To explore the relationship between propaganda and mass violence, the Museum entered into a partnership with the Fred Friendly Seminars at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Using a role-playing format developed by television news pioneer Fred Friendly, the seminar raised a series of dilemmas drawn from real-life conflicts to confront participants with a clash of legitimate values. Panelists explored the role of propaganda in situations in which mass violence is threatened, and how the use of propaganda during the Holocaust era informs our reactions to its dissemination today.
What is the legacy of Nazi propaganda? How does our knowledge of Holocaust history color our perception of incitement to hatred today?
Propaganda. The word conjures up images of lies, manipulation, and brainwashing. Even in democratic societies with guarantees of freedom of expression, fears of mass manipulation by government, the media, and spin doctors are widespread. During the 1930s and 40s, the Nazi Party used posters, newspapers, rallies, and the new technologies of radio and film to sway millions both with their vision for a new Germany and with frightening images of state enemies.
Propagandists promoted indifference toward the persecution of neighbors, and tried to incite ordinary men to carry out mass violence. Ultimately Nazi Germany provoked a war that cost the lives of some 55 million people, including 6 million Jewish men, women, and children. The legacy of Nazi propaganda lives on in recent incitements to mass hatred and violence.
Watch now as leaders in journalism, law, and government gather at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to confront this legacy and to struggle with how we should respond today in a scenario that is hypothetical but all too real.
IRWIN COTLER: The Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers. It began with words.
ARTHUR MILLER: Will words, just words, make them kill each other?
STEPHEN J. RAPP: The best answer to bad speech in America, we believe, is good speech. It's the marketplace of ideas.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: We cannot mix up our notions of free, democratic free speech when applied to a post-genocidal situation.
MICHAEL GERSON: Mass killing and genocide are a different kind of crime.