The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Review of: Meyerhoff, Arthur E. The Strategy of Persuasion

Review of: Meyerhoff, Arthur E. The Strategy of Persuasion (Revised & Enlarged): The Use of Advertising Skills In Fighting the Cold War. Introduction by Eugene Burdick. Foreword by Harry & Bonaro Overstreet. Afterword by Congressman Dante B. Fascell. New York: Berkley Publishing, 1968. By Tim Krenz, Hometown Gazette Should America “sell” itself to the world the way advertising sells “soapflakes”? From a perspective of near 50 years since its publication, Arthur Meyerhoff's The Strategy of Persuasion stokes some interesting thoughts for modern policy-makers for what the world knows today as “public diplomacy.” As an experienced advertising executive, Meyerhoff wrote a useful pamphlet describing in 1965 the failure of a news-organization format run by the US Information Agency (USIA), which formed a very dry and business-like rehashing of events that, according to the author, failed to stimulate the target audiences around the world into a more solid commitment to the United States and its Allies. In Meyerhoff's view, the Cold War revolved around a conflict between one idea (liberal-democratic capitalism) versus another (collectivized socialism under Marxist-Leninist Communism). At the time of its publication, the Soviet Union's effort at undermining the West through subversive “propaganda” seemed on the verge of winning the Cold War, by discrediting the Western alliance's poorly articulated idea of individual freedom and liberty. Meyerhoff approached political persuasion by calling it the common denominator of all definitions: Propaganda. By any name—public relations, public information, public diplomacy, etc.--political persuasion in mass presentation had one irrefutable, and neutral, goal: the successful changing of opinions for or against one idea or another. Making little distinction between“good” or “bad” propaganda, the former gets labeled “good” by the side putting it forward to the public; the latter, “bad” kind comes from the “other” side. Propaganda always depends on perspective. Truth has the selected weight of fact and evidence to support it. Falsehood comes from the brews of many witches. One side in a war of ideas means well to its own kind. That idea's opposite poses danger. Propaganda, whether “ours” or “theirs” owns the peculiar quality of a double-edged spear. From our experience, history shows, propaganda can do as much good if done well, or as much harm, all at once. As opposed to plain news, propaganda has a particular art form that attempts to raise both awareness, excitement, conversion, and commitment in the target audience. It does so with an emotional presentation of words and images, or literary images, or painting one thousands ideas in an image. In the case of the circa-1965 USIA, Meyerhoff demands that the United States take a hard-nosed mentality from the practice of modern marketing—used to “sell soapflakes,” as the quip--and apply it in a more cost-efficient effort to win others to American values. As opposed to the cost-inefficiency and moral vacuum of nuclear weapons and killing people in far off lands to stop communism, fighting and winning the war of ideas cost less in coins of its realm—less debt, less death, less destruction. The argument for “good” propaganda speaks to the common means of political persuasion: To convince your enemy to become neutral, or to convince a neutral to become your friend, or to convince your friend to become your defender, whether in a war of ideas or a hot conventional war (even by proxy war). At a time when the Soviet Union appeared on the winning march, in the mid-to-later 1960s, nuclear weapons and conventional wars created stalemate. The winning war strategy, for Meyerhoff, became an effort to win your friends and undermine your enemy with the positive aspects of individual freedom and liberty, as practiced in the Western alliance and Japan. As in all politics, the matter became one of controlling the agenda and controlling the objective, in order to WIN. In this, we arrive a tautology: The objective of all politics seeks CONTROL. Like the double-bladed spear of propaganda, the circular nature of political control and objective, as just stated, stabs at the heart of how propaganda can make or unmake those who use it. Although not quite done in a rigid the scholarly manner, Meyerhoff's book-pamphlet possesses a gut instinct that proved rather sound, but over time, decades in fact. Eventually, the world's peoples, even inside the oppressed and diverse ethnic populations of the Soviet Union, and its Second World empire, swore off the anonymous self that served the state, and adopted the liberal, individual self-identification of freedom and Liberty found in Western democracy and capitalism. It more or less happened over time naturally, but persistently, through the East-West media, travel, commercial consumption, and the light of truth dispelling the errors of the powerful and corrupt leaders of communism world-wide. Writing before the height of Vietnam, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the nuclear arms and conventional weapons build-ups in the 1970s and 1980s—that wasted several trillions of dollars, one wonders if Meyerhoff's more rapid and clear strategy of persuasion, not the pell-mell media or dramatic wealth-lust on television, could have solved many of the spiritual problems humanity faced before the fall of Berlin Wall in November 1989. What happened since 1989 might have still happened, but the question begs for a “strong strategy of persuasion” argument today: Has Western liberal-democratic capitalist society lost sight of how we won war of ideas and has it become lax in the tact concerning the advantages in liberty for careless values, ones that tend to provoke backlash around the globe? Political persuasion, like politics itself, forms a spear with two points; best not to wield it in a careless fashion. We can do better now by some careful examination of our values, with a more educated liberty, and constructive, positive, pro-active policies in public diplomacy