Literary Propaganda

A few days ago, I did a post about books that influence revolutions, using Thailand and The Hunger Games as an example. Since then, a lot has been happening in the world, such as Russia invading Ukraine while America practices the policy of containment against Russia for its actions and the Iraqi government falling apart while the country is once again at war. Doesn’t this all seem a tad bit familiar (e.g. The Cold War and the multiple Gulf War invasions)? It does seem that history may be repeating itself in the way of world events.

So what comes next? Why, propaganda of course.

Just so we’re all on the same page, propaganda is defined as:

Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

There are also many forms propaganda can take and I would just like to list a few so we’re all familiar with them. If these seem familiar to you, it’s because propaganda isn’t just used in times of war, but advertisements and politicians often use these kinds of appeals to get your dollar and your vote.

1. Bandwagon: This is the idea that everyone else is doing it, so you should join in. This makes me think of the cliche saying “if everyone else was going to jump off a bridge, would you?” The people wielding this form of propaganda hope the answer to that question is yes.

2. Card-Stacking: This is giving overwhelming evidence to the positives of your position while giving little to no evidence from the opposition. This is why 9 out of 10 doctors recommend you chew this gum, despite it being loaded with sugar and probably bad for your teeth. Also, those doctors were probably paid, and note that the ad said doctors, not dentists.

3. Glittering Generalities: This is when big, sweeping claims are made that have some sort of an emotional appeal while lacking any logical association. This just makes me think of people who use 9/11 or the phrase “for the children” to evoke emotions when they have no leg to stand on, argument wise. We need to cut social programs and raise taxes for war, I mean, for the children!

4. Name-Calling: This tactic is also used by bullies on grade school playgrounds. Yes, it is that type of name calling, and adults do it too when it comes to propaganda. You soviet-loving, socialist, commie bastards!

5. Plain Folks: This is whoever is in power or in some sort of leadership role trying to say they are just like you. He or she puts one leg in their five-thousand dollar suit every morning, just like you. So believe what they say, ’cause they are just plain ol’ folk, ya’ll.

Looking back to the Cold War and that era’s propaganda, both the CIA and Soviet Russia used literature as a tool in creating or reinforcing their country’s ideology and Stalin even recognized that “The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks” and that writers are “the engineers of the human soul.”

Recently, an article in The Atlantic discusses declassified information from the CIA that shows the novel Doctor Zhivago was spread by the CIA in Soviet Russia as a form of propaganda. Doctor Zhivago is a novel written by Boris Pasternak in 1957 exploring themes of loneliness, individuality, and a misdirected revolution. In a communist, holistic, and post-revolution Soviet Russia, the book was banned.

The CIA hoped that spreading ideas through spreading literature within Soviet Russia would lead to a revolution of thought among its people. The Russian government knew that literature had such power, and often purged libraries to make sure that books that didn’t agree with the government’s point of view were removed from shelves. Furthermore, textbooks and other works were constantly being censored, or “revised,” to keep information under the control of the government in power.

So what’s next in our new Cold War with Russia and the conflicts taking place yet again in Iraq? Will the CIA turn to the power of propaganda and the written word again, or will the U.S. continue its policy of isolation with Russia and surges in Iraq? Neither tactics of isolation or surges proved all that successful in the past, but with literature there is always a chance to change the minds and hearts of the people. That is what the CIA and Soviet Russians recognized in the past and the past does seem to be repeating itself. Only the future will tell what novels will be turned into Pro-American propaganda in Russia and Iraq.

Amanda Riggle

Amanda Riggle

Amanda is the Managing Editor at The Poetics Project and of The Socialist, the national magazine of The Socialist Party USA, as well as the Lead Editor of Pomona Valley Review's upcoming 11th issue. She graduated with a BA in English Education and a minor in Political Science. She is currently enrolled in an English MA program with an emphasis in Literature. During her free time, Amanda enjoys writing poetry, reading, traveling, crocheting, watching entire seasons of campy shows on Netflix, and, of course, writing blogs.
Amanda Riggle

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