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Zusammenfassung von Propaganda

Edward Bernays

The Art of Public Communication and Relations

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    Mass propaganda was first used as a tool to mobilize societies for war.

    Propaganda plays a leading role in the drama of the twentieth century. And, like so many of the things we associate with that turbulent age, its significance first became apparent during the First World War. So that’s where we’ll start.

    The conflict that broke out on July 28, 1914, wasn’t like earlier wars. Its scale was different, for one. Involving every major European empire, it spanned the globe – that’s why it was a world war.

    But it was different in other ways, too. It wasn’t restricted to the battlefield. Of course, soldiers served at the front, in the trenches. But a new term entered people’s vocabulary: the “home front.” This second, domestic front was just as important – it was here, after all, that the rifles, machine guns, shells, and rations needed by those soldiers were produced. The newfound importance of civilians in what became known as the “war effort” made them military targets. Cities were bombed from the air and ships carrying grain were torpedoed from beneath the waves.

    Put differently, the scope of war had changed. War had become all-consuming; it now affected every part of life, eroding the distinction between soldiers and civilians. This was total war. And total war required total mobilization.

    States took charge of economies, dictating who’d produce what and when. Food was rationed and the price of staple goods controlled. Governments began marshaling entire populations. It became more important than ever to convince people that these hardships and losses were necessary. That they served a higher purpose. That the war, however terrible, had to be fought to the bitter end.

    And that’s where propaganda came in. Propaganda was the tool governments used to justify all that suffering and motivate people to keep fighting – and dying. To mobilize societies for war.

    Which brings us to 1917 – the year a 26-year-old American press agent named Edward Bernays joined a newly created government department. It was called the Committee on Public Information and it was tasked with mobilizing American society after the United States entered the war.

    The thing was, American public opinion was largely anti-war. If Europeans wanted to slaughter one another, people said, that was their business – the United States was better off keeping out of the bloodbath. The government took a different view. President Woodrow Wilson believed the country should play a larger role in global affairs – not only for its own benefit but also for the world’s. The Committee was set up to push regular Americans to adopt exactly that point of view.

    It started by rebranding the war. The United States wouldn’t be helping distant European empires settle scores – it would be making the world safe for democracy. That became the slogan of the American war effort. It was a task that spoke to the founding ideals of the republic. The United States had to aid democratic France and Britain against despotic Germany, and it was the patriotic duty of citizens to support that righteous cause. It was a winning message. Americans rallied to the flag and support for the war skyrocketed.

    Bernays saw firsthand how propaganda could mobilize a society for war. And it made him think – could it also be used during peacetime? That was the pressing question on his mind when peace was finally declared in 1918.

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    Worum geht es in Propaganda?

    Propaganda (1928) is a plain-speaking and unashamed defense of the techniques of political and social manipulation. Far from being a dark art practiced by despots and dictators, Bernays suggests that propaganda instead plays an essential and necessary role in the life of modern democracies. Not everyone agrees, of course, but nearly 100 years later the enduring influence of Bernays’s arguments is reason enough to engage with them.

    Wer Propaganda lesen sollte

    • Anyone who works in PR, advertising, or marketing
    • History buffs
    • Politicos interested in American democracy

    Über den Autor

    Edward Bernays was known to his contemporaries as the “father of public relations.” Born in 1891, he was a propagandist for the American government during the First World War. Drawing on the techniques he learned in those years, he developed a scientific theory of propaganda – the manipulation of public opinion by both commercial and political interests. By the time of his death in 1995, he’d become one of the most influential men in American public life.

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