Yesterday Igor, Evelyn, Jessie and I headed over to the Holocaust Museum to catch the last day of their State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda exhibit.
State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda reveals how the Nazi Party used modern techniques as well as new technologies and carefully crafted messages to sway millions with its vision for a new Germany.
It was a fascinating exhibit, for two reasons.
First, it drove home the eternal effectiveness of appealing to emotion, particularly through narrative.
Many exhibits reminded me of what Arthur Brooks says in the Road to Freedom. Logic and reason don’t win hearts and minds. The Nazis, ironically, made moral arguments, while their opponents used effectual intellectual counterpoints. Brandishing facts and logic when your opponent uses morals and emotions = bringing a knife to a gunfight. The Nazi propaganda machine won by making the argument that doing right by your neighbors and being a moral citizen required supporting the Nazi party. The Nazis made shit up and the people believed it because the Nazis made believing it so emotionally rewarding.
The second thing that struck me was the pro-censorship tone of the exhibit, especially at the end.
The exhibit mentioned on occasion the Nazis’ censorship of opponents’ messages by, for example, distributing radios that had a hard time picking up foreign broadcasts. But the end of the exhibit displayed the trials of the Nazi propagandists with barely a word about the troubling precedent of speech restriction. The placards at the end seemed to gleefully describe the trials of Rwandan propagandists.
Censorship helped create the Holocaust; it’s not the solution. Had Nazi Germany protected free speech, it would have been much, much harder for Nazi lies to go unchecked. Had it been a truly fair fight between Nazi ideas and anything resembling opposition, I believe the outcome would have been very different. Nazi Germany should show us unequivocally that the state cannot ever be trusted with deciding which views get airtime.
I understand that allowing certain ideas to circulate is terrifying. But I’d argue that history has shown that using the force of the state to determine which ideas are allowed to circulate leads to far more horrifying results.
Failing to fully call out the role of censorship in bolstering Nazi propaganda’s effectiveness and failing to call for freer speech seems like huge missed opportunities in an otherwise eye-opening and informative exhibit.