United States, USSR, and Nazi Germany Government Propaganda

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Historically a common theme can be seen amongst the world’s most powerful and influential nations such as the United States, USSR, and Nazi Germany, they used propaganda heavily. Propaganda is the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person (Merriam-Webster). In fact, propaganda was so important to the Nazi Regime that in 1933 Hitler opened the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda after he took power (Manvell 121). The USSR had the Department for Agitation and Propaganda (or agitprop) and the United States had the Committee on Public Information (from 1917-1919).

All of these state-run committees produced different types of media for the purpose of advancing a cause, or attacking another. But as of the 1990s, none of these departments exist, which brings up the question: Is government propaganda effective anymore? According to journalist Alan Rohn, this is an important question to ask considering propaganda can affect a large portion of a select population with the potential to misinform the general public, fueling ignorance in a nation’s people. After researching the political, economic, and ethical aspects of propaganda in the past compared to today, it is clear that propaganda is not as effective or prominent today as it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Politically, propaganda can help gather public support, which is vital for a nation’s war effort. The importance of public support leads many nations to produce propaganda either demonizing the enemy or glorifying themselves. In World War II, the United States produced broadcasts, posters, stamps, and even children’s cartoons of both types of propaganda. An example of a piece of demonizing propaganda is an American World War II era anti-Japanese poster. Throughout the second world war many posters and flyers were developed with intentions varying from encouraging investment in war bonds to generating animosity towards America’s enemies. One such poster attempts to accomplish a multitude of objectives.

First, it creates a devilish depiction of the Japanese military by depicting a Japanese soldier with sharp fangs, an evil countenance, and an aggressive hold on a white American woman, and labeling them as a “Horror.” Second, it encourages Americans to invest in war bonds claiming in the header that it will, “Keep this horror from your home.” Posters like these assisted in gathering vital public support for the war by exaggerating the characteristics of the Japanese profoundly.

However, the effectiveness of government propaganda began to take a turn with the rise of media on television and their increased presence on the front lines of war (Rohn). Only 9% of homes in America owned a television in the 1950s, this percentage increased to 93% in just 16 years. A survey in 1964 found that 58% of Americans said they, “got most of their news from television” (Rohn). Along with the rise of television, new innovative improvements to the audio recorder and video camera were being developed. Reporters could now take many more photos and record video materials, including on the front lines of war. Consequently, the government faced a great challenge in controlling all this emerging media for the first time – a task they previously accomplished in both World Wars with the use of strict policy.

With insufficient government authority, the media could now publish uncensored material revealing the gruesomeness of the Vietnam conflict and, consequently, heavily swayed American public opinion in unprecedented proportions (Rohn). One of if not the main reason the United States withdrew from Vietnam was due to public disapproval. A shocking 61% of the population opposed the Vietnam conflict by the end of it in 1973 (Newport & Carroll). The Media’s new influence greatly reduced the effectiveness of government propaganda from that point on. Others argue that today the government can use the media to its advantage, creating a new front of propaganda. However, the media is not directly controlled by the government unlike the former Committee on Public Information meaning they have very little to no influence or ability of pushing propaganda.

While politically governments use propaganda to sway public opinion, they also use it economically to increase labor. In the United States, the government tends to glorify hard labor and a productive lifestyle while making laziness and unproductiveness seem immoral. Perhaps the most popular example of American propaganda calling for labor is the poster “We Can Do It!” depicting Rosie the Riveter. While a large portion of men were overseas in World War II, the government needed more laborers to take up the jobs the men left behind to fuel the war effort. Rosie the Riveter was created to encourage women to fill this loss in labor, resulting in war mobilization and an increase of females in the labor force from 27% to an unprecedented 37% (Smith). This is similar to President Richard Nixon’s address to the nation on Labor Day in 1971 where Nixon glorifies increased labor and demonizes laziness saying, “…most of us consider it immoral to be lazy or slothful-even if a person is well off enough not to have to work or deliberately avoids work by going on welfare.”

