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Analyzing Toxic “Fake News”: Are Key Concepts Promulgated by Master Propagandists of the Past Still in Practice Today?

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Analyzing Toxic “Fake News”: Are Key Concepts Promulgated by Master Propagandists of the Past Still in Practice Today?

William Darley

We know that it is not at all necessary to have the sympathy of a majority of the people in order to rule them. The right organization can turn the trick.

—Roger Trinquier


Weapons of Mass Destruction

(Image courtesy of Jim Crandell, Military Review)

Because war is, as Clausewitz famously quipped, politics (policy) by other means, the dynamics of war-related political dispute conducted through public information channels today should be of keen interest to members of the military since such communications so heavily influence the operational environment in which they now must operate.1 As a result, it is exceedingly important that military members gain greater sophistication in their understanding of the dynamics governing public information affecting this environment by increasing their ability to critically analyze the more salient of assumptions about human nature that some have contended underlie effective information strategies.2

The importance of gaining a measure of sophistication of understanding on the use of propaganda is highlighted in a speech that was given recently before the Russian Academy of Science by Russian General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, who asserted that two of the most important features of modern warfare were first, that modern wars and the equivalent of wars will be fought without being declared (some of which should be regarded as already ongoing); and second, that such conflicts will be largely waged by means other than the use of kinetic destructive military weapons. He went on to specify that among the most important of those “other means” employed would be so-called information warfare (of which propaganda is a significant part).3

Gerasimov’s comments closely parallel official positions taken by Chinese government officials. In a 2013 report titled “Communique on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere” (frequently referred to as “Document 9”), Chinese communist strategists promulgated as principle that “Western constitutional democracy is an attempt to undermine the current leadership and the socialism with Chinese characteristics system of governance.” To defend against purported ongoing Western attacks against the Chinese government and system, it went on to assert, “We must reinforce our management of all types and levels of propaganda on the cultural front, perfect and carry out related administrative systems, and allow absolutely no opportunity or outlets for incorrect thinking or viewpoints to spread.”4

Elsewhere, the 2019 U.S. Department of Defense “Annual Report to Congress” noted the following with regard to Chinese external information operations activities,

China conducts influence operations against media, cultural, business, academic, and policy communities of the United States, other countries, and international institutions to achieve outcomes favorable to its security and military strategy objectives. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seeks to condition foreign and multilateral political establishments and public opinion to accept China’s narrative surrounding its priorities like OBOR [One Belt, One Road initiative] and South China Sea territorial and maritime claims. Recognizing that programs such as “Made in China 2025” and OBOR have sparked concerns about China’s intentions, China’s leaders have softened their rhetoric when promoting these programs without altering the programs’ fundamental strategic goals.5

Though the dimensions and boundaries of what constitutes information warfare remain a contentious issue of debate among many military theorists, most scholars of war appear to agree that the use of propaganda and disinformation conveyed through the global news media system are prime components of any conflict today. In consequence of the above noted perspectives as well as the most recent National Security Strategy, which designates Russia and China as the United States’ current foremost peer adversaries, the author offers a brief collection of assertions made by major historical propagandists regarding the theory and employment of propaganda and invites readers to evaluate whether such observations have relevance to today’s global operational environment and whether there is evidence that such are currently being employed by adversaries against the United States.6

Context as Preclude

Practical experience has shown that posited broad and general agreement on issues within a group does not necessarily equate to strong incentive for group action. For example, in election after election in the United States, a minority of citizens—usually less than 50 percent of those eligible to vote—are routinely neither interested enough to either explore the issues at stake nor to vote, even on issues that seem by other polling instruments to have broad public interest and concern. Thus, there appears to be a great deal about which a seeming majority may express general agreement, but on which it is nevertheless unwilling to act. This is one indicator that merely ascertaining what agglomerated general opinion is on a given issue by public polling or other such survey means is actually irrelevant to a political operative unless it serves in some way as either an impetus for, or impediment to, stimulating mass action. Consequently, a marked willingness by one segment of the population to determinedly do something about its convictions at a given time in contrast to a marked unwillingness by the other segments of the population to resist what a minority may be doing—merely acquiescing to what seems to be popularly tolerated—are perhaps better indicators of what one may more properly regard as public opinion than statistics breaking down an aggregation of more or less inchoate opinions ostensibly showing shared views points on some issue.

