Monday, 16 November 2020

How the Nazis used propaganda to such terrible effect


Adolf Hitler, the leader or “Fuhrer” of the Nazi party, held absolute power in Germany between 1933 and 1945. From the time of his entry into politics in 1919 shortly after the end of the First World War, to his suicide in 1945 at the end of the Second World War, he relentlessly pursued two central goals: a highly aggressive policy, based on racism and hyper-nationalism, to greatly increase the territory and power of Germany and a campaign of hatred against Jews, culminating in the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust. His name has become synonymous with evil.

Hitler saw propaganda as key to his success. In 1936, at the annual Nazi rally in Nuremberg he said, “Propaganda brought us to power, propaganda has since enabled us to remain in power, and propaganda will give us the means of conquering the world.”  

Propaganda needs the right conditions to be successful. After the First World War, the economic situation was dire for Germans and the country had been humiliated by its defeat and the terms imposed on it after the war. There were widespread calls in Germany for a “strong leader” to emerge as a saviour. 

Nazi propaganda was always accompanied by violence and intimidation. Before they gained power - democratically - in 1933, Nazi Stormtroopers, a paramilitary force, were frequently on the streets. Once in power, the Nazis quickly set up a murderous totalitarian dictatorship, a repressive police state, and a climate of terror. However, there was no pause in their relentless propaganda – people’s hearts and minds could not be won by terror and repression alone.

Hitler set out his views on how to use propaganda in his notorious and hate-filled book Mein Kampf which he dictated in 1923 and 1924, when he was in prison and was a nobody on the lunatic fringe of the extreme right. Within a decade he had obtained supreme power in Germany.

He believed the masses could be easily manipulated by propaganda, if used properly. By propaganda, “heaven itself can be presented to the people as if it were hell, and vice versa, and the most miserable kind of life can be presented as if it were paradise.”

“[Propaganda] is a terrible weapon in the hands of those who know how to make use of it’, said the man, who more than any other was to prove this statement true.

Hitler studied the propaganda methods of others like the Italian dictator Mussolini (who himself drew inspiration from the Roman Empire), the Russian Bolshevik revolutionaries and British propaganda in the First World War.

Soon after Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, Joseph Goebbels joined the Nazi Party and later he became the Propaganda Chief. He was influenced by the work on propaganda of the American Edward Bernays and by American commercial advertising techniques. He declared he would use, “American [propaganda] methods on an American scale.” 

Goebbels, like Hitler, believed that the people are easily manipulated by propaganda, “The people are mostly just a gramophone record playing back public opinion. Public opinion, in its turn, is created by the organs of public opinion such as the press, posters, radio, school, universities, and general education.”

Both Hitler and Goebbels regarded propaganda as work of prime importance that demanded trained specialists, “the most skilled brains that can be found”. Control was centralised and the work closely supervised. The details had to be got right.

Nazi propaganda necessarily changed over time. In the early years, the Nazi Party was a tiny party of no importance. Hitler wrote about his frustration, “We should have been very pleased if we were attacked or even ridiculed. But the most depressing fact was that nobody paid any attention to us whatsoever. This utter lack of interest in us caused me great mental pain at the time.”

The Nazis used a variety of propaganda techniques to get themselves noticed. They held public meetings; the posters, leaflets and huge banners were all emblazoned with the party’s symbol, the swastika. In Mein Kampf, Hitler specified that such meetings must be in the evening “when [people] easily succumb to the domination of a stronger will” and the meetings should have “the mysterious artificial dimness of the Catholic churches”. 

Hitler would always speak and use violent, provocative and threatening oratory. 

The “security” would be provided by the Stormtroopers, who would cause and provoke violence, which was a kind of propaganda itself. It meant the Nazis were no longer ignored. It also helped the Nazis own morale. Goebbels remarked that “blood is the best adhesive”.

Propaganda, according to Hitler and Goebbels, should be aimed at the masses, and not at intellectuals, in fact it should be aimed at the “lowest mental common denominator”. It should appeal to emotion, not reason.

