Truth Commission: Lessons in Propaganda

“At the bottom of their hearts the great masses of people are more likely to be poisoned than to be consciously and deliberately bad. In the primitive simplicity of their minds they are more easily victimized by a large lie than by a small lie.” The author of these chilling words: Adolf Hitler.

President Biden, in his inaugural address, promised that he will fight against the lies and stand by the truth while Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others are moving to initiate a “truth commission” to monitor the massive lies in the media. However, what we really need to fight against is propagandathe most dangerous tool of any government. Its latest form is the labelling of anything the current administration disagrees with as “disinformation” or the result of conspiracy theories.

Common logic and reasoning outlines that two people cannot hold contradictory opinions concerning the same topic at the same time without one being correct and one incorrect. Truth is the mind’s conformity with reality. It appears to be more and more the case that the American people cannot get to the bottom of all-important issues impacting the future of our nation because opinions are held to be facts (and often facts are called opinions). Blanket statements are made and we are instructed to take them as gospel truth. When those false blanket statements are made in a systematic, consistent, and overwhelming manner they morph into propaganda. 

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Propaganda flushes out the truth with a message crafted by the few and directed toward the masses as a recipe to control them. The term literally means, “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” If there is one thing human beings can easily become, it is biased. When our bias influences our dialogue among a small group of friends or family, not much is harmed. However, when bias becomes misleading and takes on the nature of the system of the media and press, we have the groundwork for propaganda. 

In 1940, a writer for the Chicago Tribune named Edmond Taylor published a book entitled, The Strategy of Terror: Europe’s Inner Front. Taylor’s thesis relied on investigative reporting and real-world statistics highlighting the conclusion that propaganda was the path to victory for the Nazis in France. The words infecting the French served as the conduit to bring about terror and fear throughout the nation. 

Where do we receive our truth from? How do we gain access to fair and balanced investigative reporting? For most Americans, they turn on the television or swipe open their phone to enter the social media sphere. When all is said and done, we hear, read, and view one of two options. First option: that conservatives will save the country’s character, heritage, and destiny while liberals will further destroy it, allowing rioting and defunding to become commonplace. The liberals will dismantle our country from the inside out because they are evil. Second option: that liberals will set America free, extinguish every line of social and racial inequality along with instituting true compassion in political rhetoric while conservatives will further racism, sexism, callousness, un-scientific analysis, and continue to beat down the poor and helpless because they are bigoted and irrational.

Whichever message we hear more often and is more prevalent on our screens is our method of digesting propaganda. In October of 1941, in the heat of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order which launched a department called the Office of Facts and Figures. Its intention was to serve as an unbiased entity which could exist as a beacon of hope for those seeking the plain truth. FDR knew that the Nazis’ success was by-and-large the result of a highly effective and intricate propaganda system. 

The director of the office was Archibald MacLeish who was a reporter and editor known for his famous statement regarding the key to our nation’s success in the war: “The principal battleground of this war is not the South Pacific. It is not the Middle East. It is not England, or Norway, or the Russian Steppes. It is American opinion.” The administration knew that if the Nazis could impact morale and public opinion on our shores, they could defeat the American spirit; so, they had to prevent it from spreading.

MacLeish also noted that the weight of this responsibility is on the shoulders of writers, reporters and the press because “Democracy is never a thing done. Democracy is always something that a nation must be doing.” A major ingredient to the rise of Hitler was his ability to wreak havoc, sow discord, and control what people were thinking. Therefore, MacLeish urged writers and journalists to rebel against the “revolution created out of disorder by a terror of disorder.”

What is more convincing now, than ever before, is the success of propaganda as an indoctrinating, controlling, and obsessive roadmap toward controlling the fabric of people’s lives. The only way to fight propaganda is to recognize it, name it, and call it out for what it is while also vowing to not succumb to the tempting nature of its terror and fear. Propaganda disintegrates when we hold on to the truth; when we plant our feet in facts and sink our heels into the firm ground of justice, honesty, and integrity. 

May the words of Hitler and the reality of unspoken propaganda challenge all journalists to be led to report on the facts in an unbiased fashion and serve as a wake-up call to all viewers of the press. The words we read and the reports we hear influence who we are, and who we are as a nation is on the line. So, get to the truth and never allow propaganda to win. 

[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]


  • Thomas Griffin

    Thomas Griffin is the chair of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and two sons. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Empty Tomb Project: The Magazine.

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