State-sponsored propaganda was once a mainstay of Cold War attempts to persuade — or bully — the masses to fall in line. Amid reports of North Korea readying yet another nuclear weapons test, the country has stepped up its propaganda offensive against the West.
Brian Anse Patrick, a communications professor at the University of Toledo, [says it’s designed to] “keep the adrenaline high, this sort of constant hyper state of mobilization” that makes it easier for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to maintain power.
Anthony Pratkanis, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says the script North Korea is following is not far off from the one that Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels followed in the closing days of World War II.
Just like North Korea and the United States, “in Germany, Goebbels had his scapegoats — the Jews obviously, but also fear of the Soviets.”
But Goebbels used the V-2 rocket — advertised as a super weapon that could turn the tide — to buck up the Germans’ flagging morale.
His message: ” ‘We’ve been working on a secret technology that is going to change the whole history of the world. We’re going to win this war. When we have this technology, we’re going to bring Britain to its knees.’ And their American allies would soon follow. This was a phantom dream to give hope to an internal audience.”
Given the risks of underestimating North Korea, the West might do better to study, rather than laugh at, its propaganda, he says.
Just like the denouement of the Hitler regime, North Korea faces a struggle to maintain a grip on the population amid desperation and hunger.
“Propaganda is a window into what this regime might be thinking,” he says. “A thoughtful person would ask, ‘What are they saying here, what is going on?’ What it says to me is that it’s a very difficult situation, bordering on desperate.”