“Propaganda is nothing other than the predecessor of an organization. Once there is an organization, it becomes the predecessor of the state. Propaganda is always the means to an end.” Joseph Goebbels said that, right on page 44, and he was the propaganda chief of Nazi Germany.
I’m reading a biography of that guy by Curt Riess. It was originally published in 1948, only three years after the end of World War II. The version I’m reading is a paperback published in 1960. At this moment, I’m only about 15% into it and already Goebbels is blaming Jews for whatever he thinks is wrong in that country. That whipped-up hatred led to the Holocaust, the mass murder of some six million Jews during that war.
Fortunately, the nightmare state of Nazi Germany was destroyed by combined forces of the Allies, which largely consisted of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and the Soviet Union (which died on December 26, 1991). Suicide was the order of the day as the Nazi state collapsed. Like Hitler, Goebbels killed himself to avoid capture, trial for war crimes, and execution. Better to kill yourself than be humiliated at trial then hanged by the enemy.
What struck me while reading this book is how easily people can be convinced of virtually anything so long as the message is sent loud, clear, and often. People respond emotionally to propaganda. It’s an effective way to build a power base, and that power base cares not one bit about whether the propaganda is based in truth. In a reach for absolute power, truth is irrelevant.
Consider today’s Russia. When the Soviet Union collapsed, a KGB colonel began his rise into this fledgling democracy. Russian citizens have no real history of democracy and did not see the danger in Vladimir Putin’s climb to become a dictatorial strongman. He consolidated power one step at a time. Killing or imprisoning political adversaries, reining in the media to become state propaganda outlets, and tweaking the Russian constitution to stay in power for the rest of his life. He shut down the international Internet to control the flow of information.
And then Putin invaded neighboring Ukraine. He just wants the land. He lied to Russian citizens about Ukraine being led by Nazis and the threat he claimed they posed to Russia. That’s the propaganda. Unfortunately for the Russian military, they’ve largely discovered by personal experience that Putin lied.
Words are an essential part of propaganda. Reading this book really drives home how viciousness and hatred can find followers, and that’s frightening. When something goes south, publicly and stridently accuse, and a lot of people will believe the lies and follow the liar. I’m in for a scary experience by reading this book, and I have a good number of books about World War II, both in Europe and in the Pacific.
Occasionally, when I visit Los Angeles (about an hour away), I drop into the Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood, very close to Burbank. They buy and sell used books, and a lot of them. They’ve got about 150,000 on the shelves right now. That’s where I found this thing. On a recent visit, I bought four books. The Goebbels book was $3.50. There is a universe of knowledge in a used book store. If you’ve never been in one, find one and go.
The photo with the cat? That’s the Iliad Bookshop. Their other cat was napping by the cash register.
This book was manufactured in 1960 and is in rather delicate condition. The pages have turned shades of yellow and orange and have become brittle. Some develop cracks as I turn the page. Paperback books were not intended to last 63 years. I wonder if this thing will crumble as I progress. If it does crumble like an old, dry tree leaf, I might be spared some nightmares. In which case I will feel two things: 1) Regret that I didn’t get to finish it. 2) Relief because I didn’t get to finish it.
Those who stridently accuse, declare certain other people as enemies, who stir people to anger, are probably spewing propaganda and they certainly don’t want you to realize they’re lying. Be careful about whose words you believe.