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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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Propaganda Piece

By Leonard Harris, '39
The Magpie, June 1939, v. 23, n. 2., p. 12.

"... Many years have passed since the end of the World War, but people still believe liars who are better trained than ever..." This is one excerpt from LEONARD HARRIS' winning Clarence Kline essay analyzing modern world propagandas.

You may discount the threat of armed invasion, and fear not the vision of an America conquered by brute foreign force; for you must fear something far more deadly than a machine-gun bullet, and be wary of something infinitely more dangerous to the safety of your country than bombs and cannon shells. You must fear now—propaganda!

Propaganda is an organized or concerted movement to spread a doctrine or a system; at times, it is a secret, often clandestine dissemination of ideas, gossip, or rumors for the purpose of injuring a person, nation, or theory. Propaganda is adaptable; it is most forceful on paper, but one may hear propaganda on the radio, on a street corner, and from the mouth of a respected orator. One may be fed propaganda from the stage and the screen and be confronted by it on the billboard, in the magazine, and in the newspaper.

Propaganda appeals to the basic instincts and characteristics of the average man: sex, hunger, fear, love, jealousy, and the desire for security; It avoids argument—appeals to emotion; it splits a case into "we" and "they," "ours" and the "enemy's," and "yours" and "theirs." It slaps labels on complicated subjects; it drums mellifluous and "catchy" slogans and bywords into the mind as substitutes for logic; and it achieves its effect by simplification, distortion, fabrication, rationalization, and association.

Unfortunately, any subject may be influenced by propaganda: war, peace, politics, religion, foreign policies, and socioeconomic theories. But to study all these forms of propaganda, with all necessary examples, would require many years; and it would take up many hundreds of volumes when written. Therefore, we will narrow ourselves to one dramatic, significant, and easily-understood classification. And this subject will be the effect of propaganda on war and peace.

* * *

With the advent of the World War, propaganda became synonymous with "professional patriotism"; it did not bother with rational, logical arguments, but was merely an ingeniously organized, artistically and skillfully executed, shrewd, and scientific system of lying to be found in every country. It capitalized on fear. One advertisement placed by our government in newspapers and magazines across the country, read:

"For the boys who are fighting in France for you—the pitiless storms of rain and sleet; the ceaseless, deafening bombardment of the guns; hunger, cold, and fever; wounds and death...

"For YOU—a little economy, a little deprivation."

"What are you doing—are you doing your part, your full share for them? BUY LIBERTY BONDS!"

Coupled with frequent but unnecessary black-outs in the major coastal cities, so-called Defense Test days, and daily atrocity stories, the government was able to float the third billion dollar touch after a score of similar advertisements were presented to the public.

The propaganda meant to hasten volunteering for service, was rampant and ordinary. It utilized beautiful girls, pleading children, atrocity stories, slacker accusations, marching bands, and gargantuan preparedness parades in every country in the world. The German propagandists, however, according to Adolph Hitler, "laughed at a ridiculous, easy-to-be-vanquished fool" instead of painting "barbarians." But when the German people realized the strength and potence of their enemies, their morale was shattered. On the other hand, they attempted to terrify their enemies, by distributing cards reading like this:

"Do you think you can destroy Germany?

"Do you think America will attain what Russia, France, Italy, England, and all the others could not manage in 1914, 1915, 1916, and 1917?

"If so— — —TRY IT!"

Instead of frightening the American soldiers, a sheet of this sort made them more determined than ever to wipe out "Huns."

* * *

The propaganda of the World War served two purposes; it supplied both hemispheres with able, experienced liars, and it made some of the people of the world a riffle less gullible. But in the thought-controlled dictatorships of today, the people are still as believing and the liars better-trained than ever. In Berlin, for example, there are five daily newspapers and over eight major radio stations, each of which "donates" space and time to the government and is forbidden to print or broadcast anything which has not met with the approval of the ministry of propaganda.

In Russia, propaganda is of a type peculiar to that country. It serves to instill fierce nationalism and love for the government and its leaders rather than to stir up hate against any foreign land. Even in America we have this "Stalin-controlled" propaganda which (until two years ago) was designed to foster love for the Soviet rather than hate for the fascist nations; in Italy there is the complex task of keeping the people passive, making them admire the German people, and bringing on hatred for Italy's potential enemies.

* * *

The American Constitution, guarantee of our liberty, is a breeding and feeding place for propaganda. The liberty which we are guaranteed is interpreted as license; the result we have various groups attempting to overthrow the ideals and principles which permit their existence. One of the most insidious of the groups which have sprung up is "The Silver League." Headed by William Dudley Pelley, its propaganda magazines, leaflets, and newspapers reach over 2,000,000 people yearly. A typical batch of the League literature showed, when examined, these articles among others: a criticism of the "kosher Duke of Windsor and his Jew-loving wife," which called the ex-King a homosexual; an article about F. D. "Rosenfelt" and the "very kosher" brain trust; an anti-Catholic article; and an expose of the "Jews' disgusting power in the U.S.A."

Slightly similar to the Nazi groups are the Italian propaganda organizations. The Lictor foundation, an "organization which went on where the Italian Fascist League ... of America left off," is made up of Italian clubs and societies frankly sympathizing with the Fascist cause. This group publishes two official propaganda sheets, and has taken time on radio stations WOV, WHOM, and WBNX, concluding these programs with the playing of the Fascist anthem!

One of the most startling examples of what length modern propagandists go to was shown by a piece recently distributed by Japanese sympathizers in America. The sheet was heated: "CAN YOU BELIEVE AGAIN? REMEMBER THE DAYS OF THE WORLD WAR? AMERICA IS AGAIN FLOODED WITH ATROCITY STORIES!" Below this heading the page was divided into two sections, one side labeled "PROPAGANDA SAYS:", and the other, "F-A-C-T SAYS:"

"Propaganda Says:" listed, for example, the statement that the Japanese had bombed the Rockefeller Hospital in Nanking, killing 150 people; and it further cited a Chinese accusation that a Japanese gunboat had shot at and sunk a fleet of Chinese junks. The quote claimed that this "slaughter" was witnessed by the captain of a German ship who had been unable to rescue one victim after the Japanese had left the scene.

But "F-a-c-t Says." According to quotation, a letter from the Rockefeller Institute states that: 1—there was no such hospital in China, 2—the German captain, when located, denied seeing any "slaughter," and 3—further claimed that he was not at the "scene" at the time!

* * *

And it is only when we are faced with such blatant lies that we realize the necessity for fighting this evil with truth, with facts, with education. Those are the only ways that we can keep this country a country of brothers, a nation of freedom, a haven for Truth!

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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