The above observation is useful in introducing the reader to an unflattering term of art now often used by practitioners of public information regarding what some assert is a social constant within any given population—sheeple. Recently added to Merriam-Webster, the term describes that portion of a population who are sheep-like; “docile, compliant, or easily influenced”7

The impetus to coin such a word suggests that there is strong agreement among at least some members of the community of information and sociology professionals that a considerable portion of any given population is either entirely indifferent to issues of community concern, or very susceptible to manipulation by skilled political operatives using propagandistic devices to either directly support the narrow special interest agenda of those operatives, or to mindlessly tolerate the impact of whatever popular opinions are trending. Assuming that such pliable and mindless attitudes are indeed endemic to a significant portion of any given population in the current operational environment, the below noted selections of observations made by skilled propagandists of the past are offered to the reader for consideration with regard to what insight each may provide to the understanding of how popular exploitation of such populations is accomplished through propaganda today.

Edward L. Bernays  

Many communications historians regard Edward L. Bernays (22 November 1891 to 9 March 1995) as “the father of modern public relations.” Heavily influenced in his thinking by his uncle, Sigmund Freud, he incorporated into his practice of public relations Freudian psychological theories related to mass persuasion over a long career in which he worked for dozens of large corporations, diverse political and special interest groups, and the U.S. government.

Bernays was among the first to expand the theory of advertising beyond the drafting and formulation of simple single-subject marketing advertisements that relied on merely rhapsodizing over the purported virtues of individual products or ideas. He formulated instead sophisticated psychological techniques that aimed at manipulating and shaping mass perception within popular culture to exploit the human inclination to follow fashion trends established by social opinion leaders in a way that would generate of themselves a demand for products of a specific kind. For example, on approaching the problem of selling pianos, he moved beyond merely broadly extolling the purported benefits of the product itself, and focused instead on fostering a cultural perception among social opinion leaders that no family home was complete without a music room, which, of course, would often be perceived as incomplete without a piano.

The music room will be accepted because it has been made the thing. And the man or woman who has a music room or arranged a corner of the parlor as a musical corner, will naturally think of buying a piano. It will come to him as his own idea.8

Thus, instead of attempting to directly persuade people as to the desirability of a particular product or idea, he asserted that the most effective means of advertising—employing propaganda to sell products—was to effect a cultural change that led mass audiences to conclude for themselves that various specific products were indispensable for their own well-being and happiness. Honing such subtle techniques for the purpose of marketing, Bernays is perhaps most notoriously remembered for his work with tobacco companies for which he was a principal designer of cultural campaigns to promote smoking among women. He did this by promoting the cultural view among women that female smoking was an act indicative of feminist liberation in defiance of prevailing cultural norms.9

Elsewhere, as an employee of the United Fruit Company, he applied similar techniques to political work in coordinated efforts with the Central Intelligence Agency to justify in the U.S. public’s mind the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954.10

A prolific writer, he laid out his concepts in numerous articles and books, the key ideas of which were distilled into two major works that have had an enormous and enduring effect on the development of public relations, social psychology, advertising, and, government/military psychological operations: Crystalizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda (1928). Below are a few notable excerpts from the latter work that reflect his overall views.   

Bernays’ underlying assumptions about the role of propaganda in modern society.           

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key positions in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons….who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.11

Bernays’ underlying assumptions about why propaganda works. 

We have voluntarily agreed to let an invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding issues so that our field of choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions. From our leaders and the media they use to reach the public, we accept the evidence and the demarcation of issues bearing upon public question; from some ethical teacher, be it a minister, a favorite essayist, or merely prevailing opinion, we accept a standardized code of social conduct to which we conform most of the time.12

In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered him on the market. In practice ….society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought to it[s] attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea.13

Bernays’s efforts and writings are widely credited with establishing a new occupational profession: the public relations specialist. In his view, this new field would employ trained professionals who specialized in promoting products or ideas using sophisticated mass psychological tools that went well beyond mere advertising techniques. Ironically, in the 1920s, National Socialist Party leader Joseph Goebbels, later minister of propaganda of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, reputedly became an avid admirer of Bernays’s ideas and his writings despite the fact that Bernays was a Jew, an ethnic identity that was anathema to National Socialist Party dogma emphasizing “Aryan” racial purity. When Goebbels became the minister of propaganda of Nazi Germany, he reportedly employed Bernays’s ideas to the fullest extent possible. In 1933, Bernays was told by a foreign correspondent for Hearst newspapers that Goebbels was using the ideas set forth in his work in 1933 to advance the National Socialist Party program, including justification for persecuting Jews. Bernays recounted in his 1965 autobiography, “They were using my books as the basis for a destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me, but I knew any human activity can be used for social purposes or misused for antisocial ones.”14

