One of the most understated tools of government is to propagandize the population for political interests. During World Wars, the governments on either side relied on propaganda to shape public opinion consonant with their specific goals. Unfortunately, this method is highly used in politics, yet people barely pay any attention on it. Furthermore, the main reason for its importance is that it changes public’s views about a conflict – making it more tenable for the government to advance its preferred objectives (Kingsbury 236). In World Wars, governments on both sides of the battle used this propaganda tool to justify the wars and sway public opinion in favor of military action.
Effectiveness of Propaganda
Propaganda is critical in shaping public opinion during wartime. Governments use media and official pronouncements to convince the public to accept a certain narrative. Regimes often seek to carry out objectives and missions that differ from the wishes of the population.
A motivated populace is far simpler to direct appropriately during wartime than a reluctant population. However, sometimes, the population has an isolationist outlook. In such a situation, the only practical solution that a government adapts is to direct the population according to the preferred course of action through a series of actions that support the regime’s mission. That is why propaganda is used in wars, as it materializes government’s plan. Through the use of media, official and unofficial pronouncements, and other manipulated information, the propaganda perpetuates the acceptable beliefs for citizens (Kingsbury 233). It helps the government in setting out a single and consistent narrative that sways the public to support the propagandized decisions.
Propaganda in World Wars
During World Wars, European countries became increasingly effective in propagandizing their populations to support a certain direction in war. It happened on the official and unofficial fronts as governments used media, films, official pronouncements, and all other means at their disposal to propagandize common masses. The Axis nations used the intelligentsia and years of Darwinian studies to convince their people on justification of their mission to reshape the world. It was significantly more effective in the second conflict than the first one. Likewise, the Allied powers were also significantly more organized in their propaganda efforts during the Second World War. Perhaps the most singular effort of any government was that of the US government in generating local support for the Second World War with the Zimmerman cables (Brewer 15). All these nations, however, were organized in their efforts to direct the desires of their people.
The Central or Allied Powers, led by Germany, leaned on a philosophy of nascent growth and power through evolution and a long-heralded right of rule over Europe. In both the First and Second World Wars, Germany was the main instigator. In the First World War, Germany and Austria worked together in looking to restore the glory of the Holy Roman Empire through their military power and network of alliances. It was the type of propaganda they used with Germania, led by two powerful states of Prussia and Austria, looking to convince its people of its manifest destiny. In World War II, this message was even more explicit. Every part of the population, from the young to the old, became part of this propaganda. At the same time, Hitler called on the history of European unity, referring to the glorious reign of Rome that materialized the Holy Roman Empire mission (O’Shaughnessy 26). This second round of propaganda was even more comprehensive.
Nonetheless, there was no lack of propagandizing effort from the Allied side: The Eastern and Western Fronts. In the Great War, the source of the series of alliances between the Slavic nations was Russian propaganda. The nation worked to restore national pride and brotherhood with other Slavic nations despite the nation’s unpreparedness for war. On the other hand, the Allies were no less focused on propaganda. Initially, they were concerned with counterbalancing the power of Russia; but later, they became more focused on building local sentiment for war. The British propaganda was especially focused on the imperial glory of their nation (MacKenzie 227). The importance of national independence was the great message that the Allied nations pushed on their people.
A motivated populace is critical for achieving success in any wartime conflict. Many governments can carry out an unpopular course of action. However, the most direct way they can succeed in propagandizing is to provide the people with a meaningful justification for their activities. The deployment of propaganda during the World Wars was this critical part of governmental arsenals; it served as a tool to justify the struggle and grew in sophistication over time. Ultimately, this propaganda helped unite the populations of the respective nations based on some unifying theme that lead them to support these extensive wars.
Brewer, Susan A. To Win the Peace: British Propaganda in the United States During World War II. 1997. Cornell University Press, 2019.
Kingsbury, Celia M. For home and country: World War I propaganda on the home front. University of Nebraska Press, 2010.
MacKenzie, John M. Propaganda and Empire: The Manipulation of British Public Opinion, 1880–1960. 1987. Manchester University Press, 2017.
O’Shaughnessy, Nicholas. Marketing the Third Reich: Persuasion, packaging and propaganda. Routledge, 2018.