Goebbels wrote in his diary,” The essence of propaganda is to keep it simple and use constant repetition.”  Simplicity and repetition of words and symbols were key.

Speeches should use simple, short, sharp words, be dogmatic, and always confident. The content was typically to set “Us” against “Them”. “Us” were those Hitler considered “racially pure” Germans and Aryans. “Them” were usually the Jews or could also be Communists, Bolsheviks, Socialists, Gypsies, homosexuals or whosoever was chosen.

Hitler – of course, not restrained by any moral scruples - sought to make people fear and hate. He would lie freely. He wrote that a big lie was more likely to persuade the masses than a small lie “since [the masses] themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large scale falsehood.” 

After 1933, the Nazis’ annual rallies held at Nuremberg grew to an enormous size. Rows upon rows of uniformed Nazis marched holding burning torches behind banners with swastikas. Hitler stood before an imperial backdrop. The lighting, the sounds, the colours, the music were all planned minutely. The timings had to be split-second. 

The rallies were modelled on Roman times when uniformed men marched behind eagles and banners emblazoned “SPQR”. They projected power – and fear.

The Press was recognised by Hitler in Mein Kampf as the most effective form of propaganda. Accordingly, the Nazis set up or bought their own newspapers. The backing of the media empire of Alfred Hugenberg, the largest in Germany, was to play a key role in the Nazis winning power.

It was the young who were the Nazis’ greatest supporters. Even before they came to power, the Nazis set up youth groups, for boys and girls aged between 10 and 18. They all swore oaths of personal allegiance to Hitler and were told “your life belongs to the Fuhrer”. After 1933, indoctrination started for all school children.

Even pre-school children might have Nazi children’s books, games and toys. This propaganda sought to shape children’s thoughts so they would grow up to be “good Nazis”.

Nazi propaganda from the beginning promoted a “Fuhrer cult”. Hitler’s deputy’s declaration at a Nuremberg rally was typical, “The Party is Hitler. But Hitler is Germany, just as Germany is Hitler!” As historian, Ian Kershaw, points out, by 1936, “ubiquitous propaganda made the drug of the ‘Fuhrer Myth’ hard to resist.” 

However, manufactured charisma is dependent on success. When the military tide turned against Germany in 1942, the Fuhrer cult weakened.

In 1933, Goebbels became Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda. From now on, Nazi propaganda was almost completely uncontested, there were no dissenting voices. Listening to a foreign radio station, for example, was punishable by death.

Goebbels took control of all means of public communication, including: radio, films, newspapers, literature, music, theatre, and fine art. He had huge resources at his disposal. He intervened very actively. He would demand certain actors be hired, certain lines in films be changed. Soon after taking power, he presided over the public burning of books he considered “undesirable”.

In March 1933, Goebbels addressed the press in Berlin. He told them, “the new government no longer intends to leave people to their own devices”. The plan was, “to work on people until they accept our influence.”

Goebbels wrote in his diary, “The press is now all mine.”  He could instruct them what to say. Even when he did not, they knew what was expected of them.

No one in Germany could avoid Nazi propaganda. Symbols such as the swastika were everywhere. People on meeting others would say “Heil Hitler” and perform the Hitler salute, a straight arm lifted in front of them. Many civilians wore Nazi uniforms. Even the way that soldiers marched – the aggressive goose-step – sent a clear message. And throughout the year, the Nazis promoted festivities for the people to take part in, each with its own particular Nazi ritual.

The Nazis produced cheap radios which could receive only one wavelength, which broadcast Hitler’s speeches. It was compulsory to install radios with loudspeakers in cafes and public places. It was compulsory to listen.

Under the direction and supervision of Hitler and Goebbels, the Nazis used existing propaganda techniques on an unprecedented scale, with persistence and close attention to detail. They combined propaganda with violence and intimidation. Their propaganda was relentless, continuous and impossible to escape. It was highly effective with the most terrible consequences.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

The UK is on a very slippery slope towards a dictatorship

On 7 October 2020, Lord Neuberger, a former president of the Supreme Court and one of the most respected legal figures in the UK, said something extraordinary. He issued this warning: the Johnson Government's Internal Markets Bill, which explicitly allows the UK to break international law and which in vital respects deprives people of the right to challenge the Government in court, puts the UK on a "very slippery slope" towards a dictatorship.

