Sunday, 5 February 2012

The mind control of Nazi propaganda

Ideas are a powerful thing. Throughout History (as well as the world today) people have tried to influence the decisions which people make and the thoughts which they have about the world. Sometimes this is done subtly (think about which brands you automatically pick up in the supermarket) and sometimes less subtly.

One of the hardest things to get your head around in History is that people in the past thought in fundamentally different ways to the way in which we think today. There are lots of examples of this but Nazi Germany is possibly one of the best.

To illustrate the point, take a look at the two pictures to the left. They were banned by the Nazi party and a member of the public would not have seen them. In one, the man is obviously Adolf Hitler and the other man (the one in the hat) is Joseph Goebbels; the head of Nazi propaganda. Try to work out why these would have been banned before you read on.

Pause for thought...!

One of my year 9s thought that the Hitler photo was banned because of the flowery sofa which Hitler was sitting on. Whilst this may have been a contributing factor(!), the main issue is his glasses. This may seem like a small thing but was quite a big deal for the Nazi propaganda team. Hitler was supposed to be a superman who was going to save Germany from its enemies. A weakness of any form was seen as unsuitable for the public.

Similarly, Goebbels had a deformed right leg which you won't see in his official pictures. Now, you may (quite legitimately) think that these seem like small details, similar to many of the airbrushed pictures and staged conversations of our politicians have today. However, imagine a world in which every image, voice and idea is controlled. This won't just affect the way in which you buy your groceries but seriously start to affect the way in which you think.

It's quite common for people to imagine themselves in History on the side of good. Perhaps as someone resisting the Nazis or a protester for democracy in Soviet Russia but when you study the history this becomes hard to believe.

Take these two pictures. The one of the left is from Der Stürmer and pictures Jews taking the blood from good German children. Looking at this, any sane person in our culture would find it offensive, unbelievable and honestly wonder how anyone would take the picture seriously. In a similar way, the picture on the right shows a family (Aryan of course) sitting around a Volksempfänger; a really cheap radio on which Hitler would speak to the German people and from which access to foreign stations was very difficult. Again, the democratic part of our mind seriously doubts whether people would actually have sat around and listened to Hitler rant.

It's very hard to research the history of people's ideas and thinking but it's certainly true that millions tuned in to listen to Hitler, thousands attended Nazi rallies and its pretty safe to say that most people were taken in by this propaganda. Whilst I may do a blog entry on amazing accounts of resistance against the Nazis, imagine being surrounded by their ideas, with any other ideas being banned. As many dictators throughout the ages have found, it's astonishingly easy to control the minds of ordinary, good people. 

As a modern example, I was struck recently by the genuine grief which many North Korea people felt for the death of Kim Jong Il. Obviously, many of those on TV were actors but there was a real sadness among ordinary citizens. 

I think I find this area of the past so interesting because it makes me very grateful for the free thought and ideas which I am able to have in this country and also very aware of all the different messages and ideas which aim to convince me of different viewpoints. I find it fascinating (though ultimately impossible) to imagine a world in which I did not have this privilege. One former Nazi expressed this well when he said at his trial...

"Hitler's dictatorship differed in one fundamental point from all its predecessors in history. His was the first dictatorship [...] which made the complete use of all technical means for domination of its own country. Through technical devices like the radio and loudspeaker, 80 million people were deprived of independent thought. It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one man."