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Propaganda played an important role before and throughout World War II. It helped accelerate the development of the war and hastened actually fighting. It also played a crucial role in individual countries in increasing production and helping the war effort. Without propaganda, it is doubtless that the war would have taken a different course.
I. American radio propaganda during WWII
The radio has had a huge impact on bringing information to the public about war and other government issues. Advertising and broadcasting on the airwaves was a major step in bringing war propaganda to a level where people could be easily touched nationally. Broadcasting around the clock was being offered everywhere. Before there was television people relied on the radio as a way to be entertained, the means of finding out what was going on in the world, and much more. During the World War II time period, 90 percent of American families owned a radio, and it was a part of daily life. So it was an obvious means of spreading war propaganda. During this time period, propaganda was spread throughout the radio by means of news programs, public affairs broadcasts, as well as through Hollywood and the mainstream. The average person had not even graduated high school at the time, and the average reading level of the American was somewhat low. The radio made it possible for stories and news to be delivered to everyone in plain simple English. The radio served as a medium that provided a sense of national community. Although it took time, the radio eventually rallied people together to back up the American war effort.
Propaganda in the Pre-World War II time period was very unpopular with the American people. Before WWII, the American people were getting tired of propaganda efforts put on by the government. Government propaganda reminded Americans of the war propaganda tactics used in earlier in World War I and now FDR was putting tons of effort into radio propaganda to support the new deal. FDR and his administration worked hard to convince people, politicians, and the media that the government was NOT trying to censor up information about what was going on. However the government still increased the radio informational network under the cover of the emergency defense network.
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The government began to slowly expand radio usage and they even began a Radio Division which developed rapidly as foreign affairs got more intense. They collaborated with commercial and on commercial radio to promote the sale of defense bonds and stamps. They also sponsored shows such as “The Treasury Hour” which started out with 300 subscribing radio stations to 830 in less than a year. Actors and actresses even would volunteer to speak on behalf of the department. Eventually, justified by “America’s campaign for preparedness”, governmental propaganda was reaccepted by the people.
In fact, the success of governmental pro war propaganda was not solidified until after the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Munich Crisis. These critical events made the people turn their heads and pay more attention to what the government was saying. The government was already prepared with basic propaganda for the war, but they still weren’t giving clear reasons why the United States was going to war. The main challenge to the government was to try and convince the people to “make the war their own.”
The government began to air radio series programs, such as “We hold these Truths” and “This is War!” Many of these programs focused mainly on the enemy, describing the evil of the Germans and giving very detailed descriptions of concentration camps and stories heard from them. Reminding Americans of the “evil enemy” was one of the key tactics to successful war propaganda. They also reminded listeners of heroic wars from the past such as the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
A very successful radio propaganda tactic used by the government was the “you-technique.” They would add a sense of drama to their shows by directly involving the listener. The narrator would present life in the military from an insider’s angle. They would talk as if the listener were actually in a military camp, or actually in battle. By personalizing the plot, the listener’s imagination was brought to another level and each listener was given individual attention. Besides trying to make the war personal for Americans at home, the propaganda also tried to put the listeners into the shoes of the soldiers fighting, and draw in a sympathy factor.
Americans, at the time, were also conflicted with who the focus of our attacks should be – the Japanese or the Nazis. According to most polls, the American people thought we should focus on fighting the Japanese. This was largely due to the attacks on Pearl Harbor, and at the time, the Americans held racism against the Japanese. While Americans didn’t agree with what the Germans were doing, they still considered them to be “hard working” people. Although the majority of America thought our attention should be on the Japanese, the government thought otherwise, and aired programs on the radio that focused on the Nazi war aims. The programs gave in depth coverage of every aspect of Hitler’s Germany and Nazi conquest. Some of these radio programs were entitled “The anti-Christ,” “Swastikas over the Equator,” “Work or Die,” and “Women versus Hitlerism.” These programs also lashed out against sympathizers of fascists and isolationists in the United States.
