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The Power of Propaganda

January 2016
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George Orwell Quote re DoublespeakAnother election year has blanketed America again in 2016. It’s been in force for the better part of the past year and will culminate in November when we elect a new President of the United States who will officially take office in January 2017. I don’t get into political discussions with anyone as the heat can get too intense, and I’m of the mind that my vote is a private matter. I’m also a registered Independent but if I don’t find a more permanent housing situation by the time the election comes around (I’m currently living–and have been for the past 16 months–in hotels due to circumstances beyond my own personal control), I won’t be able to vote as I won’t have a permanent address even though I’m a born and bred U.S. Citizen. I think that still matters. Maybe . . . .

I’m not here to endorse any candidates. Vote your conscience. The topic I’m about to discuss is not aimed at any particular candidate of either, or any, political party who is currently running for office. However, it goes without saying that the political, social, and economic landscape in America has shifted dramatically over the past several decades, and that leads to one very important question . . .

Where are we, as a nation, headed?

I don’t recall what exactly sparked my recent interest in understanding what was going on at the time of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in the years after World War I which left the German economy is such a state as to give rise to a charismatic character such at Hitler in the 1930’s. As noted on the BBC website:

Hitler’s rise to power cannot be attributed to one event, but a mixture of factors including events happening outside Germany, the strengths of the Nazi party, and the weaknesses of other parties within Germany. Hitler used these factors to his advantage and in 1933 he legitimately gained power to become chancellor. (Quote source here.)

A synopsis states: “Born in Austria in 1889, Adolf Hitler rose to power in German politics as leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party, also known as the Nazi Party. Hitler was chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and served as dictator from 1934 to 1945. His policies precipitated World War II and the Holocaust. Hitler committed suicide with wife Eva Braun on April 30, 1945, in his Berlin bunker.” (Quote source here.)

Innumerable books have been written on the life of Adolf Hitler, and of the best known volumes on the topic is The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany,” by William L. Shirer, a 1280-page tome first published in 1959, and as one customer review titled “One of the best books I’ve ever read” on Amazon.com states:

Don’t be intimidated by the 1100+ pages of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” It reads more like a novel than a dry historical narrative and — trust me on this — this book is awesome.

As a reporter for CBS, William Shirer lived and worked in Germany during much of the Nazi movement. Until he left in 1940, he saw firsthand Hitler’s rise to power, the consolidation of that power, and the use of that power. . . .

Particularly well covered was Hitler’s rise to power — a story that is not often told. The Hitler that Shirer paints during these early years is a very astute political observer who shrewdly plays the German people like a violin. He promises the people what they want, plays on their fears, and is extremely ruthless to anyone who dares to oppose him. . . . (Read the entire customer review at this link.)

How one man could so totally gain control over and sear the conscience of a nation of people who were not that dissimilar from us and resulted in the vitriol hatred and catastrophic slaughter of millions of people deemed to be somehow “less human” then they viewed themselves to be, is, well . . . there are simply no words that can adequately describe such horror. However, what he accomplished is not an isolated event in history (see a list of The 25 Worst People Ever at this link–Hitler is #4 on the list), but the case of Hitler is notable as it is a part of recent history (1933-1945).

So how did Hitler gain such control over the people in Nazi Germany?

Dr. Erwin Lutzer, senior pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, wrote a book titled, When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany,” published in 2010. A description of the book on Amazon.com states:

This excellent book is so important. It clearly and powerfully explains what the parallels are between Germany’s fall from grace and the beginning of our own fall. Eric Metaxas, author ofBonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

InWhen A Nation Forgets God,” Erwin Lutzer studies seven similarities between Nazi Germany and America today—some of them chilling—and cautions us to respond accordingly. Engaging, well-researched, and easy to understand, Lutzer’s writing is that of a realist, one alarmed but unafraid. Amidst describing the messes of our nation’s government, economy, legal pitfalls, propaganda, and more, Lutzer points to the God who always has a plan.

At the beginning of the twentieth Century, Nazi Germany didn’t look like a country on the brink of world-shaking terrors. It looked like America today. “When a Nation Forgets God” uses history to warn us of a future that none of us wants to see. It urges us to be ordinary heroes who speak up and take action. (Quote source here.)

In a customer review titled “A Powerful Appeal,” the customer writes:

As religious faith is increasingly privatized, particularly with regard to Christian belief and practice–as church and state are increasingly separated, laws creep in that actually circumvent justice and morality. Freedom of speech is lost in the name of political correctness and a confused view of tolerance. As economies melt down, people can become increasingly willing to give up their civil liberties in exchange for comfort. Media is increasingly used to define the cultural norms of society and sets the moral boundaries. Public school systems increasingly take over the role of training children from parents and in the process have the potential to indoctrinate them with groupthink.

