Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Biography of Goebbels: Propaganda for Dummies

Every institution- be it a political party, a religious outfit, a charity organization or even a democratically elected government, for its ultimate survival, has to ensure that it promotes itself and its messages reaches the mass, and the mass in-turn behaves in a way suitable for them. For these ends they resort hugely to propaganda- a word that has become much hated for the implication of its manipulative intentions. I have in the last few months developed an interest in observing the modus-operandi of propaganda generation. That was one reason when I got a chance to read the book Goebbels: A Biography, I grabbed it eagerly. 

The rise and fall of Germany during the Second World War is one instant in history were the worrisome effect of propaganda in swaying public opinion is demonstrated. The whole nation stood behind its Fuhrer and his atrocities, due to the massive propaganda propagated by a separate ministry and its chief Joseph Goebbels. The historical influence of Goebbels is so deep that even an adjective, Goebbelsian is coined to denote any mass manipulation propaganda aimed to deceive people. 

Goebbels was born in a normal German family, with a club foot and associated psychological complexes. He had intense literary ambitions. From an insecure young man, Goebbels grew into a self-congratulating narcissist, who was clamoring for approval from others. His defining moment came with his meeting with Adolf Hitler. For him Hitler became the ultimate authority to be loyal to, like a messiah. (The height of this loyalty can be seen when after Hitler’s suicide, Goebbels kill his children and along with his wife, commit suicide.) Due to his extraordinary oratory skills, Goebbels raises through the ranks to become the propaganda minister of Third Reich, enduring severe infighting with his colleagues. His manipulation of the herd mentality of ordinary people is one reason why the German public failed to condemn the atrocities against Jews and other human right violations that were rampant under Hitler’s rule.

Peter Longerich, the author of this biography has taken the diaries of Goebbels as his source material. He has succeeded in making several profound insights into the psyche of Goebbels. The book is very detailed, spanning just short of thousand pages and needs a patient reading. It is a tough nut for a casual reader to crack. For me, several parts were tiresome to read by, especially those about his romantic relationships. But the details on his efforts in spreading the Nazi propaganda were worth the effort. It uses a multitude of techniques like selective disbursement, toning down, falsifying, intensifying, and skillful skewing of information and is done through every possible medium available then- newspapers, cinema and radio. It is an immensely helpful tool for public to understand the workings of propaganda machines, the process behind which, I feel has not changed much from that time.       

Book Source: Netgalley

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