When the government started focusing on foreign language propaganda, radio took an even larger growth in usage. Ethnic radio continued to climb in popularity, until controversy regarding the ethnic identity portrayed by these stations.
Government propaganda wasn’t the only thing that influenced the American people on the war. Also, advertising companies and members of Hollywood contributed to the war effort. The radio soon became the most popular form of media during the time. Companies were all competing for the best air time slots. Americans were all supportive of the war, so companies would link their product to patriotism to help boost sales. Advertising companies would sell their product while giving the listener information on “how to make their food healthier” or “how to ration their belongings to make them last longer.” So in the eyes of the people, even commercials were being helpful in a time of war.
Shell Oil Company is one of the many companies that tied their product to that war to help it sell better. Here is an example taken from a radio ad:
“Your car and your tires are a national asset now! See that you keep them in good condition. To help you get longer wear from tires and car – Shell now offers you Ground Crew Service, patterned after rigid Army Air Corps routine. …It’s absolutely free at all Shell dealers displaying Ground Crew Wings. When you see your Shell dealer, ask him about the new 5,000 miles Ground Crew Logbook. It maps out an economical plan for servicing you car during the next 5,000 miles. Your dealer gives you a free check-up and tells you exactly what work needs to be done to lengthen your car’s service and to get extra mileage from you tires. He records every step in the Ground Crew Log Book – just as the Army Air Corps mechanics record the work they do on Uncle Sam’s fighting planes.”
Also, the American people were big fans of the radio stars, actors, and actresses. The radio entertainers made it their business with a company to “help win the war”. The stars would offer to speak on behalf of a company, so even when the listener got tired and saw through the advertising and propaganda techniques of the companies, they were still getting fed advertisement. Most listeners had trouble applying skepticism to their favorite radio stars.
One key factor in the boom of radio as a popular medium during the World War II period was the radio sponsors. Radio stations got 70 percent of their budget from regional and national advertisers, unlike newspapers which got 70 percent from local advertisers. Before the war, the country was coming out of a slump with the Great Depression, and advertising and businesses weren’t doing all that well. But the war helped to increase the use of the radio as a way to connect to people on a national level, and the radio gathered the support for the war, so companies who would advertise on the radio also profited. One method of advertising often employed by companies through radio was to get the stars to incorporate an ad into their radio program. It was a fun way of incorporating an ad into the show, and the listeners often wouldn’t even notice that they were being given an ad.
Of all the movie stars and famous comedians that were helping to draw people into the radio, Bob Hope was one of the most successful. He was considered the funniest comedian on the radio at the time. He became known as a quintessential GI comedian. All his shows were broadcasted from an army or naval base, and he became the unofficial spokesperson for all GIs. In his radio show, Hope was able to make a strong connection to the soldiers at war because his comedy talked about the things that most affected the lives of the soldiers. Although almost all his shows were directed toward soldier audiences, he was still able to make a connection to the audience at home.
Most people in America where completely unaware that the radio was designed with a master propaganda plan, by both the government and advertising agencies. Overall, the radio propaganda effort during World War II was highly persuasive. And although the radio was full of a much planned out blueprint for propaganda, there still was no end to the creativity of the types of propaganda offered on the radio. The radio successfully entertained, informed, sold products, and united the American people behind the war effort.
Radio was the most successful form of medium to combine entertainment, news, propaganda and advertisement. A survey conducted by the national opinion research center at the University of Denver in November 1945 asked 2500 Americans “Taking everything into consideration, which one of these do you think did the best job of serving the public during war- magazines, newspapers, moving pictures, or radio broadcasting?” 67 percent of the people polled responded with radio. Without the radio propaganda effort, the government would have lacked a much needed American support for World War II.
