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OPINION

From «rotten herring» to «unknown hero». Vladimir Yakovlev on special propaganda methods for justifying the war

There are only three types of propaganda to which you are exposed every day: white, gray and black propaganda. White propaganda does not involve distortion of facts for achieving political ends. Gray propaganda involves such distortion, but only to a minor degree. Black propaganda allows for every possible distortion of reality to achieve propaganda objectives. The more shameless the propaganda, the more powerful its effect on the audience. Black propaganda is the most powerful because it is not constrained by the need to stick to the facts.

I studied at the Journalism Faculty of the Moscow State University, we had a military department. In secrecy, we were taught special combat propaganda - the art of sowing discord in the ranks of the enemy through disinformation and manipulation of consciousness. It's a terrible business, believe you me. I kid you not. Black propaganda is an effective weapon used for the sole purpose of blowing the enemy's brains out.

The «rotten herring» method, the «inverted pyramid» method, the «Big Lie» method, the «40/60» principle, invented by Goebbels. You also know all these methods and techniques. You're just unaware of it. As you're supposed to be.

Back in the day we were taught at the military department of the Faculty of Journalism to use special combat propaganda techniques against enemy soldiers. Today those techniques are used against civilians. Against you. Special propaganda has dozens of effective techniques to which you are exposed every day. But there are four most common ones you need to know in order to be able to protect yourself.


The «rotten herring» method


The «rotten herring» method works like this. A completely false accusation is made. It is important that it be as dirty and shocking as possible. For example, petty theft or, say, child molestation, or murder, preferably out of greed, work well. The purpose of a «rotten herring» is not to prove the accusation. It is to provoke a wide public discussion.

The purpose of a «rotten herring» is not to prove an accusation, but to provoke a wide public discussion

The human psyche is designed in such a way that whenever an accusation becomes the subject of public discussion, there are bound to be «supporters» and «opponents», «specialists» and «experts», fierce «accusers» and ardent «defenders» of the accused.

But regardless of their views, all those involved in the discussion would say the name of the accused over and over again in conjunction with the sordid and shocking accusation, thus rubbing the «rotten herring» deeper and deeper into his clothes, until finally the smell starts to follow him everywhere. And the question «did he really kill/steal/molest or not» becomes the first one to arise at the mention of his name.

One of the classic uses of the «rotten herring» method is accusing a person of belonging to a fascist or Nazi ideology. The very fact of discussing whether or not a person is a Nazi in any event leaves that person compromised to the extent that the objective of the propaganda campaign can be considered accomplished.

The very fact of discussing whether a person is a Nazi in any event leaves that person compromised

The «Big Lie» method


The «Big Lie» method is a bit similar to the «rotten herring», but in fact works differently. Its essence is to offer the audience, with utmost confidence, a lie so global and shameless that it is almost impossible to believe one could lie about such a thing.

The trick here is to use completely false information to create a shock effect, to induce in the reader, listener or viewer an intense fear that will then permanently determine their views, contrary to any arguments of logic and reason. False descriptions of all kinds of terrible threats or nefarious designs of the enemy are a classic application of this method.

A perfect example of this method is the false accusation that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction, which led to the occupation of Iraq by U.S. troops. But reports of the enemy developing, for example, biological weapons or a global threat from a hidden, powerful adversary also work well.


The «absolute obviousness» method


The «Big Lie» method can be very effective. But still, in the relatively long term, the «absolute obviousness» method yields even more reliable results. Its essence is as follows. Instead of proving your point, you systematically present it to your audience as something obvious, self-evident and therefore unconditionally supported by the vast majority of the population.

Despite its apparent simplicity, this method is incredibly effective because the human psyche automatically responds to the opinion of the majority and seeks to join it. Only it's important to remember that the majority must be overwhelming, and its support absolute and unconditional - otherwise the effect of joining it will not occur.

