History Reviewer

Balfour, Michael Propaganda in War 1939-1945, Organisations, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979

Balfour worked for the Ministry of Information during the Second World War, from March 1939 to March 1942, he was Temporary Principal in General Division of MOI, which gave him a good view of the Home Front. From April 1942 until the end of the war he was Assistant Director of Intelligence in Political Warfare Executive/ Psychological Warfare Division of SHAEF, which gave him a good view of enemy front.

This was the first book to deal with both Britain and Germany, including what each government said to its own, and to each others public. He believed that only by doing this could we understand the whole picture, as each aspect sheds light on the others.

The scope of the book was confined to Britain and Germany unless outside events particularly impinged, concentrated upon the civilian front. It was not intended to be comprehensive, but picked important and interesting aspects. Balfour did not refer back to many documents but worked from ‘acknowledged authorities’, using footnotes to give pointers to other sources of interest.

The balance of the book was inevitably affected as he was better informed about Germany than Britain, due to the fact that there were more sources available. However, he felt that the purpose of the book was not only to describe events 1918-1945, but to shed some light as to nature of propaganda. Balfour tried to answer the following questions in the book:

  • What is the purpose of propaganda?
  • Does propaganda essentially involve misrepresentation?
  • If not, what is the difference between it and persuasion?
  • Is one automatically a propagandist if one makes predictions that do not come true?
  • Can ‘news’ be kept completely separate from ‘views’?
  • How does a publicist know whether he is reporting the truth (particularly in wartime)?
  • Is the use of the mass media essential to propaganda?

Try and find on Amazon, although the title is out of print.

See a book review from a reader in Ottawa (PDF).

By Second World War Posters

Mass Communications Academic, @MMUBS. British Home Front Propaganda posters as researched for a PhD completed 2004. In 1997, unwittingly wrote the first history of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, which she now follows with interest.

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