II. Nazi Propaganda
In Germany, it was necessary for the Nazis to adapt their propaganda to meet several agendas. The Nazi government had only recently taken power and there was still tension between the Nazis and socialists. Propaganda was important to unifying the German public and preparing for actual battle. Primarily, it was important to convince the German people of need for war by inflaming anger at other countries over restrictions put on Germany, as well as through an increase in national pride. Also, the Germans attempted to persuade their citizens to increase production and further participate in the war effort, much as was done in America.
However, since Germany did not have the massive construction facilities of the Allies, it was necessary to further push the population to increase production. Also, the Nazis had a second agenda it carried out through propaganda. The German government, attempting to carry out its genocide against the Jews and other races, tried to play on the existing racial prejudices among the masses. It was extremely important the German population be desensitized enough that when the deportment began no protests would be made. German propaganda helped shape Germany into the efficient war machine that it began during the war.
As Germany prepared for and carried out World War II, it implemented a variety of forms of propaganda. This was necessary for several reasons, but primarily to serve two main goals. It was important to convince the public to fight and that it was necessary to fight. German had just recently gone through a power struggle establishing the Nazi Party as superior over the socialists, but it still lacked enough political support to go to war. The main body of German propaganda consists of material increasing or fueling the wartime effort. Also, Hitler and many of the higher Nazi leaders harbored racism and wished to begin the extermination of races they deemed inferior.
German wartime propaganda utilized a variety of forms in its delivery. Much of the propaganda was implemented through the recently invented radio, as well as through speeches from the main Nazi leaders.
“One People, One Reich, One Führer (leader),” was a piece of one of the most important parts of the German propaganda. By establishing a rudimentary worship for the leader figure, Adolf Hitler was established as the absolute head of the government and to some a semi-deity. This inspired the public to work harder and do more for the Reich, having been convinced by the propaganda that the war was a sort of holy quest or crusade. This type of propaganda helped instill pride in Germany and the Reich among the German population. It also was heavily reinforced by speeches and radio broadcasts.
German radio propaganda was used many of the same techniques as American radio propaganda, except it was straighter forward when delivering the message. Hitler took complete control over what was aired on the radio. All radio was pro Hitler and very anti-Semitic. Unlike American radio propaganda at the time, the radio was less “fun” and more serious in tone. Whereas American radio would mix news shows with comedy shows and advertising, much of German radio at the time was news briefs, shows that focused on the German Reich, or speeches made to glorify Hitler and his beliefs.
The most important new tool of Nazi propaganda was the radio because Hitler believed it reached the German people directly. The Nazis set up factories to build cheap radios like the 'people's receiver' (volksempfänger) which cost only 35 RM. They made sure that the new radios had a limited range so that they would only pick up the German stations that the Nazis controlled. By 1939, 70% of German households had a radio, which was three times the number in 1932 and the highest percentage of any country in the world. Broadcasting was directed at public places. Loudspeakers were put up in factories, cafes, offices, restaurants, even in the streets.
One person that played a major role in Hitler’s Nazi radio propaganda was Dr. Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels was a strict follower and admirer of Hitler, and he made numerous speeches and propaganda that continued to glorify Hitler. He was so influential in speaking that Hitler eventually gave him full power over al German radio, press, cinema, and theater.
Hitler said that good propaganda had little to do with the truth unless it favored the Nazis. It concentrated on simple messages and repeated them frequently. According to Hitler, propaganda was better if heard rather than read, and he was in fact successful in bringing pulling together German people in support of the war.
By taking control of the media and only printing or broadcasting Nazi material, the Reich was able to effectively flood Germany with its propaganda. This, combined with the genius of men like Joseph Goebbels, created one of the most potent barrages of wartime propaganda in history.
Both the United States and in Nazi Germany, radio propaganda proved to be successful in finding the support needed for World War II. However, the concept behind each set of propaganda differed in theme. The United States government tried to cover up their propaganda effort by covering it up with entertainment. Hitler, Goebbels, and German radio made a direct approach to sending out their message. Although very different in style and approach, the radio propaganda effort by both the Germans and the United States were very fitting for the attitudes of the people at the time.