Joseph Goebbels

As noted, Joseph Goebbels was appointed minister of propaganda for the German Third Reich under Adolf Hitler. He had come to the attention of Hitler because of his abilities as a master orator and propagandist in promoting the National Socialist (Nazi) movement. As a personal devotee of Hitler, and student of Bernays’ psychological approach that aimed to change culture as a lever for promoting ideas and political movements, he was the originator of the “Fuhrer myth.” Cultivation of this myth aimed to popularize conceptions of National Socialism using a range of theatrical and cultural devices to inculcate into the public consciousness a conception of Hitler as a Messiah-like figure sent to save Germany from malign foreign and domestic ethnic actors, and especially Marxists and Jews. Goebbels considered propaganda a necessary tool for elites governing the masses:

Propaganda is not a matter for average minds, but rather a matter for practitioners. It is not supposed to be lovely or theoretically correct. I do not care if I give wonderful, aesthetically elegant speeches, or speak so that women cry. The point of a political speech is to persuade people of what we think right. I speak differently in the provinces than I do in Berlin, and when I speak in Bayreuth, I say different things from what I say in the Pharus Hall. That is a matter of practice, not of theory. We do not want to be a movement of a few straw brains, but rather a movement that can conquer the broad masses. Propaganda should be popular, not intellectually pleasing. It is not the task of propaganda to discover intellectual truths. Those are found in other circumstances, I find them when thinking at my desk, but not in the meeting hall.15

The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative.16

V.I. Lenin

Lenin is the greatest man, second only to Hitler, and that the difference between Communism and the Hitler faith is very slight.

—Joseph Goebbels17

Before there was Bernays or Goebbels, there was Lenin. Russian communist Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Bolshevik leader of the Russian Revolution in 1917 that created the Soviet Union, was perhaps the most influential propagandist in history. The archetype of a successful modern revolutionary, he templated in his writings how revolutionary organization and propaganda were intertwined, providing principles of application upon which both the Italian Fascist and German Nationalist Socialist Movements would draw heavily to guide the development of their own revolutionary platforms. Most prominently, Lenin laid out the components of his theory of revolutionary action in a monograph published in 1902 titled, “What is to be Done?”18 In this essay, he emphasized the essential role of propaganda to a revolutionary movement. But, more importantly, and perhaps his greatest contribution to an understanding of how propaganda in general is effectively employed, he illuminates the essential role of political organization as it relates to the promulgation of propaganda through mass media.  

The Vanguard Party principle. The first of Lenin’s two key principles for effecting political change was that no program of revolutionary change could move forward without a core group of highly disciplined professional activists to guide it. He designated this group as the “vanguard party.” The purpose of this core leadership group was to work full time as “professional revolutionaries” organizing and leading the political work of the revolutionary effort. Without such full time leadership, he asserted, true revolution was impossible because such required a prolonged and synchronized effort only possible with stable and sustained organization and leadership. And, he maintained, one of the vanguard party’s key function was formulating and disseminating propaganda.19

Stipulating that the principal responsibility of the vanguard party was to organize and expand the movement, Lenin wrote,

the organisation [sic] of the revolutionaries must consist first and foremost of people who make revolutionary activity their profession….If we begin with the solid foundation of a strong organisation [sic] of revolutionaries, we can ensure the stability of the movement as a whole and carry out the aims both of Social-Democracy and of trade unions proper.20

Control of a mass medium. The companion factor Lenin emphasized for fomenting successful revolution was that the vanguard party must be linked to, or have control over, a mass medium with wide popular reach and appeal to do the necessary work of propaganda. In his day, the only true mass medium available was the newspaper. He described the link as follows:

The publication of an all-Russia political newspaper must be the main line by which we may unswervingly develop, deepen, and expand the organisation (viz., the revolutionary organisation that is ever ready to support every protest and every outbreak).21 … A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organizer [sic]. In this respect it may be compared to the scaffolding erected round a building under construction; it marks the contours of the structure and facilitates communication between the builders, permitting them to distribute the work and to view the common results achieved by their organised [sic] labour.22

Peter Kenez, a noted historian at the University of California, Santa Cruz, specializing in Russian history and Eastern Europe, opined that Lenin’s greatest contribution to the literature related to propaganda was “that the work of carrying out propaganda was an instrument of propaganda itself. His insight that propaganda and organization are opposite sides of the same coin … [became] a fundamental principle of Bolshevik policy making.”23

The concepts Lenin laid out with regard to the relationship of mass media, effective propaganda, and political organizing in “What is to Be Done?” have been extremely influential, especially among socialist revolutionary activists in the twentieth-century, effectively establishing articles of faith and a template for fomenting revolution that other aspiring authoritarian socialist and fascist leaders emulated in establishing their programs of political activism, especially notable first Benito Mussolini followed by his votary Adolf Hitler.

Adolf Hitler  

Among the most enduring historical enigmas of the twentieth century is how such an obscure and vile personality as Adolf Hitler was able to ascend to political and cultural mastery over Germany, one of the most advanced and sophisticated countries in the history of the world up to that time. A clue to answering questions related to this enigma may possibly be found by examining the personal concepts guiding Hitler’s formulation of propaganda.

Hitler, in contrast to most other authoritarian revolutionaries who acknowledged the importance of propaganda but did not take the time to detail how they personally envisioned how to employ it, did take the time to list and describe what he considered the most important principles behind the use of the various instruments of propaganda and how specifically such should be employed. If closely considered, perhaps the enigma of his ascendance to power might well be attributed in great measure to a convergence of historical events in which national humiliation and impoverishment produced by Germany’s defeat in World War I had left the German people particularly vulnerable to Hitler’s skillful employment of crude and visceral propagandistic appeals aimed at the basest of human instincts. Consequently, in attempting to discern the interplay of emerging socio-economic circumstances and skillful demagoguery, his pronouncements, some of which are quoted below, may help U.S. military planners identify key red-flag social dynamics useful for templating and anticipating the domestic vulnerabilities of nations bedeviled by social turbulence stemming from class, racial, or ethnic animosity in today’s global operational environment.

The Bottom Line

People are more inclined to believe a “big lie” than a little one.

This most of all shows the assertion that the lost War [World War I] was the cause of the German collapse [military collapse following German surrender] to be a lie. No, this military collapse was itself only the consequence … of an ethical and moral poisoning, of a diminution in the instinct of self-preservation and its preconditions, which for many years had begun to undermine the foundations of the people and the Reich.24 It required the whole bottomless falsehood of … [a] Marxist fighting organization to lay the blame …. In this they proceeded on the sound principle that the magnitude of a lie always contains a certain factor of credibility, since the great masses of the people in the very bottom of their hearts tend to be corrupted rather than consciously and purposely evil, and that, therefore, in view of the primitive simplicity of their minds they more easily fall a victim to a big lie than to a little one, since they themselves lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big. Such a falsehood will never enter their heads and they will not be able to believe in the possibility of such monstrous effrontery and infamous misrepresentation in others; yes, even when enlightened on the subject, they will long doubt and waver, and continue to accept at least one of these causes as true. Therefore, something of even the most insolent lie will always remain and stick—a fact which all the great lie—virtuosi and lying-clubs in this world know only too well and also make the most treacherous use of.25

Never admit your side might be wrong in any point.

The function of propaganda is, for example, not to weigh and ponder the rights of different people, but exclusively to emphasize the one right which it has set out to argue for. Its task is not to make an objective study of the truth, in so far as it favors the enemy, and then set it before the masses with academic fairness; its task is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly.26

The broad mass of a nation does not consist of diplomats, or even professors of political law, or even individuals capable of forming a rational opinion; it consists of plain mortals, wavering and inclined to doubt and uncertainty. As soon as our own propaganda admits so much as a glimmer of right on the other side, the foundation for doubt in your own right has been laid. The masses are then in no position to distinguish where foreign injustice ends and our own begins. In such a case they become uncertain and suspicious, especially if the enemy refrains from going in for the same nonsense, but unloads every bit of blame on his adversary.… English propagandists [in World War I] understood all this most brilliantly—and acted accordingly. They made no half statements that might have given rise to doubts.27

A lie repeated often enough will eventually be believed as true.

All advertising, whether in the field of business or politics, achieves success through the continuity and sustained uniformity of its application.

Here, too, the example of enemy [British] war propaganda [World War I] was typical; limited to a few points, devised exclusively for the masses, carried on with indefatigable persistence. Once the basic ideas and methods or execution were recognized as correct, they were applied throughout the whole War without the slightest change. At first the claims of the propaganda were so impudent that people thought it insane; later, it got on people’s nerves; and in the end, it was believed.28

Focus propaganda on the lowest intellectual stratum of a society based on emotional appeals, not facts.

To whom should propaganda be addressed? To the scientifically trained intelligentsia or to the less educated masses?

It must be addressed always and exclusively to the masses. … The function of propaganda does not lie in the scientific training of the individual, but in calling the masses’ attention to certain facts, processes, necessities, etc., whose significance is thus for the first time placed within their field of vision.

… All propaganda must be popular, and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be. But if, as in propaganda for sticking out a war, the aim is to influence a whole people, we must avoid excessive intellectual demands on our public, and too much caution cannot be exerted in this direction.29

Propaganda is a major weapon.

And in England they understood one more thing: that this spiritual weapon can succeed only if it is applied on a tremendous scale, but that success amply covers all costs. There, propaganda was regarded as a weapon of the first order, while in our country it was the last resort of unemployed politicians and a comfortable haven for slackers. And, as was to be expected, its results in all were zero.30

Effective propaganda is based on appeal to altruism rather than self-interest.

[During World War I] Nothing proved the Englishman’s superior psychological knowledge of the popular soul better than the motivation which he gave to his struggle. While we fought for bread, England fought for “freedom” … In our country we laughed at this effrontery, or were enraged at it, and thus only demonstrated how empty-headed and stupid the so-called statesmen of Germany had become even before the War. We no longer had the slightest idea concerning the essence of the force which can lead men to their death of their own free will and decision.

In 1914, as long as the German people thought they were fighting for ideals, they stood firm; but as soon as they were told to fight for their daily bread, the preferred to give up the game. And our brilliant ‘statesmen’ were astonished at this change in attitude. It never became clear to them that from the moment when a man begins to fight for an economic interest, he avoids death as much as possible, since death would forever deprive him of his reward for fighting.31

People have short memories.

It is a mistake to make propaganda many-sided, like scientific instruction, for instance. The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. As soon as you sacrifice this slogan and try to be many-sided, the effect will piddle away, for the crowd can neither digest nor retain the material offered.32


One might observe that a common conceptual thread among the four propagandists briefly discussed, which appears to link them together on something like common ground, irrespective of their ideological differences, is contempt for the masses they sought to influence. They each appear to have independently arrived at the view, many decades before the term was coined, that a significant portion of any population consists of “sheeple”, and proceeded on that perception to build the main effort of their propaganda approaches, expecting the elites to fall in line, or be forced into line, after the masses had bestowed upon the revolutionary propagandists state power.

Notwithstanding, this brief survey of the observations of four different historical figures with demonstrated skill in manipulating public opinion highlighted here is intended in part to encourage interest in modern propaganda and stimulate critical analysis of the propaganda methods employed today in the modern global information environment to ascertain whether the assertions of each historical propagandist are, in fact, salient or relevant. In conjunction, consideration of these observations is also intended to encourage critical consideration of how one goes about mitigating the impact of propaganda, especially manifest in the increasing quantity of so-called “fake news” that is emanating from Russia, China, Iran, authoritarian regimes in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, as well as from within the American hemisphere itself.

End Notes

Epigraph. Roger Trinquier, Modern Warfare, A French View of Counterinsurgency, p. 4.

1. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, eds. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 28.

2. “The Story of Propaganda,” American Historical Association, accessed 23 August 2019, The American Historical Association provides a brief overview of the history of propaganda that may be useful for those unacquainted with the historical development of what is today often referred to as psychological operations.

3. Valery Gerasimov, “The Value of Science is in the Foresight: New Challenges Demand Rethinking the Forms and Methods of Carrying out Combat Operations,” Military Review 96, no. 1 (January-February 2016): 24.

4. Kimberly Orinx and Tanguy Struye der Swielande, “A Chinese Fox against an American Hedgehog in Cyberspace“, Military Review 99, no. 5 (September-October 2019): 62.

5. Office of the Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to Congress, Military and Security Developments involving the People’s Republic of China 2019 (Washington, DC: U.S. DOD, 2018), i—ii, accessed 26 August 2019.

6. Office of the Secretary of Defense, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: U.S. DOD, 2018), 2, accessed 23 August 2019,

7. Merriam-Webster (2019), s.v. “sheeple,” accessed 23 August 2019,

8. Edward Bernays, Propaganda (Brooklyn, NY: IG Publishing, 1928), 78.

9. Wendy Christensen, “Torches of Freedom: Women and Smoking Propaganda”, Sociological Images (blog), 27 February 2012, accessed 23 August 2019,

10. Bernays, Propaganda, 27; See also, “A Chiquita PR Campaign was Powerful Enough to Topple the Guatemalan Government,” Modern Marketing Partners, accessed 23 August 2019,

11. Bernays, Propaganda, 37–38.

12. Ibid., 38–39.

13. Ibid., 39.

  1.   Edward Bernays, Biography of an Idea: Memoirs of Public Relations Counsel Edward L. Bernays (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965), quoted in Richard Gunderman, “The Manipulation of the American Mind: Edward Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations,” The Conversation, 9 July 2015, accessed 23 August 2019,
  2.   Joseph Goebbels, “Knowledge and Propaganda,” (speech, “Hochschule für Politik,” Berlin, 9 January 1928), published in “German Propaganda Archive,” Calvin University, accessed 23 August 2019,
  3.   Joseph Goebbels, Signale der neuen Zeit [Signals of the New Time] (Munich: Eher, 1934), 34, quoted in Claudia Koonz, The Nazi Conscience (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2004), 13.

17. “Hitlerite’ Riot in Berlin: Beer Glasses Fly When Speaker Compares Hitler to Lenin,” New York Times, 28 November 1925.

  1.   Vladimir Lenin, “What is to be Done?” in Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Lenin Anthology, (W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 1975) 12–67.

19. Ibid., 76–77.

20. Ibid., 68, 73.

21. Ibid., 101.

22. Ibid., 102.

23. Peter Kenez, The Birth of the Propaganda State, Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 26; William M. Darley, “Lenin’s Formula for Agenda Setting”, Military Review 96, no. 6 (November-December 2016): 114—124.

24. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Manheim (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971), 231.

25. Ibid., 231–32.

26. Ibid., 182.

27. Ibid., 183.

28. Ibid., 185.

29. Ibid., 179–80.

30. Ibid., 186.

31. Ibid., 152-53.

32. Ibid., 180–81.


Categories: propaganda - fake news

About the Author(s)

Colonel William M. Darley, U.S. Army, retired, served thirty-one years on active duty in the U.S. Army, primarily as a public affairs officer. After retirement, he served as a social anthropology team leader for the Human Terrain System in Ramadi, Iraq. He is a 1977 graduate of Brigham Young University and its ROTC program. He is currently employed as an editor at Military Review, an official journal of the U.S. Army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.


Bill C.

Fri, 09/06/2019 - 10:49am

The first paragraph of the "conclusion" section of our article above:

"One might observe that a common conceptual thread among the four propagandists briefly discussed, which appears to link them together on something like common ground, irrespective of their ideological differences, is contempt for the masses they sought to influence. They each appear to have independently arrived at the view, many decades before the term was coined, that a significant portion of any population consists of “sheeple”, and proceeded on that perception to build the main effort of their propaganda approaches, expecting the elites to fall in line, or be forced into line, after the masses had bestowed upon the revolutionary propagandists state power."


Given that (a) while during the Old Cold War -- and the early post-Old Cold War -- the U.S./the West WAS, indeed, a revolutionary power but (b) today, IS NOT (see information supporting this contention below),

Then how does this such amazing fact and reality -- of our such 180 degree "about-face" foreign policy "turn" -- effect our discussions re: propaganda and information operations here?

In support of my suggestion above -- that while the U.S. WAS a revolutionary entity during the Old Cold War and early post-Cold War but today IS NOT -- consider the following matters:

First, re: the Cold War, from Hans Morgenthau's 1967 paper "To Intervene or Not to Intervene:"

"The United States and the Soviet Union face each other not only as two great powers which in the traditional ways compete for advantage. They also face each other as the fountainheads of two hostile and incompatible ideologies, systems of government and ways of life, each trying to expand the reach of its respective political values and institutions and to prevent the expansion of the other. Thus the cold war has not only been a conflict between two world powers but also a contest between two secular religions. And like the religious wars of the seventeenth century, the war between communism and democracy does not respect national boundaries. It finds enemies and allies in all countries, opposing the one and supporting the other regardless of the niceties of international law. Here is the dynamic force which has led the two superpowers to intervene all over the globe, sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes openly, sometimes with the accepted methods of diplomatic pressure and propaganda, sometimes with the frowned-upon instruments of covert subversion and open force."

Next, re: the early post-Cold War, from John Mearsheimer's recent "Bound to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Liberal International Order:"

"After the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States was by far the most powerful country in the world. The 'unipolar moment' had arrived, which meant that most of the constraints that arise from security competition between great powers were gone.  Moreover, the thick Western order that the United States had created to deal with the Soviet Union remained firmly intact, while the Soviet order quickly fell apart. Comecon and the Warsaw Pact dissolved in the summer of 1991, and the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991. Unsurprisingly, President George H.W. Bush decided to take the realist Western order and spread it across the globe, transforming it into a liberal international order. The institutions that had made up the thin Cold War–era international order—the UN and the various arms control agreements—would be incorporated into what Bush called the 'new world order.' ... 

Creating a liberal international order involved three main tasks. First, it was essential to expand the membership in the institutions that made up the Western order, as well as erect new institutions where necessary. In other words, it was important to build a web of international institutions with universal membership that wielded great influence over the behavior of the member states. Second, it was imperative to create an open and inclusive international economy that maximized free trade and fostered unfettered capital markets. This hyperglobalized world economy was intended to be much more ambitious in scope than the economic order that prevailed in the West during the Cold War. Third, it was crucial to vigorously spread liberal democracy around the world, a mission that was frequently shortchanged when the United States was competing for power with the Soviet Union. This goal was not the United States’ alone; its European allies generally embraced this undertaking as well."

Last, let us see how our such "revolutionary" era appears to have now ended.

Then-British Prime Minister Theresa May:

“It is in our interests – those of Britain and America together – to stand strong together to defend our values, our interests and the very ideas in which we believe,” she said.

"This cannot mean a return to the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.”

Bottom Line Question -- Based on the Above:

If U.S./Western propaganda/counter-propaganda efforts -- during the Old Cold War and in the early post-Cold War also -- benefited significantly from the fact that, back then:

a.  We were "revolutionaries,"

b.  Determined -- in the face of all obstacles -- to advance our own way of life, our own way of governance, our own values, etc., throughout the world,

And if, in stark contrast, we have now abandoned our such "revolutionary" status and effort (which, before our such 180 degree "about-face" turn, had provided us with the "soft power" equivalent of "ICBM's:"

"What is missing, in my view, is the plain assertion that in the competition the NSS argues we now face, our support for freedom and the expansion of democracy is in fact a great asset and indeed a powerful weapon. The document comes close to saying this but shies away, as if such language would suggest a return to the “freedom agenda” of George W. Bush. Mike Green, in the article noted above, gets it right; I would argue that Ronald Reagan did not promote democracy and help push dictators like Ferdinand Marcos, Chun Doo-Hwan, and Augusto Pinochet out despite his anti-communism but because of his anti-communism. He understood that in the struggle with the Soviets, freedom was as powerful and indispensable as ICBMs. Today, competing with tyrannies like China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, there is a powerful realpolitik argument for freedom. When it comes to defeating jihadis and other forms of Islamist extremism, we should remember that Islamists—even Islamist extremists—have ideas and arguments that must be defeated by better ideas and arguments, and cannot be defeated solely by police truncheons."

Then how, exactly, 

a.  Can we compete in this such propaganda and information warfare environment; wherein,

b.  We seem to have abandoned what -- in earlier times -- we considered to be our greatest advantage (see our revolutionary status, mission and character noted above)?

If your opponent -- formally and officially -- adopts critical aspects of the ideas that you are promulgating, for example, 

a.  As the Soviets/the communists did re: market-democracy at the end of the Old Cold War and

b.  As the U.S. did re: sovereignty and self-determination most recently:

President Donald Trump:

"We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government, but we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”

“Strong sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures, and different dreams not just coexist, but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect.”


a.  Given this such "victory"

b.  To what further purpose does further propaganda/informational warfare serve?