Friday, August 13, 2004

Adolf Hitler on War Propaganda

My liberal friend John Gallagher sends me this excerpt from Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Chapter Six, War Propaganda:

All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be. But if, as in propaganda for sticking out a war, the aim is to influence a whole people, we must avoid excessive intellectual demands on our public, and too much caution cannot be exerted in this direction.

Gallagher asks: "Do you think Karl Rove would agree?"

REPLY: This attempt to smear Rove appears to be based on the following invalid form of argument:

1. Hitler says X.
2. Hitler was an evil man.
3. Anyone who says X is an evil man.

The invalidity of this form of argument is self-evident. This is a 'guilt-by-association' fallacy.

Gallagher must also beware of falling into the genetic fallacy: the fact that Hitler said something doesn't make it false any more than it makes it true. Questions of truth/falsity are logically independent of questions of origin.

I can't speak for Rove, but he may well agree with the passage quoted. After all, it is a fairly good description of effective propaganda. A propagandist is like a lawyer. The job of a lawyer is not to get at the objective truth by examining the matter at hand from all sides; a lawyer is an advocate, one who makes the best case he can for his client. If he doesn't do this, if, for example, he brings up points favorable to the prosecution's case, he gets fired. Of course, an ethical lawyer (assuming that this is not an oxymoron these days) abides by certain rules: e.g., he doesn't fabricate evidence. But he leaves the ascertaining of the objective truth up to judge and jury. The 'client' of a propagandist is the government he speaks for.

Whether or not propaganda is ever morally justified, how can anyone object to the passage quoted as a description of effective propaganda? If you think that it must be wrong because Hitler (or his amanuensis Rudolf Hess) wrote it, then you are succumbing to the genetic fallacy.

Gallagher should tell us what his ploy is: guilt-by-association? Genetic fallacy? Of course, part of what Gallagher is suggesting is that the only case for the Iraq war and for 'sticking it out' was and is a simple-minded propagandistic case that ignores the other side of the argument. I say that is false. Conservative intellectuals have made a nuanced case and have rebutted their opponents. And surely Gallagher must agree that effective communication involves tailoring one's discourse to one's audience. To expect subtle reasoning and complicated argument and counterargument to appeal to a mass audience is hopelessly utopian. But then lefties do have a hankering for utopia. There is no place like utopia, but only because utopia is no place at all.

Let's read some more from Mein Kampf:

Thus we see that propaganda must follow a simple line and correspondingly the basic tactics must be psychologically sound.

For instance, it was absolutely wrong to make the enemy [in World War I] ridiculous, as the Austrian and German comic papers did. It was absolutely wrong because actual contact with an enemy soldier was bound to arouse an entirely different conviction, and the results were devastating; for now the German soldier, under the direct impression of the enemy's resistance, felt himself swindled by his propaganda service. His desire to fight, or even to stand film, was not strengthened, but the opposite occurred. His courage flagged.

By contrast, the war propaganda of the English and Americans was psychologically sound. By representing the Germans to their own people as barbarians and Huns, they prepared the individual soldier for the terrors of war, and thus helped to preserve him from disappointments. After this, the most terrible weapon that was used against him seemed only to confirm what his propagandists had told him; it likewise reinforced his faith in the truth of his government's assertions, while on the other hand it increased his rage and hatred against the vile enemy. For the cruel effects of the weapon, whose use by the enemy he now came to know, gradually came to confirm for him the 'Hunnish' brutality of the barbarous enemy, which he had heard all about; and it never dawned on him for a moment that his own weapons possibly, if not probably, might be even more terrible in their effects.