Matters have, however, become even more worrying since Neuberger spoke.

On 15 October 2020, a Bill passed its Third Reading in the Commons and may prove more dangerous to UK democracy and the Rule of Law than even the Internal Markets Bill.

The Bill was the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill. Covert human intelligence sources (known as "CHIS") are people who operate undercover in order to collect intelligence.

Sometimes, in order to maintain their cover, CHIS have to commit crimes. There have been no cases where the State has ever prosecuted a CHIS for such crimes, because no doubt the prosecuting authorities have always used their discretion. However, the purpose of the Bill, according to the Government, is to put protection from prosecution on a statutory basis.

The provisions of the Bill are extraordinary. Certain designated persons will have the power to grant "criminal conduct authorisations."  These will authorise a CHIS to engage in criminal conduct in connection with an undercover operation. It will guarantee that the CHIS will not be prosecuted.

From the words of the Bill and the debate in the Commons, it is absolutely clear that such an authorisation has no limit as to the type of crime. A CHIS could commit murder, torture or rape with impunity.

A CHIS would have James Bond's "licence to kill" or to torture or to rape.

And this is the list of 14 organisations that would have the power to grant criminal conduct authorisations with no input from a judge.

Any police force. National Crime Agency. Serious Fraud Office. Intelligence Services.  HMRC. Armed Forces. Dept of Health and Social Care. Home Office. Ministry of Justice. Competition and Markets Authority. Environment Agency. Financial Conduct Authority. Gambling Commission

Under the provisions in the Bill, Criminal conduct authorisations should only be granted by one of these 14 organisations for one of three specified purposes: -      1. National Security  2. Preventing crime or disorder or detecting crime 3. In the interests of the economic well-being of the UK.

These purposes set a low threshold. Someone at one of the 14 organisations might decide, for example, that campaign groups wanting to help the poor, or to rejoin the EU, or to stop a climate catastrophe could all be targeted legitimately "in the interests of the economic well-being of the UK."

Sadly, there is a well-documented history of undercover operations being abused by the authorities. It is naive to assume that the extraordinary powers in the Bill are not likely to be abused with serious consequences, not only for individuals but for the Rule of Law and democracy.

One notorious example of abuse is that an undercover policeman was sent to infiltrate the group around the grieving parents of Stephen Lawrence after his murder.

A major Inquiry, the Undercover Policing Inquiry, is currently hearing evidence and has heard multiple accounts of State abuse of power. These include evidence from women in campaign groups who had relationships with, and many had children with, CHIS - who they thought were fellow activists - and who now, understandably, feel they have been "raped by the State".

Over 1,000 political groups have been infiltrated by CHIS over the last 40 years. They include Trade Unions, environmental groups like Greenpeace, peace groups like CND, groups campaigning against measures like the Poll Tax, and groups campaigning for social justice. These groups were not a danger to the State, but may well have been highly irritating to those in government.

At least one murder has been linked to CHIS. In 1989 a Belfast solicitor, Pat Finucane, was shot dead in his home by loyalist paramilitaries with the since admitted involvement of CHIS.

It is no doubt true that some undercover operations have helped keep the UK safe from terrorism and crime. It is clearly desirable that there is a proper legal basis to cover crimes committed by CHIS. The Undercover Policing Inquiry has not yet reported. When it does so, it will provide recommendations for appropriate law to cover the operation of CHIS. However, the Government is clearly not prepared to wait for the Inquiry's report: they have not explained why the matter is so urgent after decades, that they will not wait.

The Government claims that there are safeguards against abuse of power in the CHIS Bill, but they are wafer-thin. It cites the Human Rights Act, but the Government itself has previously argued the Act does not apply to CHIS. Furthermore, ministers have made no secret of their wish to scrap the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the underlying Convention.

The Bill grants the power of oversight to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner (IPC) but that is only to review. No prior judicial authority is needed. The IPC is not remotely adequately resourced to be able to meaningfully oversee, even in retrospect, the use of the powers in the Bill.

There are tougher safeguards for the police obtaining a search warrant of your house or garden shed than there are in the Bill for someone on the long list above granting criminal conduct authorisations.

Do you trust Priti Patel, Matt Hancock, Robert Buckland or someone you have never heard of in the Food Standards Agency, the Gambling Commission, Environment Agency, HMRC or the rest not to abuse their power?

Lord Neuberger was right. The UK is on a very slippery slope toward a dictatorship. Unless those putting us on that very slippery slope can somehow be stopped.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

How the Roman Emperor Augustus used propaganda 2,000 years ago

A very few people, rather than being carried along on the current of events like the rest of humanity, exceptionally manage to divert that current and change the course of history. Their use of propaganda is usually key to their success.

We are all affected by propaganda – sometimes easy to see, sometimes hidden so that we are not even aware of it. Propaganda has been around for thousands of years. One of the most brilliant users of propaganda in the ancient world was the first Roman emperor, Augustus.

The word “propaganda” is often used in a derogatory sense, but it can used for good as well as for ill. I use the word in the broad sense of putting out a message, by whatever means, with the intention of influencing people’s opinions.

Augustus was the first emperor of the Roman Empire just over 2,000 years ago. He used many different forms of propaganda including: his description of a comet, political trickery, buildings, statues, history, poetry, coins, a programme of moral revival, “bread and circuses” and his own name and title.

When Augustus defeated his only then rival for power, Mark Antony, at the Battle of Actium, in 31 BCE, he became the undisputed ruler of the Roman Empire and remained so until his death, 45 years later in 14 CE.

Before Augustus, Rome had been a Republic for 500 years. The Republic was not a democracy; it was an oligarchy. However, the system was designed to ensure that no one man could seize sole power.

Before the Republic - in the mists of time - Rome had been ruled by kings, who still had the reputation of being cruel tyrants centuries later. Augustus was always careful not to use any title that suggested he was a king in all but name. Instead, he used the modest title Princeps, “first citizen”.

Augustus was born in 63 BCE and was a teenager when Rome was in the throes of a bloody Civil War. The victor of that war was Julius Caesar, who was later murdered by a group of Roman nobles in 44 BCE shortly after declaring himself Dictator for Life.

It was the murder of Julius Caesar – and Caesar’s will - that changed everything for Augustus. In fact, he was not called Augustus at that time. He was born Caius Octavius and was Caesar’s great-nephew. Caesar and his great-nephew were not close, but Caesar decided to make Caius Octavius his heir and adopted him in his will.

Aged only 18, Augustus inherited money and Caesar’s name. He took a new name, Caius Julius Caesar. Mark Antony once sneered that he was “a boy who owes everything to his name”.  The boy at 18 had ambition and an astonishing political maturity but it is true that in the beginning he owed his success to his name and his links with Caesar.

Caesar had been popular with the common citizens in Rome partly because he kept them happy with “bread and circuses”. Augustus borrowed when there was a delay releasing money in Caesar’s will to give a sum to every Roman citizen and to put on lavish games, with gladiators and wild animals, to entertain the people.

During the games in Caesar’s honour, a comet appeared in the sky. Usually, comets were said to bring bad luck. However, Augustus in a brilliant move declared the comet was Julius Caesar ascending to heaven and had a star attached to Julius Caesar’s statue in the heart of Rome.

Throughout his reign, Augustus spared no expense in putting on games and feasts for the Roman masses. Potent propaganda for his rule.

Soon, Caesar was declared a god. Caius Julius Caesar – that is Augustus - then added to his name the words divi filius, “son of a god”.

The Divine Caesar also had a month named after him, the month of July. Some decades later, in his lifetime, Augustus had a similar honour – the month of August.

Between the murder of Caesar and his defeat of Mark Antony thirteen years later, Augustus was engaged in almost relentless war, first as an ally of Mark Antony and then fighting against him.

