Front Page Titles (by Subject) Wartime Propaganda Tactics - Literature of Liberty, Winter 1980, vol. 3, No. 4
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Wartime Propaganda Tactics - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Winter 1980, vol. 3, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Wartime Propaganda Tactics
“British Propaganda and Raison d'Etat, 1935–40.” European Studies Review 10(January 1980):47–74.
In the years before the Second World War, British officials realized that the nation would require a coordinated “information” or propaganda policy to promote its views during a period of increasing international tension. The groping, tentative measures taken by the Chamberlain government to establish such a policy resulted from the fact that England was a country whose traditions opposed the very notion of official propaganda.
The English government's general inexperience in the field of information resulted in five years during which even the aims of propaganda were a matter of debate. Was government information to strike a high tone of rationality and elite idealism or appeal to the visceral hatreds and stereotyped thinking of the lower classes? Should the government concentrate its information efforts on the home population or on the populations of Britain's potential enemies: Italy and Germany? Who should control the official campaign: a Ministry of Information? the Foreign Office? the military services? Fleet Street? The period described witnessed every possible combination of these alternatives, resulting in a vacillating and often contradictory approach to the problem.
The process of deciding upon a definitive policy gave rise to furious struggles for power and prestige among politicians, civil servants, and competing government ministries (i.e. Chamberlain vs. Churchill, Reith vs. Vansittart, the military services vs. the newly established Ministry of Information, etc.). Particular attention is focused on the information fiascos arising out of Germany's invasion of Norway in April, 1940. Among a long line of errors, news of the British recapture of Bergen and Trondhjem was issued even before attacks had been launched against the Germans. Statements of English determination to remain in the yet unoccupied parts of Norway preceded a complete evacuation of British forces from the country. Official rumors of massive counterattacks against the Nazis never came to fruition.
The Norwegian crisis thus brought disgrace to both official government information and to the leadership of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Summing up the attitude of the British public, a high-level propagandist declared: “People came not to believe in anything.”
Chamberlain's dilettantism and plain incompetence in the areas of information and rearmament opened the way for Winston Churchill's ultimate rise to the premiership. Skillfully manipulating the hunger for credibility, success, and “strength” in the face of the German threat, Churchill managed to present himself as the only securely warlike candidate for the office of Prime Minister. The failure of the early British propaganda effort thus helped to effect a decisive change of leadership, bringing to the fore the man who would guide England through the uncertainties of the war years.