Today, we have seen a drop in governmental influence on America’s perception of labor. While people today still believe in the importance of work, it is simply for monetary reasons, and less important in regards to “helping thy neighbor,” as the government encourages labor for. The rise of the internet, handheld devices, and social media has led to a peculiar phenomenon, the glorification of laziness (Weeks). The Bureau of Labor Statistics claims Americans are working less, around 26 fewer minutes a day compared to 2007, and enjoying on average more leisure time. Laziness today is so glorified, articles are written encouraging it; articles such as “The 10 Laziest Things That Have Ever Been Done’ and “Best Ways to be Lazy” (Weeks).

Blogs are created dedicated to being lazy and individuals create posts on social media outlets expressing how lazy they have been. Those arguing that government propaganda is still effective today claim that 26 minutes of less work a day is not significant enough to say propaganda is no longer effective, that working hours can vary. The main flaw with this counter-argument is that it fails to recognize the drastic shift towards a lazier culture not seen any other time in American history. While the government attempts to enforce propaganda to influence America’s perception of the hard laborer like they did with Rosie the Riveter, its impact is not seen today as it was in the 20th century.

Economically, the government attempts to use propaganda to encourage labor, but the ethics of propaganda also has led to a decline in its effectiveness. There is an abundance of propaganda throughout American history that, today, would be deemed unacceptably racist. Throughout the 1800s, contrary to today, the Republican party tended to be liberal while the Democratic party tended to be conservative. During this time, the Republican party was for freedom of black slaves and some (but not all) granted freedoms. This opened the door for racist propaganda from the Democratic party to damage the Republican party’s chances during national elections. Posters were created saying, “The Republican Platform is for the Nigger” and “…Around Blacks… Never Relax!” with images of exaggerated disfigured African Americans (Ferris).

Today, creating such messages would damage the creator’s reputation radically more so than the target of the propaganda. During World War I the United States wanted to negatively portray Germans, creating posters often depicting them as ferocious apes committing atrocities (Blakey). These images inferred that the German people were uncivilized beasts without morals. In World War II the Japanese were a heavy target of racism, often being depicted as rats or with exaggerated stereotypical physical features such as enormous teeth, tiny eyes, and disfigured heads. The Italians in World War II were also a target, being depicted with excessively tan skin, countenances inferring “retardation,” and obesity (Office for Emergency Management). All of these historic cases of propaganda lead today’s public to view propaganda overall as unethical.

Not only is propaganda seen as unethical today because of its history of racism, but also due to its newly found negative connotation. Up until the late 1900s, propaganda was rarely mentioned and when it was, was rarely seen in a negative light (Vidal). According to the Pew Research Center, in 1963 public trust in the government was at nearly 80%, after that year, it began to rapidly plummet to its resting point today at only 19%. When the vast majority of the public does not trust the government, they will not trust the information (or propaganda) it provides.

There are some who argue that propaganda is still effective regardless of its negative connotation because citizens are unable to realize information is propaganda. The problem with this argument is that today media outlets will almost always cover anything a high ranking government official says containing propaganda and analyze it, informing the public of the correct and incorrect information stated. This allows the public to be better informed when it comes to propaganda filled speeches and allows them to see multiple sides to an issue. The negative connotation of propaganda caused by racism and the growing distrust of the government ultimately decreases the effectiveness of propaganda today from an ethical perspective.

While the 19th and early 20th centuries blossomed in government propaganda, today, its effectiveness has shriveled. Political use of propaganda for the purpose of swaying public opinion saw heavy influence during the World Wars, but less of an influence during the Vietnam conflict due to the rise of media presence in wars. Economically, the government used to have heavy influence on the average citizen’s perception of labor, however with the rising influence of the internet and social media, propaganda’s influence dwindled. While in the past propaganda may have been seen as ethical, growing distrust in the government and propaganda’s connotation as sly and racist lead to its ethical downfall. As society advances, Hubert Humphrey’s quote appears to be increasingly true, “Propaganda, to be effective, must be believed. To be believed, it must be credible. To be credible, it must be true.”


Cite this paper

United States, USSR, and Nazi Germany Government Propaganda. (2021, Apr 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/united-states-ussr-and-nazi-germany-government-propaganda/

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