During this period, Caesar was a ruthless, murderous war lord. He ordered the murder of political opponents. He is even said to have gouged out someone’s eyes with his own hands. He became feared.

Augustus used propaganda to ridicule Mark Antony for being under the influence of his lover Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt. The poet Horace jeered, “The shame of it! A Roman enslaved to a woman (you future generations will refuse to believe it)”. Mark Antony was painted as being ensnared in a decadent Oriental world.

After the defeat of Mark Antony, Augustus had no rivals for power. The central message justifying his rule was that he – and he alone – could bring peace after so many years of Civil War.

In the 45 years of his rule, Augustus’s used different propaganda techniques. He was astonishingly successful at persuading people of his messages. He had a number of advantages: money, a monopoly of the means of propaganda and a long time to spread his message.

It was essential for Augustus to portray his rule as legitimate. Rome had not been governed by a single individual for half a millennium and Julius Caesar was murdered precisely because other members of the Roman elite would not accept that he should have such power.

Augustus managed to pull off an extraordinary trick. He held supreme power yet could plausibly claim that he did so only because the people demanded it.

In 27 BCE, Augustus made a speech to the Senate which a later historian, Cassius Dio, described. Dio wrote that Augustus wanted to “have his sovereignty voluntarily confirmed by the people, so as to avoid the appearance of having forced them against their will”.

Augustus addressed the Senate, “You see for yourselves, of course, that it is in my power to rule over you for life… However, I shall lead you no longer… Nay, I give up my office completely, and restore to you absolutely everything…”

Augustus’s speech was met, as he planned, by cries from the senators “begging for a monarchical government” and Augustus was “forced, as it was made to appear, to assume autocratic power.”

This was also the occasion that the name “Augustus” was granted to the “monarch” by a decree of the Senate. 25 years later, Augustus was granted a further title pater patriae, Father of the Country.

Augustus set out to change the culture of Rome and its empire. He called for Romans to go back to the traditional values which had been lost: simplicity, self-sufficiency, strict upbringing, order, subservience within family, bravery, diligence, self-sacrifice.

Augustus set himself up as the exemplar of these virtues. He lived a life of “comfortable moderation”. He did not indulge in conspicuous consumption – although he was the richest man alive. He reinvented himself; he was no longer the brutal warlord.

Augustus brought in laws on morals making adultery a crime. This caused him huge problems when first his daughter Julia and then ten years later his granddaughter Julia were found to have committed adultery. Both were sent into exile.

Augustus also revived religious observance. He restored temples to the Roman gods and built new ones. Throughout the empire, local rulers copied what Augustus had done in Rome and also built shrines to “Rome and Augustus”. Augustus, who was made a god after he died, would not allow himself to be worshipped in his lifetime but made an exception if his name was linked with Rome and the worship was not actually in Rome itself.

Not only in temples but also in household shrines, millions prayed to an idealised and divinely sanctioned Augustus.

Augustus boasted that, “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” The appearance of Rome was transformed under him and again what happened in Rome was copied elsewhere in the empire. The imposing new buildings – including a magnificent mausoleum for himself - impressed and awed those that saw them. As did the life-changing but less glamorous constructions providing drinking water and building sewers. Architecture is a powerful form of propaganda.

Poets produced work to add to the glory of the emperor. Virgil wrote a national epic, The Aeneid, showing the history of Rome from its foundation. He traced back Augustus’s ancestors to gods and showed the age of Augustus as predestined, the result of divine providence. Here is the man whose coming you so often hear prophesied, here he is, Augustus Caesar, son of a god, the man who will bring back the golden years to the fields of Latium… and extend Rome’s empire… to a land beyond the stars.”

Everywhere throughout the empire there were statues and paintings with idealised likenesses and mass-produced jewellery, utensils, and all sorts of household items. And everyone handled coins with the image of Augustus. No one could escape seeing his image every day.

Augustus was a military dictator who ruthlessly seized power. Through a wide range of propaganda, he legitimised his rule and reinvented himself as the wise father of the nation. He left a legacy that lasted for centuries after his death.