Note: The following was originally published as a Facebook note November 18, 2009
“Ideas find people to spread them. The more an idea spreads and reaches all areas of life, the more it becomes a worldview. If an organization becomes the bearer of a worldview, its ultimate goal is the government, which is the bearer of the whole nation.”
— Dr. Paul Josef Goebbels, speaking at the 1927 Nuremburg Rally
Who was Dr. Goebbels? He was the Reichsminister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933-45, one of Adolf Hitler’s closest associates and most devout followers. After Hitler committed suicide, Goebbels succeeded him as Chancellor of Germany for one day, his lone act being to send a delegation to seek a ceasefire with the Soviet Union. In 1942, he was instrumental in pushing for the “final solution to the Jewish question” to be carried forward as quickly as possible. They should be “carted off to Russia,” he wrote in his diary. “It would be best to kill them altogether.”
The quotation that opened this note is Goebbels’ opening words at that Nuremburg rally. He followed with: “Propaganda reaches its goal if its worldview takes practical form by gaining control of the state. In the beginning is the idea, which is taken up by propaganda and transformed into an organization that seeks to win the state.”
Goebbels went on to say that propaganda doesn’t need to be intellectual, but it does need to be effective. In other words, it’s not something you really need to bother thinking about or researching. Just throw something out there to promote that “worldview.” Set an agenda, keep pushing it, and if you push it hard and often enough, people will believe it.
“There are two kinds of propaganda, one aimed at the understanding, the other the feelings. Both depend on imponderables. Worldview movements aim for the feelings,” Goebbels said. “The force behind worldview movements has never been understanding, but rather faith. For example: Christ never wrote a party program, but did preach the Sermon on the Mount. In it he laid the foundations of a new world, summarized in the simple phrase ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Rousseau’s words were the foundation of the French Revolution, but if an agitator had not stood at his side his theory would have slumbered on the bookshelves. … Mussolini is both the philosopher and agitator of Fascist thinking. He is also the statesman who found in the March on Rome the right action while he was chewing on his pen behind his desk. When someone asked him about his theory of the state, he answered that he had developed it while being asked!”
Goebbels’ using Christ and Mussolini as an example of touching upon feelings to promote a worldview, all in the same statement, is chilling, when you consider how Christ taught his followers to “love one another” while Mussolini ruled with an iron fist, the March on Rome being the Mussolini-led coup in which his National Fascist Party came to power in Italy in 1922.
Also chilling is the fact that Goebbels and Mussolini both spent time in their lives working as journalists. They knew how to influence people’s opinions. They knew how to promote their worldview. After Goebbels rose to power in 1933 with the Nazi Party and became propaganda minister, he took control over the media, arts, and information in Germany. From there came the “Big Lie” technique of propaganda, the “Big Lie” based on the principle that a lie, repeated enough times, will be believed by the masses.
As for Mussolini, his time as a political journalist ran deeper, his experience was even richer. He edited newspapers and radical periodicals for years. It gave him a very powerful voice in the court of public opinion.
“Marxism never attempted to alleviate the misery of its followers, but rather to use their misery to build the political power that eventually gave it political success. National Socialism must do the same,” Goebbels said at that 1927 rally. “The leader stands at the head of the broad masses, but without them he is nothing. Each needs the other. The individual is effective when supported by the political will of the masses, the masses are effective when they are captivated by the energy of the leader. Propaganda is good if it is successful, if it reaches the group of people for which it is intended.
“The goal of our propaganda is control of the government. We want to replace the organization with a state founded on the idea.”
Ponder for a moment the impact that Goebbels’ brand of propaganda had upon the world. How much of that impact came from people finding a certain “faith” in the views posed to them, and repeated over and over until they were taken as absolute fact?
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Mussolini placed a very high value on taking control of the minds of the Italian people. He used his training and experience as a journalist to build his own propaganda machine to gain that control, closely monitoring the press, education, and films to build up the view that fascism was the doctrine of the 20th century, replacing liberalism and democracy. Mussolini was an atheist, but he also knew that in order to consolidate his power he had to be baptized. Any religion he had was based upon the need to spread his propaganda even further, to gain more “believers.”
