What We Can Learn from Joseph Goebbels

Joseph Goebbels

“The essence of propaganda,” Goebbels once remarked, “consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never again escape from it.”

Political propaganda demands steadfast loyalty and ridicule of the opposition, it transforms enemies of the past into friends, eliminates or rewrites history, demands unwavering faith with each new erratic change that erases all traditions and valued institutions of the past.

Propaganda manipulates people into accepting only one side of events by lying, obfuscating, and omitting facts. It goes beyond enticement or persuasion. It’s twisted.

I am not saying that Goebbels is alive and well in our media or our government today, but the knowledge one can gain from examining Goebbels techniques of manipulation is certainly current.

Joseph Goebbels, the brilliant sociopathic propagandist for the Hitler regime, used his understanding of mob mentality and modern propaganda to bring Hitler to power and help him maintain the adulation of the mob. Eventually, that adulation turned to terror but that is not how it began. The press was Goebbel’s biggest supporter.

Goebbels, as Minister of Enlightment, was charged with ensuring that no one in Germany read or saw anything that was damaging to the Party and that the views of the Party were presented in the most persuasive manner possible, no matter what it took.

Joseph Goebbels became Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister in 1933. He was given power over all German radio, press, cinema, theater and German culture. He used films, print, posters, speeches, and rallies to glorify Hitler and the ideology of the Party.

Joseph Goebbels once said, “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.” What would he say about our press today? That it’s a good start?

Goebbels said, “It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion.”

Goebbels is credited with saying, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

The more absurd the lie, the more it was believed because surely no one could make it up. The absurdity is actually what drives the belief in it. The Benghazi story comes to mind.

The propaganda machine he employed utilized imagery, often through poster art. It was used to boost the morale of workers, telling them they are the front. They used it to depict the Nazis as a force for good while outlining who the enemies were.

Some posters included slogans such as, “The people will rise,” “freedom and bread,” “Forward with the powers of renewal!” They were always colorful, often in red print.

Here are two presenting religious imagery:

Slogans that were short and easily remembered were very popular.  Goebbels said, “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”

The scapegoating of minorities, such as Jews, furthered their grandiose perception of self. The propagandists needed a common enemy to blame for unemployment and the Jews fit the bill. They were often caricatured in cartoons, film, and posters.

The Nazi propagandists, without the Internet, social media, or TV, used the radio to their advantage. Goebbels called it the eighth great power. He arranged for the German government to subsidize cheap radio sets so that almost every household had one with which to hear the Nazi lies.

Film was a popular medium for Goebbel’s use. A Department of Film was set up in 1933 with the expressed goal of “spreading the National Socialist world view to the entire German people.” One of their films, The Wandering Jew, was a documentary style attack on the Jewish people.

The press was controlled. One  paper called Der Sturmer (‘The Attacker’) was rabidly anti-semitic and pornographic. Even Goering wouldn’t allow it in his offices.

Political correctness became ingrained. The media was used to convince people of what was safe to think and to say.

Even music and opera became part of the propaganda machine.

Goebbels knew people had to be entertained first before they could be convinced. He combined entertainment and propaganda in a way that have never been accomplished before.

Most of all, Goebbels promoted the cult of personality surrounding the Fuehrer. His image was shaped through all forms of media. Hitler was a powerful and charismatic speaker who appealed to the emotions and the mob mentality. The combination worked. Propaganda needs the leader who can convince people he is their savior.

There wasn’t much resistance to the propaganda. People did not appear to rush to the defense of Jews.

Once a leader in this new and warped culture became entrenched, nothing seemed to affect his standing. In fact, disreputable behavior enhanced his image.

Propaganda was all that Germany knew.

Events surrounding the Fuehrer were filled with splendor with splendid words and lots of marches and flag waving.

Then there was the Hitler Youth who were entertained with sports, games and fun activities while being subjected to ongoing indoctrination. It didn’t always work well and rebellious youth were hanged.

No matter what lies were uncovered, the lack of credibility never affected the teflon leader because of the unceasing propaganda glorifying him, thanks to the master of deceit, Joseph Goebbels. Propaganda set the stage for the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Can people be swayed by propaganda if they don’t already hold these beliefs deep-down? It would seem so.