The Malta Independent 15 August 2022, Monday

Second World War propaganda material

Anthony Zarb Dimech Tuesday, 26 January 2021, 11:24 Last update: about 3 years ago

The term ‘propaganda’ has Latin etymological roots, coined from the word ‘propagare’ (to spread or to propagate), thus propaganda means that which is to be propagated. The most primitive forms of propaganda may be traced to the very beginnings of recorded history. Most historians agree that the earliest forms of propaganda are the Behistun Inscription (c.515BC) detailing the rise of Darius I to the Persian throne. This feature examines propaganda material used by German, Italian and Maltese artists in their efforts to influence their readers regarding the progress of the war.

German propaganda magazines: Wehrmacht Magazine (Militär-Wochenblatt of 24 July 1942) and War Library for German Youth showing German propaganda illustration (also from 1942).
German propaganda magazines: Wehrmacht Magazine (Militär-Wochenblatt of 24 July 1942) and War Library for German Youth showing German propaganda illustration (also from 1942).

Development of progaganda

The first large-scale organised exercise in government propaganda came as a result of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Propaganda material was greatly increased and disseminated by the British and German governments as a means to:

  • Justify the war
  • Encourage enrollment with the armed forces
  • Most importantly: depicting the opposite side as the culprit

The radio played a pivotal role during the First World War. The use of posters, pamphlets and flyers was common as well.

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The development of the media, especially with the invention of the television saw a shift towards network nightly news. In our high-tech era, cable television and the internet have resulted in news being relayed in real-time resulting in almost immediate conditioning of audiences. This was the case in justifying attacks on Iraq in recent history.

The Second World War

With the publication of Mein Kampf (Volume 1 in 1925 and Volume 2 in 1926), Hitler's aim to impress on the German people the need of going to war during the First World War and beyond to bring Germany under submission was achieved. His message can be summed up in the following translation from Mein Kampf: "The aim for which we were fighting the war was the loftiest, the most overpowering, that man can conceive: it was the             freedom and independence of our nation, the security of our future food supply        and our national honour."

 

The effectiveness of propaganda

Propaganda's use as a powerful communicative, manipulative and psychological tool is highly effective irrespective whether it is addressed towards an individual or a group of persons. Propaganda implies repetition and is a form of brainwashing and indoctrination ensuring that the message sinks in. It has been said that if a lie is repeated over and over, it will be taken as sacrosanct truth and this is precisely what propaganda does.

Propaganda is mainly used in times of war as an attempt to "cover up" the ugliness of war and mobilising support for it. It tends to depict the enemy as not being human and reinforces the notion that the war is a justifiable cause and that people would submit to this idea.

 

German, Italian and Maltese propaganda

From the outset of the war, both German and Italian propaganda material written about Malta would make one believe of an emphatic victory over Malta was in the making. Even when things were not going well for the Axis forces, illustrative and graphic material in highly dramatised fashion gave the impression that all is well with the campaign of bombing against Malta and its defences.

For instance at a time when the Italian air force reduced its attacks on Malta in December 1940, Italian propaganda still depicted the Italian air force as wiping out whole formations of British fighters, when this was a blatant lie.

During wartime Malta, propaganda involved the use of lots of paper. This resource was scarce as convoys found it hard to arrive to the island due to constant enemy sea and air attacks. Still, the daily newspaper, The Times of Malta was always in print, even when its printing press was bombed. Rumours have it that submarines brought paper purposely for The Times of Malta and other entities to continue printing their educational and propagandistic material and keep the morale of the military and the civilian population high.

The authorities saw the importance of targeting the public masses with written material as not everyone could afford a radio. The target audience included, especially those with the lowest of intellects and the illiterate by producing highly illustrative material for consumption.

The use of poetry in the native tongue with a touch of humoristic wit and satire was most efficient. In order to reach the widest possible spectrum of people, irrespective of background, the use of word games, euphemisms, name-calling, funny caricatures and labelling created special appeal.

The morale of the people was raised and created a make belief and feel-good factor about themselves and their country. The emphasis was also directed on nurturing and cherishing the Christian values of freedom and justice.

 

Maltese publications

Apart from the radio (Rediffusion) and newspapers (The Times of Malta, Il-Berqa and the church publication, Leħen is-Sewwa), an Information Service Bulletin was published during the war by the Information Office. The Malta Special Constabulary also published its monthly review titled, The Specials' Own.

One also finds satirical leaflets printed by Lupi Press of 36, Zachary Street, Valletta and Popular Printing Press of 142, Strait Street, Valletta. Some of the titles of these leaflets are very suggestive and include the following:

  • Il Mare Nostrum ta' Mussolini u il-Bravura tal "Ajax"
  • It-Tkaxkira tal Flotta Taljana mill Inglisi
  • Il-Laqgħa ta' Hitler u Mussolini f'Riglejn il Forka
  • Il-Jasar tal Poplu Taljan
  • Għanja lill Mussolini 'Ajma zaqqi kemm ksuhat'
  • It Tradituri Maltin li hemm gio Ruma
  • Għanja lill tal Mamma Mia bil kanzunetta 'O Mama'
  • X'Ilsien għandhom in nisa
  • Hitler jehoda ma Mussolini
  • It-Tfal ta' Mussolini jitfgħulna "il Fiuri"
  • Addio "Tripoli Nostra" Hitler mgħafus Bejn Ors u l'Iljun
  • Adolfu Hitler irid jaħqar lix-xbebiet Maltin
  • Il-Vittoria ta' Roosevelt u ix-xebgħa li qalgħu it-Taljani
  • Mare Nostrum gewwa il qiegħ

 

It is evident that the effect of propaganda is psychological, mainly directed at and appealing to emotions and thus the intellect is not the main focus of its attention.

In the final analysis, the war was won on the ground through the sheer courage, sacrifice and determination of the defenders of the Islands, no matter how colourful or intense the imagery of propaganda material.

Still, if not for anything else, Maltese war propaganda was very effective in raising morale and managed to instil some degree of confidence and bring smiles on the faces of many who were most of the time under the vicious threat of a much superior enemy.


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