That’s a look at the most well-known uses of propaganda in the early part of the 20th century. Let’s jump ahead to the later part of the same century.
In the December 1990 edition of Kangura, an anti-Tutsi, pro-Hutu, Kinyarwanda-language newspaper in Kigali, Rwanda, came the publication of a document called “The Hutu Ten Commandments.” It was “pure” anti-Tutsi propaganda promoted by extremists in Rwanda following the 1990 invasion by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). It read as follows:
“1. Every Hutu should know that a Tutsi woman, whoever she is, works for the interest of her Tutsi ethnic group. As a result, we shall consider a traitor any Hutu who
• marries a Tutsi woman
• befriends a Tutsi woman
• employs a Tutsi woman as a secretary or a concubine.
“2. Every Hutu should know that our Hutu daughters are more suitable and conscientious in their role as woman, wife and mother of the family. Are they not beautiful, good secretaries and more honest?
“3. Hutu women, be vigilant and try to bring your husbands, brothers and sons back to reason.
“4. Every Hutu should know that every Tutsi is dishonest in business. His only aim is the supremacy of his ethnic group. As a result, any Hutu who does the following is a traitor:
• makes a partnership with Tutsi in business
• invests his money or the government’s money in a Tutsi enterprise
• lends or borrows money from a Tutsi
• gives favours to Tutsi in business (obtaining import licenses, bank loans, construction sites, public markets, etc.).
“5. All strategic positions, political, administrative, economic, military and security should be entrusted only to Hutu.
“6. The education sector (school pupils, students, teachers) must be majority Hutu.
“7. The Rwandan Armed Forces should be exclusively Hutu. The experience of the October 1990 war has taught us a lesson. No member of the military shall marry a Tutsi.
“8. The Hutu should stop having mercy on the Tutsi.
“9. The Hutu, wherever they are, must have unity and solidarity and be concerned with the fate of their Hutu brothers.
• The Hutu inside and outside Rwanda must constantly look for friends and allies for the Hutu cause, starting with their Hutu brothers.
• They must constantly counteract Tutsi propaganda.
• The Hutu must be firm and vigilant against their common Tutsi enemy.
“10. The Social Revolution of 1959, the Referendum of 1961, and the Hutu Ideology, must be taught to every Hutu at every level. Every Hutu must spread this ideology widely. Any Hutu who persecutes his brother Hutu for having read, spread, and taught this ideology is a traitor.”
That fourth “commandment” seems somewhat familiar. It almost looks like something Goebbels would have said of the Jews.
The chief editor of Kangura, Hassan Ngeze, was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2003 by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment. Just imagine, a newspaper editor, helping to bring about mass killings and crimes against humanity. He had something in common with Goebbels after all.
What did those “Ten Commandments” help to bring about? Only the 1994 mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda’s Tutsis and Hutu political moderates who dared speak out against the killings by Hutus under the Hutu Power ideology over a period of close to 100 days. Estimates of the death toll have ranged between 500,000 and one million, as much as 20% of the total population of the country.
In other words, this was a modern-day version of the Holocaust. And its seeds were planted in part through the use of propaganda in the media. Again, Goebbels would have been proud.
“This genocide resulted from the deliberate choice of a modern elite to foster hatred and fear to keep itself in power. This small, privileged group first set the majority against the minority to counter a growing political opposition within Rwanda. Then, faced with RPF success on the battlefield and at the negotiating table, these few powerholders transformed the strategy of ethnic division into genocide. They believed that the extermination campaign would restore the solidarity of the Hutu under their leadership and help them win the war, or at least improve their chances of negotiating a favorable peace. They seized control of the state and used its machinery and its authority to carry out the slaughter.” — Leave None to Tell the Story; Genocide in Rwanda, Human Rights Watch Report, March 1999
That report was issued nearly 13 years ago, five short years after the killings in Rwanda happened. It should serve as a tragic reminder of just how recently such atrocities have occurred as a result of political propaganda, with people who wield supreme power pulling the strings in a sickening puppet show.