These are the techniques that Hitler used to gain control of Germany. An economically crushed nation, desperate for some glimmer of hope latched onto what it perceived to be a strong leader, one who promised to give the people their national pride back. And he did. In the process, he systematically took complete control of the creation of civil law, made it government-sponsored education compulsory (homeschooling was illegal), turned the people against the Jews, put laws into place that made it not only legal, but acceptable, to murder them.

In essence, he sought to create a Germany in his own image, after his own likeness.

Today, there are some parallels in America, according to Lutzer, and as a Canadian it is fascinating to read his concerns. “Political correctness has now affected the general culture and created an aura of censorship and a climate of fear,” he writes on page 27.

The bottom line is that we are going down a dangerous path as “hate crimes” are linked to “hate speech” and thus our First Amendment rights are curtailed. . . . From “Hate Crimes” the next step is for the courts to prosecute those who are deemed guilty of “Hate Speech,” which one of our senators called “domestic terrorism.” Thus, what we think and what we say are both open to prosecution. Hate speech in this country will mean . . . simply stating an opinion that the government thinks should not be expressed (p. 28). (Quote source here.)

A second customer review titled “Hard book to read. Hardest where it is most true” states:

This book was not always an easy one to read. I imagine it was an even harder one to write. But when your subject matter details the parallels between the political and social climates of Nazi Germany and modern-day America–and when you bring up hot button topics like abortion, censorship, homosexuality and hate speech–author and reader alike would do well to not expect an easy ride. Though I didn’t agree with every comparison, Erwin Lutzer made some poignant insights in “When a Nation Forgets God.”

As Lutzer explains, “Nazism did not arise in a vacuum. There were cultural streams that made it possible for this ideology to emerge and gain a wide acceptance by the popular culture.” In particular, it was disturbing to read how inept the majority of the church was during the rise of Nazism. While this is a short book, he deals with some heavy material as the chapters headings suggest:

1. When God Is Separated from Government, Judgment Follows
2. It’s Always the Economy
3. That Which Is Legal Might Also Be Evil
4. Propaganda Can Change a Nation
5. Parents–Not the State–Are Responsible for a Child’s Training
6. Ordinary Heroes Can Make a Difference
7. We Must Exalt the Cross in the Gathering Darkness (Quote source here.)

wellpackagedwebofliesI found a copy of Dr. Lutzer’s book at my favorite used bookstore last night and I have to tell you that it’s a hard one to put down. It’s a remarkably relevant book that any concerned Christians across our nation should take the time to read to be informed of the similarities between our current American culture and the conditions that gave rise to Nazi Germany less than a century ago.

One of the chapters in Dr. Lutzer’s book that I want to make note of in this blog post is Chapter 4: Propaganda Can Change a Nation. Propaganda is defined as:

1. information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
2. the deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc. (Quote source here.)

Lutzer opens the chapter with a little background on Hitler and how he made use of propaganda (pp. 75-77):

PROPAGANDA HAS POWER.

Hitler had to learn the hard way that propaganda could serve his purposes even better than a political revolution could. In 1923 he tried to overthrown the Bavarian government by organizing a march though Munich, but it was aborted and ended in failure. He was tried for treason, but given the opportunity to define himself, and to his delight, his speeches were widely read in the newspapers. Already then he knew how to tap into the anger of the German people by railing against the unfair treaty of Versailles and by propagating the widespread belief that the Jews were responsible for the loss of World War I. Hitler knew that the masses could be led if only he could tell convincing lies.

At the end of his trial, he was sentenced to ten months in the Landsberg prison for treason. There he had time to write “Mein Kampf,” in which he outlined a basic plan to implement his agenda. He had time to reflect and to articulate the value of propaganda, and he showed how with a deft use of disinformation, he could almost certainly accomplish what his “Brown Shirts” could not.

I’ve taken the time to carefully read what Hitler said about the power of propaganda. He explained the techniques he used to win a hostile crowd to his side. He knew how to tap into their anger, how to handle their objections before they voiced them, and how to get them to see the reason for his philosophy. In my opinion, he was a master at reading human nature and knowing how to manipulate the masses to gain a zealous following.

Think of what Hitler could have done if he could have used today’s media to gain followers.

