How does propaganda work? What are its historical origins? Was the war in Iraq initiated by a campaign of propaganda and disinformation?

Essay by tinyjazUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, June 2006

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The prevalence of the word 'propaganda' in ordinary discourse indicates the social pervasiveness of the phenomenon. The Holocaust in Nazi Germany was the result of a decade of systematic propaganda harnessing and intensifying a centuries-old anti-Semitic legacy. The massacre of over half a million Tutsis in Rwanda was instigated by radio propaganda. Support for the 1991 Gulf War has been attributed to the deliberate shaping of public opinion through false atrocity stories such as alleged incubator baby killings. The most recent Iraq war was heavily fuelled by falsities of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) possession. Wherever governments lie to the people, conspiracy theories thrive. When the media are seen to be controlled by governments or commercial interests, half-truths flourish.

Jowett & O'Donell (1992, cited in O'Shaughnessy, 2004:18) define propaganda as a 'careful and predetermined plan of prefabricated symbol manipulation to communicate to an audience in order to fulfill an objective.

Propaganda is 'the deliberate and systematic attempt to share perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behaviour to achieve a response that serves the desired intent of the propagandist'. In essence, the aim of propaganda is to actively spread a point of view in order to garner support or disapproval from the audience. Effectively, propaganda can serve to rally people behind a cause, but often at the expense of exaggerating, misrepresenting, or even lying about the issues in order to gain that support (Shah, 2005).

The mechanics of propaganda comes in various, and often, disguised forms. A number of techniques are used to create messages, which are persuasive, but more often than not, false or only partially factual. Many of these same techniques can be found under logical fallacies since propagandists use arguments, which, although sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid (Delwiche, 2002). In the next section, we will examine a few...