How a Free Society Can Protect Itself from Psychological Warfare
Niccolò Machiavelli and Sun Tzu both wrote that it is the duty of a prince to study warfare because his nation's survival might depend on it. Colonel Paul Linebarger's Psychological Warfare (1954) added the same of his science: "Yet success, though incalculable, can be overwhelming; and failure, though undetectable, can be mortal."
All citizens in a free society need to understand psychological warfare to protect their property, their freedom, and possibly their lives from tiny self-serving minorities and even lunatic fringe organizations. "Scientists discover tipping point for the spread of ideas" explains how a handful of Nazis could gain control of an advanced, civilized, and educated nation like Germany. "Researchers have found that minority rules; when only ten percent of the public holds a firm opinion, the majority will always follow." Linebarger, however, set the figure at two percent:
The Communists had shown that an organization calling itself a party, actually a quasi-religious hierarchy with strong internal discipline, definite membership, and active organizational components, could control fifty times its own membership. ...such a movement needed to have youth branches, women's organizations, labor sections, clubs of its own, and so on, calling this "mass organization."
The structure of Barack Obama's 2012 campaign bears a certain uncomfortable resemblance to such an organization. Henry Ford's publication of The International Jew, meanwhile, shows just how easily dishonest propaganda can victimize decent, honorable, and intelligent people.
Henry Ford: Anti-Semite or Propaganda Victim?
Ford's publication of one of the most loathsome pieces of anti-Semitic propaganda ever written, an English version of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, was totally out of character for a man who believed in a square deal for workers and who hired black people long before equal opportunity laws existed. Ford was also aware of propaganda and its dangers. He wrote an entire chapter on "Honest and Dishonest Propaganda" in Ford Ideals (1922) in which he said honest and square dealing is "the best propaganda you can ever have." Ford was therefore a highly intelligent person who was at least aware of psychological warfare and its implications -- but he nonetheless got stung by it.
Upton Sinclair's The Flivver King (1937) reports, "Among those who managed to get by [Ford's] secretaries was a Russian by the name of Boris Brasol, investigator of the wicked forces which were seeking to wreck Europe." A Google search on this name leads to the Jewish Virtual Library, which elaboratesProtocols into English and first attempted to peddle them to the U.S. State Department. Then, "[r]esilient in his efforts, Brasol sent a copy of the Protocols to automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, who was convinced that they were authentic." that Brasol translated the
To phrase this in the language of the 21st century, Ford received credibly written albeit dishonest propaganda and then pressed his "reply to all" key. His mailing list, unfortunately, included the Dearborn Independent, which allowed the propaganda to circulate around the world to harm Jews and eventually Ford's reputation. Ford was therefore not an anti-Semite, but rather a victim of an anti-Semitic propagandist, although he is responsible for failing to have his staff investigate Brasol's claims before he acted on them.
How many of us have received e-mails or seen web pages with conspiracy theories? Ford's experience should make us check the facts for ourselves (e.g., Snopes.com and also legitimate news sources) before we make fools of ourselves by pressing the "send" key. The internet is an enormous force multiplier for both honest and dishonest propaganda, but it also provides a convenient way to verify before trusting.
Manipulative Propaganda is Not Good for Children and Other Living Things
Boris Brasol demonized Jews with propaganda that still circulates today, and he abused Henry Ford's trust (at Ford's eventual expense) in the process. Dishonest, self-serving, or manipulative propaganda has also accumulated a large and quantifiable death toll.
(1) The "Yellow Press" (William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer) fomented hatred of Spain with largely false atrocity claims, such as Spaniards strip-searching American women on American ships while searching for Cuban spies or rebels. This helped incite the Spanish-American War.
(2) The Triple Entente, with the aid of American cartoonist W.A. Rogers, fomented enough hatred of Germany to draw the United States into the First World War. This manipulative propaganda therefore killed more than 100,000 Americans along with countless Germans with whom our nation had no quarrel, noting that the Lusitania was carrying munitions and was therefore a legitimate military target.
(3) Adolf Hitler was unfortunately the German who learned the most from his country's errors of omission in psychological warfare, and he applied what he learned to kill another 40 million or so people (including 7 million Germans, whom the Allies killed in response to their country's actions) between 1939 and 1945.
Remember that 10 percent or even 2 percent of a population can gain control of an entirely free society -- Germany elected Hitler -- and these examples show that the results can be truly horrific. Here are some manipulative propaganda initiatives that we need to call out as such today:
(1) A group calling itself 350.org is running radio ads on the "urgency" of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The ads do not mention that carbon taxes or cap and trade mandates will drive up the cost of necessities like heat, electricity, and even food (because the cost of transportation is built into the price). They also omit the identities of various wealthy entities -- Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) names Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase, and the New York Stock Exchange explicitly -- that stand to gain from action on "climate change."
(2) Israel's enemies have turned it into an international pariah even though Israel is the only country in the region with a rating of "Free" from Freedom House. Hamas and Fatah both have ratings of "Not Free."
How to Fight Manipulative Propaganda
(1) Recognize it for what it is. Every American must understand thoroughly the sole weapon of war that is legal for anybody -- be it a government, an individual, or a private organization -- to use during peacetime.
(2) Expose it for what it is. If you can catch the propagandist in a lie, the principle falsus in unum, falsus in omnibus (false in one thing, false in all) discredits him. Proven bad faith such as hidden agendas and conflicts of interest, as is the case in the "climate change" issue, meanwhile discredits even nominally truthful propaganda.
William A. Levinson, P.E. is the author of several books on business management including content on organizational psychology, as well as manufacturing productivity and quality.