February 29, 2012

WW2 PROPAGANDA: WAR OF WORDS Part 4 Secrets of Propaganda Techniques

The most powerful and deadly weapon of World War II was capable of bringing about the complete obedience of millions of people without firing a single shot. That weapon was propaganda and it revolutionized the way in which wars were fought then and now.

World War II was one of the greatest conflagrations of all time when tens of millions of people around the world perished in battles, and from persecution and annihilation. In the years just prior to World War II, Hitler was not only mobilizing his military forces, but had already embarked on elaborate propaganda campaigns aimed at winning the support of the German people in his accession to power. He relied heavily on the unquestioning acceptance of his leadership and complete indoctrination of the people to his ideology. In Nazi Germany these factors instigated terrifying results that began with Kristallnacht, and led to the extermination of millions of people which comprised the Jews, the Poles, the Slavic, the Roma and many other nationalities. Stalin has been described as the mirror image of Hitler but was a character infinitely more sinister, whose mastery of political subterfuge reached draconian levels. He applied the same propaganda techniques to cultivate support of the Soviet people but relied on the use of brute terror and intimidation to sustain his power.

During WWII propaganda was produced at such a prolific rate that it required the formation of virtual armies of propagandists churning out a staggering volume of messages in every conceivable format. Many examples of their work have survived to this day and provide invaluable insight into the techniques used to disseminate the messages. Propaganda served a dual purpose by emphasizing its benevolent intentions, exemplified by appeals for public safety and encouraging the war effort, as well as functioning as an instrument of psychological warfare against the enemy.

Propaganda earned its bad reputation during World War II, but it was Edward Bernays, who recognizing its commercial applications, combined the principles of crowd psychology with the theories of psychoanalysis founded by his uncle, Sigmund Freud. Though Bernays was not the first to expound on the theories of the "herd instinct" he became known as the "father of public relations" for introducing the concept to the United States after the end of World War II.

The following is a synopsis of some of the techniques used by propagandists in an attempt to mold public thoughts, emotions, and opinions, as well as to deceive and slander the enemy.

White Propaganda
This type of propaganda usually consists of a one-sided argument that is delivered in a much gentler manner than other types of propaganda. Though it is benign in its message it is no less manipulative in its objectives.

Black Propaganda

presents itself as being derived from one source when in fact it had originated from another.
During WWII forces frequently employed this tactic to conceal their true identity during the course of military operations in an effort to confuse and deceive the enemy.

Grey propaganda

presents the enemy with the most difficulty as its source and validity cannot be determined. The tactics involve the dissemination of two diametrically opposed claims. The objective is to make the enemy believe claim A is true. It is immediately followed by claim B which is completely contradictory and succeeds to refute its own validity by the inclusion of an informal fallacy. It is then expected that the enemy will choose claim A.

During WWII, Allied airplanes airdropped German newspapers "Nachrichten fur die Truppe" (News for the Troops) over German-occupied areas, in an effort to undermine their military operations. Though the German soldiers were quite aware of the fact that the newspapers were dropped from Allied planes, it instilled a degree of doubt or uncertainty among them regarding the validity of the newspaper and the true identity of its carrier. Gray propaganda is one whose source cannot be confirmed.

Appeal to Fear

is a technique readily understood but rarely recognized as such because the techniques used are both elaborate and covert. Joseph Goebbels was able to instill panic and fear in the German people merely by citing the work of Theodore Kaufman's "Germany Must Perish!" which claimed that the Allies were intent on planning the extermination of the German people.


is a technique most often used during election campaigns in an effort to persuade voters to choose the "winning side". Both Hitler and Stalin employed this tactic in an effort to rally their nations. The message clearly implied that theirs was an inevitable victory, and served as an invitation to those who have not already joined them to do so now.

The Big Lie

resorts to continuously describing a complex matter and using it to justify some kind of action. Hitler did just that at the end of WWI, when he denounced the Treaty of Versailles as the instrument with which Britain and the United States despoiled Germany. By combining some elements of truth with wild conjecture, Hitler was able to perpetuate the "Stab in the Back" myth. Hence Germany's aggressive remilitarization.

Black and White Fallacy

quite simply refers to the presentation of only two choices, and the claim that you are either "with us" or "against us". Statements of this genre have been used by virtually every nation and in times of war is particularly effective when it appeals to national patriotism.

Common Man

This technique attempts to persuade the target audience that the propagandist shares the views of the common people, because they are also just "plain folks". The message is written in a manner that appeals to and solicits their confidence, and is achieved by the use of ordinary, or vernacular language sometimes accompanied by mannerisms associated with the group. Hitler employed this technique combined with that of the "Big Lie" (see video in Part 2).

Cult of Personality

is created when an individual manipulates mass media in an effort to construct a heroic image of himself, reinforced through effusive praise. The success of this propaganda is evident by the conspicuous absence of opposition, or challenge to the person's authority.

Demonizing the Enemy

This propaganda targeted individuals and groups who belonged to different nationalities, ethnicities, religions, and race, and condemned them as either grotesque evil monsters, or subhuman. Germany used the term "untermenschen" to describe not only the Jews, but ethnic Poles, Russians, Czechs, among many others. It combined the use of name-calling to reinforce negative images in the minds of the German people. Needless to say it was a tactic employed by all sides during the war.

