War Propaganda and the United States

By Harold Lavine; James Wechsler | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

WE live in a propaganda age. Public opinion no longer is formulated by the slow processes of what Professor John Dewey calls shared experience. In our time public opinion is primarily a response to propaganda stimuli.

Whether or not the above statements are regarded as true depends upon one's definition of propaganda. If, for example, one condemns all propaganda as being vicious, then the above statements cannot possibly be true. On the other hand, if one assumes that propaganda is a method utilized for influencing the conduct of others on behalf of predetermined ends, it appears that every articulate person with a purpose is a propagandist. From this viewpoint it would hence be more fair to state that ours is an age of competing propagandas. The task of the thoughtful citizen, who still believes that it is his responsibility to formulate the principal ends of life, then becomes that of distinguishing and choosing between rival propagandas. And the task of the propaganda analyst is to assist the citizen in this performance. Propaganda is a method, a device for conditioning behavior. It represents nothing new in human affairs, except a refinement of techniques and the appropriation of new instruments for exerting the stimuli. Propaganda has no doubt always existed and will continue to exist so long as human beings contrive to formulate new goals and purposes.

The individual who wishes to acquaint himself with the character of contemporary propagandas begins, therefore, not with moral discriminations but rather with technical analysis. If there is a right and a wrong in propaganda, it is to be found in the relation between means and ends, methods and purposes, and not in propaganda itself. At any rate, in a relatively free society it is to be assumed that each individual or each group which has a purpose also has the right to propa

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