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16 July 2015

A20150707‘Propaganda’ is an irregular verb. We provide news. You publish your views. They spout propaganda.

Propaganda rarely has much effect coming from ‘the enemy’. That enemy is usually too alien, too strange, too hated for us to sympathise enough for their propaganda to get under our skin. Instead, if it has any effect at all, it is to be an object of humour and derision.

The Nazi propaganda machine worked very well on the German people but less well on those they were threatening. Lord Haw-Haw (William Joyce, an American-born Irish citizen; we hanged him in 1946 anyway), their main voice on Radio Luxembourg’s former frequencies, is often cited as having had influence on Britons, although Mass Observation recorded that the vast majority of the minority who listened in to his braying tones loathed him. The only effect Haw-Haw had was to be attributed as the source of rumours – Stoke’s going to get a heavy Blitz tonight – says who, huh? – Lord Haw-Haw last night! – rarely, or actually never, true.

The British propaganda effect in occupied Europe was the V for Victory campaign. Whilst the initial idea was seeded, just like Lord Haw-Haw, by the BBC’s anonymous voice on international airwaves Colonel Britton, it was designed to be used as an underground or background attack on the Nazi occupiers. As suggested in this Daily Telegraph article from June 1941, this minor act of defiance – tap out a Morse ‘V’ when handing out change or sitting in the dark of the cinema, paint Vs on signs and chalk them on clothes – was designed to have a psychological effect on the Nazi occupiers.

Whether it did or not remains an open question – it was very probably an minor annoyance, perhaps sometimes eliciting a deep sigh or an angry shout, but as for reducing German resistance after D-Day… well, probably not.

Nevertheless, the V for Victory campaign had a long, long afterlife. The BBC External Services used a V being beaten out in Morse on a drum as a tuning signal on radio for many years after peace came to Europe and even the Americans picked up on it in 1983 for their alien invasion/fascism allegory series V, with a survivor of the Nazi death camps recommending the use of a spray-painted ‘V’ over the Visitors’ (read: Nazis) propaganda posters at the end of the first episode.

You Say

1 response to this article

Joseph Gallant 11 March 2016 at 8:37 pm

If you hear a recording of NBC News (radio) coverage of D-Day that was aired around 3:30 A.M. Eastern time on June 6th, 1944; you’ll hear the “Victory V” played on a kettle drum shortly before NBC (and the other American radio networks) switched to London to pick-up the official word that the invasiton had begun.

Here in the U.S.A., radio station WTIC in Hartford, Connecticut has been using the “Victory V” (now a group of electronic tones) every hour on the hour since World War 2.

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