Where Is The Line?

Soviet Propaganda circa 1960

From my earliest memories of school I was taught and expected to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. No one asked if I understood the “oath” I was reciting. They just taught me to say the words.

As I grew, matured and learned I realized that this activity was propaganda. This happened sometime in my early teens when we studied communism, the cold war and the evil which was the USSR. We learned of the aftermath of world war two the soviets utilized propaganda for control of their conquered territories.

Propaganda was taught as a bad word. As something evil. As children, we are taught so many facts which are in affect merely ideology and propaganda. How could they do this? Wasn’t this the sort of thing that the Soviets do?

Suddenly the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance was suspect and became empty and devoid of meaning. These people (teachers and school officials) wish me to keep my promises yet they have been utilizing propaganda on me. Isn’t is a bit strange to brainwash children with propaganda?

The United States has utilized propaganda techniques repeatedly through its history, particularly during periods of war and international crisis. As early as the revolutionary period, Americans evinced a shrewd grasp of the utility of propaganda as an instrument of foreign policy. The total wars of the early twentieth century led the U.S. government to employ propaganda on a massive scale as an accessory to military operations, but the Cold War institutionalized propaganda as a central component of American foreign policy. The governmental use of propaganda continued to expand in the twenty-first century, largely due to the harnessing of the revolution in communications.

But for most Americans, propaganda has a negative connotation as a treacherous, deceitful, and manipulative practice. Americans have generally thought of propaganda as something “other” people and nations do, while they themselves merely persuade, inform, or educate. Americans have employed numerous euphemisms for their propaganda in order to distinguish it from its totalitarian applications and wicked connotations.

So here we are in 2016 and 2 generations of Americans have been reciting an oath from an age they do not understand nor have they the facility or right to make. So how do we proceed to teach our kids the values of honesty and the morality of keeping your word when we dilute it so?

The term “propaganda” has spawned as many definitions as it has euphemisms. Harold Lasswell, a pioneer of propaganda studies in the United States, defined it as “the management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of significant symbols.” Like other social scientists in the 1930s, he emphasized its psychological elements: propaganda was a subconscious manipulation of psychological symbols to accomplish secret objectives. Subsequent analysts stressed that propaganda was a planned and deliberate act of opinion management. A 1958 study prepared for the U.S. Army, for example, defined propaganda as “the planned dissemination of news, information, special arguments, and appeals designed to influence the beliefs, thoughts, and actions of a specific group.” In the 1990s the historian Oliver Thomson defined propaganda broadly to include both deliberate and unintentional means of behavior modification, describing it as “the use of communication skills of all kinds to achieve attitudinal or behavioural changes among one group by another.”

How does propaganda differ from advertising, public relations, education, information, or, for that matter, politics? At its core, propaganda refers to any technique or action that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, or behavior of a group, in order to benefit the sponsor. Propaganda is usually, but not exclusively, concerned with public opinion and mass attitudes. The purpose of propaganda is to persuade—either to change or reinforce existing attitudes and opinions. Yet propaganda is also a manipulative activity. It often disguises the secret intentions and goals of the sponsor; it seeks to inculcate ideas rather than to explain them; and it aspires to modify or control opinions and actions primarily to benefit the sponsor rather than the recipient.

I find myself at a juxtaposition in regards to the Pledge of Allegiance and all sorts of other propaganda we teach our children. On the one hand:

“The supreme lesson of education is to think for yourself; absent this attainment, education creates dangerous, stupefying conformity.” -Bryant McGill

And on the other:

“If we are always guided by other people’s thoughts, what is the purpose in having our own?” -Annomous