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.
As part of the seminar scenario, two fictitious ethnic groups—Midrainians and Southlanders—are pitted against each other in an environment of escalating hate propaganda. Will words, just words, make them kill each other?
ARTHUR MILLER: Midrainians and Southlanders have lived in this region for centuries. They have worked together. They have intermarried. Will words, just words, make them kill each other?
STEPHEN J. RAPP: Eventually, it will. And I mean, you can have societies that got along. Jews who received the Iron Cross during World War I who are national heroes that can be demonized within two decades. I mean, things like that occur but it involves picking at the scab, trying to get people to see the other as the enemy, the person that's endangering their situation. And it's a dangerous game. And it's one that can succeed.
ARTHUR MILLER: Now, Scott, is it that simple?
SCOTT STRAUS: No. I mean I think that you have to understand the context in which the words are spoken. Words do not occur in a vacuum. You have to understand what's actually going on on the ground. What is the history of these relationships? Whether or not there is a sense of real fear, what kinds of things are happening in the communities? What types of messages are people speaking to each other on the ground?
Those are often much more salient to people. What are their neighbors doing? What are their friends in the military and the government saying? I think those kinds of communications often have a larger impact than just hearing something or watching something on the news.