Propaganda & Mass Persuasion: That Crazy Creel

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

That Crazy Creel

As I continue to read the blogs written by both myself and my classmates it occurs to me that we look at the word propaganda as some sort of evil. I wanted to post a blog condemning the class for being such anti-propagandists. But then I decided to re-read "Public Opinion in War Time" and it fueled the anti-propagandist feelings inside of me.
As an American living during a war, I can appreciate and understand the need for the government to sell its cause to the people it governs. It is much like the need for McDonald's to advertise french fries to citizens all over the world. Admitting that I understand this does not mean that I agree with it. I've always viewed war as something that needn't be sold to the people when it is needed. War is only needed when there is no other choice but to go to war.
Since I hold this opinion on war, I find it troubling that the Committee on Public Information was even created. This is a committee whose sole purpose at its inception was to sell a war to the American people. More troubling than the creation of this committee were the words written by its leader, George Creel. "Public Opinion in War Time" is such an interesting piece because I view it as a spring board for more propaganda to follow. This piece is actually selling propaganda itself to those who read it. It is telling the American people why propaganda is needed. This is troubling because it is a one sided view on why propaganda is essential for the safety of Americans. It does not offer the reader the negative views on such actions. For example, it does not warn the American people that by allowing such a committee to exist they might have their hand forced concerning their desire to go to war.
Creel mentions that he disagrees with the notion that public opinion is a state of mind. This is preposterous in my humble opinion. Of course public opinion has its rise in the emotions of the people. I suppose living in the 21st century I have greater experience with the phenomenon that is public opinion than that of Creel. Public opinion polls are administered everyday and have different results everyday. This is simply because news is more easily attainable. The people of this country are either more or less susceptible to propaganda. Either way it seems obvious that public opinion sways at the behest of constantly breaking news stories today.
Perhaps I'm making the mistake of viewing a part of history and applying it to today's world. That is probably not a fair thing to do. However the tracks laid by Creel and the Committee on Public Information still exist today. Creel marks the modern beginning of a propaganda machine that is making the same sales pitch today as it was then. This is why i find this piece so troubling.


Blogger A. Mattson said...

A very good, substantive discussion of the material and the issues raised by government propaganda in wartime.

One aspect is the old "do the ends justify the means" question. If the war is just and necessary, then the government needs to mobilize the public to fight and support the war effort. So, if we have a necessary and just war, then is mass persuasion, "selling" the war not just excusable but imperative?

If the war is a mistake does that make wartime propaganda worse than if it is a "good" war?

Or is mass persuasion in a democracy always a form of manipulation? Can you have a democracy or any form of government without some management of public opinion by an elite? And wouldn't that mean some form of mass persuasion/propaganda?

The CPI's use of Americanism and Nationalism, the ideals of "democracy" and "freedom" to sell a war may seem cynical in retrospect. The Bush administration does the same thing today. And many members of the American elite sincerely believe that the War on Terrorism is a decisive battle of competing ideals, that it is a war not just for national security but also a struggle to "make the world safe for democracy."

Read Edward Bernays' article about Crystallizing Public Opinion, he makes that argument that mass persuasion is a necessary aspect of democracy and should not be labelled with the negative connotation of propaganda.

2/23/2006 11:42 AM  

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