By Paul Goble
Most people divide propaganda into three categories – white which is based on facts, gray which mixes facts and falsehoods, and black which consists almost exclusively of untruths; but within the last, there are special kinds of propaganda developed for use against foreign armies, Vladimir Yakovlev says.
He learned about them in a Soviet university, the Moscow commentator says; but now everyone can see that Putin is making use of these varieties of black propaganda not just against enemy armies but against his own population. And from the Kremlin leader’s perspective, these tools have been remarkably effective (theins.ru/opinions/vladimir-yakovlev/249442).
Yakovlev describes four of them — the “rotten fish” method, the “big lie” method, the “absolutely obvious” method, and the “unknown hero” method – why each is quite effective and how Putin is using all of them at present to achieve his goals.
The first of these, “the rotten fish method,” works as follows. Those carrying it out choose something absolutely untrue but as dirty and scandalous as possible. That does not mean that everyone will accept what is being asserted – that isn’t the point, Yakovlev says. Instead, what this approach does is guarantee that the issue will be discussed.
And such discussions work to the benefit of those who use this form. “The human psyche is so constructed that as soon as an accusation becomes a subject of public discussion, there inevitably arise its ‘supporters’ and ‘opponents,’ ‘specialists’ and experts’ and rabid ‘accusers’ and died in the wool ‘defenders’ of the proposition,” however false.
A classic example now on public view is charging that someone is a Nazi. Few will accept that as true, but the debate works for those who make this charge and against those who are defending against it, the Moscow commentator argues.
The second method is that of “the big lie.” It is similar to the first but in fact “works differently” because “its essential feature consists in putting forward with a maximum degree of certainty such a global and shameless lie that it is practically impossible for many people to accept that anyone could lie about that.” People are shocked and that is the point.
The third method, based on presenting something fundamentally false as “obvious, self-evident and therefore unconditionally supported by the vast majority of the population.” Despite the simplicity of this approach, one that many would expect to fail, it is typically quite effective because people desire to be part of the majority rather than remain marginals.
And the fourth is the method of “the unknown hero.” According to Yakovlev, “this is one of the most ancient and at the same time most effective methods of special propaganda.” It involves making heroes out of one’s own supporters or soldiers and thus making anyone who opposes them lesser and wrong.
“All methods of military special propaganda are united by a common goal: weakening the army of the opponent by introducing into his ranks internal anger, hatred and a lack of trust.” What is especially disturbing now, Yakovlev says, is that Putin is using this technique not just against foreign forces but against his own Russian people leaving them angry and divided.
All these kinds of special propaganda work “even more effectively against one’s own population than against enemy soldiers,” primarily because “unlike enemy soldiers,” one’s own people don’t expect it and haven’t been trained to resist its lures. The best way to do that, of course, is to “resist any information that cultivates hatred and mutual discord.”
“It is very important to remember,” Yakovlev continues, “that in difficult and dangerous situations, your friends and family, those close to you, will save you and help you” while those on the television screen “who every day throw out new reasons for quarrels and conflicts” are to be ignored.
“There is a simple mantra that can serve as a real antidote” to all these methods, he continues. It is this: “people are more important than ideas.” In these troubled times, “one should write them in large letters where one will see them every day and not forget the lesson they teach.