Hitler believed that books could never bring about a revolution; only the spoken word, delivered by a person who could connect with his audience could convert them to a radical agenda. He said that when you want to tear down a world and build another in its place you must first of all separate the supporters and the members. The function of propaganda was to attract supporters, and change people’s minds so that they could be in agreement with the aims and philosophy of the movement. A member was one who had taken a further step and not only supports the movement but is willing to fight on its behalf. Notice what he wrote in “Mein Kampf”:

The first task of propaganda is to win people for subsequent organization . . . The second task of propaganda is the disruption of the existing state of affairs and the permeation of this state of affairs with the new doctrine, while the second task of organization must be the struggle for power, thus to achieve the final success of the doctrine. (Mein Kampf, p. 583.) (Quote source, “When A Nation Forgets God” pp. 75-77.)

Some of the uses of propaganda include using slogans, which has a very powerful effect. For example, in the case of Hitler, instead of coming right out and stating their plans to exterminate millions, “the leaders spoke only in abstract slogans such as ‘the final solution.’ Sanitized terms were used to camouflage unspeakable crimes. Planned massacres were spoken of in clinical terms to mislead the naive and to assuage the conscience of the perpetrators” (p. 79). An example Lutzer uses in our own culture today involves the topic of abortion. “No one speaks of killing preborn infants. Rather, pregnant women are only removing ‘a product of conception’ or a woman is simply ‘terminating a pregnancy'” (p. 79).

Elsewhere in the chapter Lutzer writes about “a willing blindness.” For example, “a dominant idea promoted by the media and willingly adopted by a critical mass of people who want to believe a myth so badly they will close their minds to all contrary evidence. When such a cultural movement gains momentum, people will stare at facts and filter out what they don’t want to believe. Contrary evidence will be ignored or reinterpreted to fit their deepest wishes. And the more people who believe the myth, the more difficult it is for those who wish to counter it. In a spirit of euphoria, all warning signs are brushed aside. Before we know it, we are in a world where facts do not matter.” (p. 80).

Lutzer goes on to state: “Perhaps the most enduring lesson of Nazi Germany is that ordinary people, simply concerned about living their own lives, can be motivated to become a part of an evil movement through the power of compelling propaganda, intimidation, and mass euphoria. Yes, it is possible for ordinary people to commit atrocities they never thought possible when they are swept up into a cultural current where everyone is both expected to fall in line and be rewarded for it. In such a climate, anyone who swims against the stream is demonized by misrepresentations, false evidence and ridicule. With such pressure, even rational and decent people who refuse to be co-opted begin to question their own sanity. Can they alone be right when everyone else is wrong?” (p. 81).

Of course, Lutzer gives the excellent example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he states that “Bonhoeffer warned Germany about Hitler when he was declared chancellor of Germany, but no one listened because they yearned for a strong leader who would lead them into prosperity. So they closed their eyes to Hitler’s excesses. Warning signs were overlooked because of this passion of people to believe. And once the cultural current was widening and flowing with increased speed, anyone swimming upstream was deemed subversive. As Richard Terrell wrote, ‘Create a critical mass of people who cannot discern meaning and truth from nonsense, and you will have a society ready to fall for the first charismatic leader to come along.'” (pp. 81-82).

Also, Lutzer notes on p. 84 that propaganda is used to “wear opponent down to the point of total fatigue, until they are willing to give in to their agenda.” And on p. 85 Lutzer states, “Hitler believed that it was necessary to totally destroy the credibility of one’s opponents; at no time, he said, should one ever concede that they might be right on a single point.”

Read that last statement again . . . . “Totally destroying the credibility of one’s opponents.”

This information is a very small part from a very valuable book that Christians should considering reading, and not just because 2016 is an election year. Dr. Lutzer states at the beginning of the book, “If you read this book with the sole intention of finding more grist for your political convictions, then you have missed my heart. Yes, I am deeply distressed over the direction our nation is taking, but I am even more concerned about how the church–the people of God–will react to what is taking place. To become angry, vindictive, and filled with self-pity is hardly what God expects of us. We must respond on many different levels, but surely one of the most important is that we as individuals and the church at large must bear a credible witness to the saving grace of God in Christ” (p. 7).

In a closing paragraph in the last chapter, Lutzer states:

At last we come to the heart of the matter: the cross reminds us that the battle is not so much between church and state as it is within our own hearts. If Christ has all of us, if the cross stands above politics and the world as Bonhoeffer has reminded us, we shall overcome regardless of the cost (p. 140).

And one last quote from p. 55:

The hard road is often . . .

The one we must have . . .

The courage to choose . . . .

YouTube Video: “Testify to Love” by Avalon:

Photo #1 credit here
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1 Comment

  1. mary green says:

    sara,
    what an excellent blog! the quotes were very alarming but so true.

    Like

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