One of the classic uses of the «absolute obviousness» method is, for example, the publication of the results of various kinds of opinion polls demonstrating absolute public unity on a particular issue. Black propaganda techniques, of course, do not require that such reports correspond to reality in any way.

With regard to opinion polls, there is one very curious detail. When you read a report that 60 or 50 or 80 percent of the population supports some idea or initiative, ask yourself of what percentages exactly we are talking about? This question seems strange. Well, we are talking of percentages of the country's population, of course. But in reality, we are not. Not 60% of the country's population, but 60% of a special «panel», i.e. a certain stable group of interviewees, which is used by the pollsters.

The composition of this «panel» determines the results of the poll. As long as you do not know its exact composition and size, it is impossible to judge whether the results of the poll are representative. Imagine, for example, a panel, the majority of which are pensioners or party members or government officials, and you'll see what I mean.


The «unknown hero» method


And finally, the «unknown hero» method. We see this method in use so often that we almost cease to notice it. And yet the «unknown hero» method is one of the oldest and at the same time one of the most effective special propaganda methods. Its essence is the false glorification of the actions of your country's troops. For all its outward banality this method has deep psychological roots.

The fact is that any war is brutal, inhumane and pointless. And that is why it always, by default, causes great resistance on the part of the human psyche. This resistance is further strengthened by man's fear for himself and his loved ones. There is only one part of the human psyche that can oppose this powerful resistance. It is the emotional component. That's why there are no armies of invaders, only armies of liberators. There are no armies of invaders, only armies of saviors.

The only way to defeat man's natural resistance to war is to create in him the illusion of fighting for high moral values, for justice, for the rescue of his own people who are in trouble, which will justify the cruelty and inhumanity of what is happening. And thus, evoke strong emotional reactions, which make it possible to overcome the psychological resistance to the very idea of war. Linked to this, incidentally, is the use by propaganda of the so-called «nonverbal symbols».

These are the symbols that are capable of arousing emotions. For example, the swastika and the red star were such symbols. The symbols are actively used for black propaganda purposes because they exist beyond common sense or logic and are not only able to evoke emotion in and of themselves, but also make sure that an emotional charge is retained for a long time.

The «unknown hero» method has a striking, unique feature. It has been used time and time again by different countries in different wars for centuries, but in spite of this its impact has not diminished. It continues to be used today with exactly the same degree of effectiveness as it was used decades ago.

I could go on. We were trained for a year, and the list of methods is quite long. But that's not what's important. The important thing is this. You see, all the special war propaganda methods share one common goal. It consists in weakening the enemy army by introducing into its ranks internal strife, mutual hatred and distrust. Today, however, these methods are used by the authorities not against the enemy's soldiers, but against their own civilian population. And the result they produce exactly corresponds to what they were meant to achieve in the first place. Only it's not within the enemy's ranks that mutual hatred and internal discord arise, but in our own homes and families.

It's not within the enemy's ranks that mutual hatred and internal discord arise, but in our own homes and families

Combat propaganda works even better against our own population than against the enemy's soldiers. Probably because, unlike the enemy's soldiers, civilians cannot defend themselves. Just pay attention to the number of conflicts, quarrels, and mutual resentment for political reasons that have recently arisen near you. The best way to resist black propaganda is not to learn to distinguish between its specific methods. There is whole bunch of them. The absolute defense against the impact of special propaganda is to oppose any information that cultivates hatred and strife.

The main defense against special propaganda is to oppose any information that cultivates hatred and strife

It is very important to remember that in difficult and dangerous times your friends and your family, the people around you, are the ones who will help and support you, who will rescue you. Your loved ones, not the people from the other side of the TV screen who every day supply you with new causes for quarreling and conflicting with your loved ones. There are simple words that are a real antidote to any influence special propaganda may have on you. These are the words: people are more important than ideas. In these difficult days, it's a good idea to write them in big letters somewhere where you can often see them. Just so you don't forget.

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