Monday, December 13, 2004

metapropaganda and the goebbels model

did he write the book?

An article in today's New York Times reviews what it calls "bitter, internal high-level debate over how far (the military) can and should go in managing or manipulating information to influence opinion abroad." These missions "could take the deceptive techniques endorsed for use on the battlefield to confuse an adversary and adopt them for covert propaganda campaigns aimed at neutral and even allied nations." Of course, it would be impossible to deceive allies and still tell the truth to U.S. citizens, so truth at home would become more "collateral damage." The debate is just one more chapter in the saga of an administration that has (whether consciously or not) employed Goebbels' principles of propaganda to an unprecedented extent. The parallels, as enumerated below, are striking. The Times article may itself be "metapropaganda" designed to conceal the fact that the military's disinformation campaign is in fact well under way.

Anytime you associate U.S. public figures with Nazis in any way you're playing with dynamite. The comparison being made here is not one of ideology, but of technique. Just as Leni Riefenstahl's film making techniques in Triumph of the Will created the vocabulary for future political films, Goebbels created the vocabulary and skill set for generations of propagandists - those who would intentionally manipulate public opinion using all available techniques. Social psychologist Leonard W. Doobs collated and summarized Goebbels' operating philosophy into 19 principles for the 1948 book Public Opinion and Propaganda. They include the following:

Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority. (principle #2)

According to the Times, Donald Rumsfeld is studying the proper relationship between "secret psychological operations" and the military's public affairs function, which is used to provide the public with accurate and timely information. A secret Joint Chiefs study recommends the creation of a single "director of central information" to manage both functions. This is in accordance with Goebbels principle #2(c), which states that the propaganda authority "must oversee other agencies' activities which have propaganda consequences." The proposed Director of Central Information would have both budget and operational control over all related functions.

The propaganda consequences of an action must be considered in planning that action. (principle #3)

There are very few independent commentators who doubt that the timing of the Iraqi elections has been determined by propaganda considerations more than strategic ones. The scheduling of the attack on Falluja until after the U.S. elections is also widely believed to have been determined by political considerations.

To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium. (#6)

Fox News Network. Flight suits, flying in a fighter jet, "Mission Accomplished" banner. Photo ops. Plucky Private Lynch. The staged pull-down of Saddam's statue. Plastic turkeys. Add your own - it's easy.

Propaganda may be facilitated by leaders with prestige. (#12)

Ever wonder why they kept Colin Powell on for so long? That's why.

The communication must reach the audience ahead of competing propaganda. (13a)

Karl Rove knew the issue of armor for soldiers' fighting vehicles was bound to erupt sooner or later. That's why the Republicans kept saying that Kerry "voted against armor for the troops." They knew they were vulnerable on this issue, and needed an inoculation.

A propaganda theme must be repeated, but not beyond some point of diminishing effectiveness. (13b)

Freedom is on the march. Freedom is on the march. Freedom is on the march.

Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans. (14)

Flip-flopper. Those who hate our freedoms. Liberals.

They must evoke desired responses which the audience previously possesses. (#14a)

Latte-sipping, elitist, NASCAR-hating liberals. Rich flip-flopper. Arabs.

They must be capable of being easily learned. (#14b)

Kerry exaggerated his own war wounds. Liberals hate America. All Arabs except Chalabi and Allawi and their friends hate our freedoms.

They must be utilized again and again, but only in appropriate situations. (#14c)

Anyone doubt that we're hearing the same message again and again? Democrats may consider it simple-minded, but Goebbels was right: Repetition works.

Let me say that again: Repetition works.

Propaganda to the home front must prevent the raising of false hopes which can be blasted by future events. (#15)

"It's going to be tough." "Let me warn you, the road ahead will not be easy." "It's hard, hard work. It's very hard. Hard work."

Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level. (#16)

That would be your Orange Alert ... but ...

Propaganda must diminish anxiety which is too high. (#16b)

Remember to keep shopping, and flying, and going on about your daily lives.

Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred. (#18)

The terrorists. The liberals. Dan Rather. Michael Moore. Those who hate our freedoms.

It's difficult to know whether the Times article is a result of leaks from disaffected Pentagon staffers, or is itself a piece of metapropaganda - that is, propaganda about the propaganda effort. That there has been some metapropaganda appears probable, however, when we read that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers issued a memorandum warning field commanders against mingling military public affairs with covert information operations. Per the Times, the memo is not being followed in the field because commanders there "believe they are safely separating the two operations " Field officers would not ordinarily disregard a memo from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs - unless the memo was written for public rather than internal consumption.

When you start playing the propaganda game, anything you say is open to question. That game is being played aggressively. Are Goebbels' principles being consciously used? You decide. If not, the Administration has crafted a similar set of rules on its own. In any case, Democrats and other Administration opponents need to understand the techniques being employed against them if they are to hold their own in future battles for public opinion.

UPDATE: Ian Welsh at BOPNews has a related post on The 14 Features of Fascism that may be of interest. Not because I'm using that empty left-wing rhetoric that says the other guys are "fascist" or anything - I'm just sayin'. There could be a "crying wolf" problem eventually, though. After 40 years of calling Officer Wiggums and every hapless cop on the beat a "fascist pig," what would you say if the real thing came along?