The US army produced an effective propaganda campaign to encourage young Americans to enlist in the army. To those who are familiar with vintage American cinema, this poster depicts a stylized version of King Kong abducting Fay Wray, as the analogy for the Nazi conquest of Europe. The drawing of the German military helmet, and wooden club carved with the word "Culture" was meant to offend the German people by equating them with savages despite their pretensions of cultural superiority. American propaganda used the same propaganda techniques in demonizing the Japanese.


involved the omission or introduction of false information to deter or mislead the enemy. It was a technique successfully applied by both sides of the war in an effort to advance their military objectives. The most rousing example is the ploy used to misdirect the German armies just prior to the Allied Invasion of Normandy. Churchill's ingenious use of disinformation was able to convince German armies that Britain was going to invade along the coast of Calais which seemed logical to the enemy since it was the shortest span across the Channel.


is the method by which the propagandist organizes large-scale events, such as parades with marching soldiers, bands, and music or rallies which are used as a bandstand for patriotic, emotional speeches. In any case the atmosphere of celebration lends to the happiness, and euphoria of the target audience making them more receptive to manipulation.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

This technique involves the introduction of information that is negative, false, or uncertain, in the effort to undermine the credibility of the peoples' beliefs, directly to civilians as well as military personnel.

Flag Waving

is an attempt to justify the beliefs and actions of any group, by associating it with acts of patriotism, such as flag-waving. The target audience would then be more inclined to support the group because of its patriotic fervor.

Half Truth

is a deceptive technique which combines various elements of lies with kernels of truth making the statement difficult to refute or challenge. Other tactics might entail the use of improper punctuation or double meaning. The objective is to misrepresent the truth, evade or assign blame.


is used by the propagandist to establish credibility of certain claims or ideals. The label, or word selected to promote the ideal is meant to be sufficiently vague or harmless, so as to conceal the true nature of its objectives. Hitler's reference to the word "lebensraum" is a perfect example. It was only when Hitlers armies embarked on the conquest and subjugation of Europe, that the world came to understand the true meaning of lebensraum. Synonyms for the word "lebensraum" litter the pages of history. For example the term "Manifest Destiny" was used by American pioneers who considered themselves as God's chosen people sent to tame the wilderness of the North American continent.

"Managing the News"

This technique employs the use of classical conditioning with the intention of "Staying on Message". It was defined by Adolf Hitler who wrote "The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over." This technique can be considered the staple of propagandists the world over and has not abated since the end of the war.

Name Calling

Propagandists apply this tactic with the intention of arousing fears and prejudices among members of the target audience, usually with the expectation that it will precipitate opposition or instigate hatred against a group, or its beliefs and ideas. The technique is used to establish "name-calling" as a substitute for intelligent reasoning and reliance on facts. The Band Wagon technique may also be included to ensure that errant individuals fall into line.


Like many other techniques this one does not require definition, however the fact remains that some people fail to recognize that they have been manipulated in this manner. The propagandist relies quite heavily on simple statements and generalities to explain complex and controversial issues, all with the intention of swaying public perception and opinion.


is one of the most important tools of the propagandist, as the repetition of slogans and claims ensures that the audience will remember them and eventually accept them as facts. It is not uncommon that slogans from WWII continue to circulate today, attesting to the immense power of propaganda over the world long after the initial war has ended.


The objective of the propagandist is to deflect criticism from a government or organization by assigning blame to an external group or individual, on the basis of its nationality, ethnicity or religion. Such propaganda permits the leadership to avoid taking any responsibility for political, economic and social problems, and distracts the public by channeling their outrage to predetermined targets. The following is an election poster of the Nazi party depicting the image of a serpent (representing the Jews) who were blamed for Germany's humiliation as a result of the Treaty of Versailles.


incorporate the tools of Labelling and Stereotyping and are essentially appeals to public emotions. The effectiveness of slogans largely depend upon the skill of the propagandist in creating short, memorable phrases that support popular ideas which are always emphasized by repetition.


is a technique used by the propagandist to arouse the emotions of the target against a perceived enemy. By selecting a scapegoat, the propagandist associates them with a slanderous label, and the expectation is that the population at large will react to them with fear and loathing. This construct of lies and half-truths are heaped upon the nation, or group, further reinforced with images exaggerating the racial features of "the enemy".

Selective Truth

is the foundation of a successful propaganda campaign. It entails choosing certain words or ideas at the exclusion of others, and attempts to present them as facts. Richard Crossman, who was British Deputy Director of the Psychological Warfare Division of Supreme HQ Allied Expeditionary Force during WWII, expressed it perfectly, "The art of propaganda is not telling lies, but rather selecting the truth you require and giving it mixed up with some truths the audience wants to hear."

Virtue Words
were used by the propagandist as an instrument to connect positive values to their leader and/or mission. Words such as "Peace", "Truth", "Freedom" and "Victory" were used during WW2 by the Allies to bolster the spirit of the fighting men and their determination to win the war. It also functioned as a tool of psychological warfare which was used to erode enemy morale.

WW2 Poster Allied Unity


Today we are under the illusion that we understand propaganda but in reality that is not the case. Our parents and grandparents who had suffered the horrors of two world wars, and who were subjected to a barrage of propaganda in those years can attest to its power to persuade and destroy. The use of propaganda in our day is feeble by comparison.

At the very start of WWII, the British government printed over two million copies of these posters, with the objective of encouraging the British public to remain calm, and "keep a stiff upper lip." They were printed, put into storage but were never distributed. Other slogans printed on the same background were, "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory" and "Freedom is in Peril", and "Keep Calm and Carry On".


  1. In addition i would say that nowadays pressure of propaganda has only increased. Advertising campaigns of corporation as well as format of national news still follows the pattern established in WW2 and earlier. If its possible to elaborate, then everything we hear and learn, religion, education, parental roles, society roles is propaganda we learned to accept without thinking. But that is more matrix style thinking :)))

  2. it's disturbing to note that every propaganda technique mentioned here is being used by the climate change/global warming cabal today.

    Unfortunately,it's working.