World War II saw continued use of propaganda as a weapon of war, both by Hitler's propagandist Joseph Goebbels and the British Political Warfare Executive.
Some historical revionists claim that the use of gas chambers in the Holocaust is an instance of an effective Allied propaganda campaign that could not be reined in after the war, much like the now discredited claim made during the Gulf War that Iraqi soldiers were ripping newborn babies out of incubators and throwing them to the ground.
Propaganda has been a human activity as far back as reliable recorded evidence exists. The writings of Romans like Livy are considered masterpieces of pro-Roman statist propaganda.
The term itself originates with the Roman Catholic Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (sacra congregatio christiano nomini propagando or, briefly, propaganda fide), the department of the pontifical administration charged with the spread of Catholicism and with the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in non-Catholic countries (mission territory).
The actual Latin stem propagand- conveys a sense of "that which ought to be spread".
Propaganda techniques were first codified and applied in a scientific manner by journalist Walter Lippman and psychologist Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud) early in the 20th century. During World War I, Lippman and Bernays were hired by the United States president Woodrow Wilson to sway popular opinion to enter the war on the side of Britain.
The war propaganda campaign of Lippman and Bernays produced within six months so intense an anti-German hysteria as to permanently impress American business (and Adolf Hitler, among others) with the potential of large-scale propaganda to control public opinion. Bernays coined the terms "group mind" and "engineering consent", important concepts in practical propaganda work.
The current public relations industry is a direct outgrowth of Lippman and Bernays' work and is still used extensively by the United States government. For the first half of the 20th century Bernays and Lippman themselves ran a very successful public relations firm.
Most propaganda in Germany was produced by the Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda ("Promi" in German abbreviation). Joseph Goebbels was placed in charge of this ministry shortly after Hitler took power in 1933.
All journalists, writers, and artists were required to register with one of the Ministry's subordinate chambers for the press, fine arts, music, theater, film, literature, or radio.
The Nazis believed in propaganda as a vital tool in achieving their goals. Adolf Hitler, Germany's Fuhrer, was impressed by the power of Allied propaganda during World War 1 and believed that it had been a primary cause of the collapse of morale and revolts in the German home front and Navy in 1918.
Hitler would meet nearly every day with Goebbels to discuss the news and Goebbels would obtain Hitler's thoughts on the subject; Goebbels would then meet with senior Ministry officials and pass down the official Party line on world events.
Broadcasters and journalists required prior approval before their works were disseminated.
In addition the Nazis had no moral qualms about spreading propaganda which they themselves knew to the false and indeed spreading deliberately false information was part of a doctrine known as the Big Lie.
Nazi propaganda before the start of World War II had several distinct audiences:
Until the Battle of Stalingrad's conclusion on February 4, 1943, German propaganda emphasized the prowness of German arms and the humanity German soldiers had shown to the peoples of occupied territories.
In contrast, British and Allied fliers were depicted as cowardly murderers, and Americans in particular as gangsters in the style of Al Capone. At the same time, German propaganda sought to alienate Americans and British from each other, and both these Western belligerents from the Soviets.
After Stalingrad, the main theme changed to Germany as the sole defender of Western European culture against the "Bolshevist hordes." The introduction of the V-1 and V-2 "vengeance weapons" was emphasized to convince Britons of the hopelessness of defeating Germany.
Goebbels committed suicide shortly after Hitler on April 30, 1945. In his stead, Hans Fritzsche, who had been head of the Radio Chamber, was tried and acquitted by the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal.