Goebbels and National Socialist Propaganda 1925-1945
The Track of the Wolf: Essays on National Socialism and its Leader, Adolf Hitler
It is surely here to stay, Harold Lasswell wrote in 1934 in his entry on “propaganda” for the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. How right he was. We have all been taught about the origins of the word in its modern sense—Urban VIII, the Jesuits and all that. But if the term is of relatively modern date, propaganda itself surely is not, for what were the Crusades if not a masterfully envisaged (if poorly executed) exercise in propaganda and political warfare? Napoleon, too, was no mean practitioner of the art. On a wide scale propaganda was first used in World War One; in 1917-18 the Entente dropped some 100 million leaflets over the German lines. Their content, their make-up, the means of distribution, were extremely primitive by modern standards, but they had some effect on the morale of the German troops. Above all, they had a profound impact on those Germans who after the end of the war pondered the causes of the defeat. Lord Northcliffe became a magic name in right-wing extremist circles in Munich and Berlin; Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf: “I have learned a tremendous lot (unendlich viel) from enemy propaganda in the first world war.” (He also learned from socialist propaganda and ridiculed the bourgeois parties to whom the “art of propaganda is almost entirely unknown.”) He did not need Le Bon to make him realize that the masses were stirred not by logical argument but by appeals to passion; he also seems to have understood fairly early that a lie that goes undetected for a long time, acts as a truth. Above all, Hitler was firmly convinced that propaganda was a terrible weapon in the hands of the experts. He was thinking primarily of the spoken word; there was always the danger that newspaper articles would be clever and sophisticated, i.e., the very opposite of what effective propaganda should be, the crude and persistent hammering home of a single theme (kill the Jews, destroy Marxism, defeat the enemy).
Hitler was fortunate in finding a very able lieutenant in Joseph Goebbels, an agile and fertile mind, a competent writer and excellent speaker, who combined organizational know-how with a total lack of inhibitions. He was a cripple who looked even less than Hitler himself the part of the ideal Nordic hero which played such a great part in Nazi doctrine; his only heroic exploits were in the beds of movie stars. His enemies inside the party called him a “shrunken Teuton gone dark” (nachgedunkelter Schrumpfgermane). For all that his was the best mind among the Nazi leaders; he was critical of his colleagues, but boundlessly devoted to the Fuehrer to the very end. Goebbels was the creator and chief operator of the Nazi propaganda machine from the very beginning, supervising each phase and every field of activity; unlike Mussolini, he realized the tremendous importance of the radio as a…
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