Wartime Propaganda

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In a recent essay, John Pilger recalls the inspiring opposition of journalists, intellectuals and writers to rising waves of fascism, authoritarianism, repression, and censorship in the US and internationally during the 1930s. Today, in contrast, he writes, what we have are "silences filled with a consensus of propaganda that contaminates almost everything we read, see and hear." 

Alongside that more literary opposition in the 1930s ran a current of leftwing research on propaganda, that sought to link academic work with processes and practices of democracy. In 1938, for example, Violet Edwards Lavine, education director for the Institute for Propaganda Studies' Experimental Study Program, published The Group Leader's Guide to Propaganda. In it, she wrote:

It follows then, if in practice as well as in word we cherish the ideal of the free play of intelligence, that we have definite responsibilities as teachers and as citizens of a democracy. It is our special responsibility to see that there are no barriers from any quarter to the free play of criticism and evaluation, to the bringing of 'the light of a thousand minds' into focus upon our country's complex problems.

Edwards and others, like Patricia Kendall, understood propaganda as assertions of power and efforts to control (and, notably, they considered "anti-prejudice" material produced by the left as forms of propaganda). Propaganda, that is, wasn't free-floating--it emanated from specific political points-of-view and personalities, like anti-Semite Father Charles Coughlin. Some scholars suggest that there's renewed interest in propaganda and the radical academics who studied it in the 1930s, but today there seems to be far more interest in what's described as "misinformation," which seems to me to be a word that denies the lines of force at play. 

For more on Lavine, Kendall, and other radicals, see The Ghost Reader: Recovering Women's Contributions to Media Studies

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