and telephones, in order to inform the public about new regulations, encourage them to take advantage of new services, and instruct them how to use them correctly.[15]

Although Lt. Commander D.S.E. Thompson wrote that ‘Propaganda is not properly understood in this country outside the ranks of the 5th Columnists and subversive organisations’,[16] in the inter-war years the advertising industry had increased in professionalism.[17] Studies increased knowledge of theories and methods of propaganda, although Grant would argue that most began with the assumption that it was dangerous, and therefore concentrated on providing remedies and antidotes to its power,[18] rather than in trying to discover means of utilising it. There was a fear that individual political parties would use propaganda for their own advancement, and therefore it was felt that the state should not participate in national propaganda. Investigations in persuasion were particularly focused upon attitude research in the 1920s and 1930s: ‘Emphasis was placed on conceptually defining attitudes and operationally measuring them’.[19] Propaganda has been studied as history, political science, psychology, sociology, and as a study of ideology.[20] Propaganda was, and is, used for a variety of reasons, in particular persuasion, education, information, celebration, encouragement, morale boosting, and identification of enemies. A variety of techniques of propaganda are used, in particular appeals to the emotions of hatred, fear, anger, guilt, greed, hope and love, and the appeal to the intellect.[21]


[1] For example, see Beller, E.A., Propaganda in Germany during the Thirty Years War, 1940; Evans, J., The Art of Persuasion: Political Propaganda from Aeneas to Brutus, 1992; Harth, P., Pen for a Party: Dryden’s Tory Propaganda in its Contexts, 1993; Jowett, G., ‘Propaganda Through the Ages’, in Jowett, G., and O’Donnell, V., Propaganda and Persuasion, 1999, pp.47-96; Sawyer, J.K., Printed Poison: Pamphlet Propaganda, Faction Politics and the Public Sphere in Early Seventeenth Century France, 1990; Sharman, I.C., Propaganda and Spin in Medieval England, Vol. 1, 2000; Taylor, P.M., Munitions of the Mind: a History of Propaganda from the Ancient World to the Present Era 1995; Thompson, D., Easily Led: A History of Propaganda, 1999; Whitehead, B.T., Brags & Boasts: Propaganda in the Year of the Armada, 1994

[2] For example, see George, A., Propaganda Analysis: a Study of Inferences made from Nazi Propaganda in World War II, 1959; Sington, D., The Goebbels Experiment: a Study of the Nazi propaganda Machine, 1942; Taylor, B., The Nazification of Art: Art, Design, Music, Architecture and Film in the Third Reich, 1990; Welch, D., The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda 1995; Zeman, Z. Nazi Propaganda, 1964

[3] For example, see Baburina, N., The Soviet Political Poster 1917-1980: from the USSR Lenin Library Collection, 1985; Bonnell, V.E., Iconography of Power: Soviet Political Posters under Lenin and Stalin, 1997; Davies, S.R., ‘Propaganda and popular opinion in domestic Russia, 1934-41’. University of Oxford: Unpublished DPhil Thesis, 1994; Kenez, P., The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilisation 1917-1929, 1985; Longton, W.B., ‘Soviet political posters: art and ideas for the masses’, History, Vol. 26, May 1976, pp.302-9; Margolin, V., ‘Constructivism and the Modern Poster (The Arts of Revolutionary Russia)’, Art Journal, Vol.44, No.1, 1984, pp.28-32; Taylor, B., Art of the Soviets: Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in a One Party State, 1917-1992, 1993.

[4] For example, see Chakotin, S., The Rape of the Masses: the Psychology of Totalitarian Political Propaganda, 1940; Daniels, G., ‘Japanese Domestic Radio and Cinema Propaganda, 1937-1945 – An overview’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol.2, No.2, 1982, pp.115-132; De Mendelssohn, P., Japan’s Political Warfare, 1944; Dower, G.W., War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific war, 1986. See also Chapter 4 ‘Propaganda and Authoritarian Ideologies’, Cole, R. Propaganda in Twentieth Century War and Politics: An Annotated Bibliography, 1996, pp.190-237, for further texts.

[5] Bartlett, F.C., Political Propaganda, 1940, p.132.

[6] For example, see Haste, C., Keep the Home Fires Burning: Propaganda in the First World War, 1977; Messinger, G.S., British Propaganda and the State in the First World War, 1992; Perry, P., ‘(Dis)ordering signs: An Inquiry into British Recruitment Posters of the First World War’, Winchester School of Art: Unpublished MA Thesis, 1995; Rickards, M., Posters of the First World War, 1968; Sanders, M.L., British propaganda during the First World War 1914-1918, 1982. See also Chapter 2 ‘Propaganda and World War I, 1914-1918’, Cole, R., op.cit., 1996, pp.88-133 for further texts.

[7] McLaine, I., Ministry of Morale: Home Front Morale and the Ministry of Information in World War Two, 1979, p.12.

[8] PRO CAB 21/1069, C.P. Robertson ‘Memorandum on the Creation of a Ministry of Information in War’, September 12 1935.

[9] Jackall, R., ‘Introduction’, in Jackall, R. (ed.), Main Trends of the Modern World: Propaganda, 1995, p.5. Bartlett, F.C., op.cit., 1940, p.105 notes that Hitler also admired the British propaganda effort from the First World War.

[10] Bartlett, F.C., op.cit., 1940, p.133.

[11] Doherty, M., ‘What is Political Propaganda?’ (Lecture), ‘MA in Propaganda, Persuasion and History’, at University of Kent at Canterbury, October 1997.

[12] Jackall, R., ‘Introduction’, op.cit., 1995, pp.4-5.

[13] Grant, M., Propaganda and the Role of State in Inter-War Britain 1994, p.35.

[14] Ibid., p.46.

[15] Willcox, T., ‘Towards a Ministry of Information’, History Vol. 69, pp.398-414, October 1984, p.399.

[16] PRO INF 1/26, ‘Letter from Lt. Commander D.S.E. Thompson to Sir Walter Monckton’, May 26 1940.

[17] See Gerver, I. And Bensman, J. ‘Towards a Sociology of Expertness’, Jackall, R. (ed.), op.cit., 1995, pp.54-73, which describes the rise of ‘the expert’ in modern society.

[18] Grant, M., op.cit., 1994, p.15. See inter-war, and inter-war influenced, theoretical works such as: Bartlett, F.C., op.cit., 1940; Doob, L.W., Propaganda: Its Psychology and Technique, 1935; Hargrave, J., Propaganda the Mightiest Weapon of All: Words Win Wars, 1940; Lambert, R.S., Propaganda, 1938; Russell, B., Free Thought and Official Propaganda, etc., 1922; Viereck, G.S. Spreading Germs of Hate, 1931.

[19] O’Donnell, V., ‘Propaganda and Persuasion Examined’, in Jowett, G., and O’Donnell, V., op.cit., 1999, p.166.

[20] Ibid., pp.1-2.

[21] See, for instance, Brown, J.A.C., Techniques of Persuasion: From Propaganda to Brainwashing, 1963, p.23; Bartlett, F.C., op.cit., 1940, p.24; p.74. See Giles, G., ‘Through Cigarette Cards to Manliness: Building German Character with an Informal Curriculum’, in Goodman, J., and Martin, J., Gender, Politics and the Experience of Education: An International Perspective, 2002, pp.73-96. When German schools were bombed, the education system broke down so children were educated with cigarette cards, ‘designed as character-building and ideological tools’, ‘blatantly tied to anti-British propaganda efforts’.

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