Twisting Media and Meaning

Book Reviews Corruption and Lies History

Book Review: Selling Hitler; Propaganda and the Nazi Brand by Nicholas O’Shaughnessy

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In the meantime, as I work on the other reports I owe ya’ll more than a dozen book reviews so here is one of them: Selling Hitler; Propaganda and the Nazi Brand. As you know I became interested in World War II propaganda when I realized that much of what Allies view as “history” is more accurately Allied Propaganda. [Please note this is not some ridiculous attempt to deny the holocaust – it was much more subtle than that.] However, it spawned a study of World War II propaganda because if it is successful enough that we still view it as accurate then it’s worth studying. The flip side of that, if I am studying allied propaganda it led me to view the flip side of that and look at Nazi Propaganda. As Napoleon has said, “History is the lies that we all accept.” While I am not quite that cynical I would definitely agree that History is the “spin” that we all accept. It is always more profound and more complex than the oversimplifications of historians.

Selling Hitler “argues that the Nazi regime should be viewed and understood as the most comprehensive public relations operation in history…conceived by Hitler himself, whose principal appeal was to a form of social idealism, not hatred.” p.2

Hitler, as well as the US and England, became aware after WWI that the Allied Victory was largely due to the success (and lies) due to the impact of the propaganda of Lord Northcliffe and the Crewe House on the morale of the German Imperial Army. After the war, England made public their effort to celebrate their scientific use of propaganda for the first time in war. Unfortunately, Americans and the English responded angrily as it appeared to them that they had not only been lied to but their emotions had been used and manipulated as a weapon. Hitler, therefore decided that if Germany came to war again it would not be so naive in the propaganda department. [see also: ]

Hitler was further inspired by the integration of propaganda into the daily existence of the Italian Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini and the Communist model of Joseph Stalin. Further, Hitler was quite the student of American consumerism, Americanism, and the Eugenics ideas of American scientists and figures such as Margaret Sanger who created the organization we now call Planned Parenthood as an organization to rid society of the “human weeds” she considered undesirable. Even today these clinics are primarily located in minority and impoverished communities.

While we look back on German anti-semitism as something exceptional this is not historically accurate. Anti-Semitism was a European and American phenomenon for hundreds of years, as O’Shaughnessy said “Anti-Semitism was simply something in the air, something breathed,” and was not unique to the Nazi movement.

While none of these things were completely new and racial ideas had been around since the first writings of Darwin the thing that changed in World War II was the technology from spreading propaganda. One of the first things the Nazis did was to distribute radios to every house so that everyone could hear the state’s, and Hitler’s speeches and broadcasts and know the “official” opinion on all things. This a lesson that American Media today is well aware of.

One thing American Media doesn’t have is Adolf Hitler. The book goes into some detail to discuss his charisma and even his mesmerizing effect on people. While many criticized him in Germany after the fact people who met him in real life were often overwhelmed with his presence and force of will. Children who met Hitler were often impressed with the fact that Hitler treated them “like real people” in a world that still felt children should be “seen and not heard.” One young lady was about ten and she spent many minutes at a party talking with Hitler on a balcony. When her parents found out they profusely apologized for her “bothering him” but everywhere children seemed to love Hitler. This was so pronounced that American and English governments seized Eva Braun’s home movies and classified them as Top Secret and hid them in the archives for decades because they didn’t want the public to see that version of the insane “monster” allied propaganda had created. [None of this is to be taken as me arguing that he was actually some kind of misunderstood “saint” Such an analysis would be ridiculous but you can recognize “spin” without arguing that the ideas “spun” to their extreme were ever good things.]

The Nazis used modern cinema and photography to build an image around Hitler (just as the Allies tried to tear that image apart – the Allies won,) and only photographs and films approved my Hitler and the propaganda ministry could be approved for publication. Symbolism was mobilized in both and many of the striking black and red posters of the Early Nazi movement were designed by Hitler. Although we are told he was a poor artist – and given the poor showing when Hitler “choked” on the art test for admission to art school you can see that he “choked” because the artwork produced concurrently to that in other venues were much better. Art and design were probably Hitler’s first desire as he even neglected the preparations for the invasion of France to stay up all night working on sketches for public buildings he was working on with Albert Speer.

To unite the German people and people of the conquered European countries they enhanced perceived external threats of the “international Jewish conspiracy” which included, in Hitler’s mind International Communism (since nearly all of the publishers of Communist papers in Germany had been Jewish and Trotsky himself was Jewish,) and a web of power and intrigue centered around International Banking (since so many of those families, like the Rothschild s, also had Jewish ties). Neither of these is very surprising since the Jewish Kabutz is essentially a religious commune and the Jews had been pushed into Banking as one of the few professional jobs they could do from Medieval Times as usury was considered a “sin” by Christians.

The Nazi regime took all of these and other factors and packaged them into a coherent message that was enhanced by “groups to strengthen rumors, groups to spread graffiti, and the breadth of other propaganda mediums – from [neo-classical architecture, art, and] sculpture, to weaponry – and the mediatization of all artifacts were possibilities that had never been realized before, nor have they been realized since.” p.10

The theme of this book is that everything was mobilized to spread the ideas of the Reich and combined:

1) Myth “The essence of any culture is mythological.”

2) Symbols “A symbol ‘is an image that stands for an idea.”

3) Rhetoric – the German Reich used words to modify and focus German beliefs by changing the meaning of words to manipulate the way the German people thought about things. He qoutes Klemperer from his study of the Nazi use of language “the names given to things organize our thoughts, since words are not neutral tools but embody perspectives.”

This book is well worth reading and there is no way I can give an adequate summary in three pages but the book is in two parts. The first covers Narratives and Theories of Third Reich Propaganda and the second covers the use of Mythology, Symbols, and rhetoric.

Anyone who has duties in marketing, sales, or other propaganda would benefit from reading O’Shaughnessy’s book as well as people who want to better understand the history of World War II and, to some extent the use of propaganda against us today – which are much more intense than even the efforts of the Nazis. This book was written in 1988. I would be interested in seeing if he has an analysis of the propaganda use of Leftist media in America in the last twenty years – which has gone far beyond anything else that I have seen or studied in my lifetime.

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