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The U.S. Military's 1947 Warning on Intolerance

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A film produced by the U.S. Military in 1947 was meant to present the case for the desegregation of the armed forces. Though not initially intended for broadcast to the general public, it speaks to the divisions present in society today.

The production is dated by current standards. The message is prescient given the current strife and division: the ostracization of the "other," whether through protests of mosques, by Glenn Beck's scheduled through-the-looking-glass rally at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, or by the funding of climate science denial and extreme tea party activism against the current administration by the Koch Brothers, two of the biggest polluters on the planet.

The film was shot to convince members of the military that desegregation was the right idea. The subsequent integration of African-Americans into the armed forces has since become an integral part of the command structure with our strategy in war. (See: Powell Doctrine).

The YouTube version now serves as a warning to the future as produced by a military that had fought years of heartbreaking war where millions had lost their lives due to prejudice and intolerance.

In this anti-fascist film produced by US Military in the wake of WWII, the producers deconstruct the politically motivated social engineering of Germany by the Nazi regime.

From the film:

You see, here in America, it is not a question of whether we tolerate minorities. America is minorities. And that means you and me. So, let's not be suckers. We must not let the freedom or dignity of any man to be threatened by any act or word. Let's be selfish about this. Let's forget about "we" and "they." Let's think about us.

During the war, the military had used propaganda as a tool to get their message out to those trapped behind enemy lines. That same office produced the film. The technique is obvious; the message is worth consideration. Over 50 million died in World War II. Before they died, there was a systematic dismantling of individual rights and freedoms that began with the ostracization of the "other."

Propaganda Techniques:

Edward Filene helped establish the Institute of Propaganda Analysis in 1937 to educate the American public about the nature of propaganda and how to recognize propaganda techniques. Filene and his colleagues identified the seven most common "tricks of the trade" used by successful propagandists.

• Name Calling: Propagandists use this technique to create fear and arouse prejudice by using negative words (bad names) to create an unfavorable opinion or hatred against a group, beliefs, ideas or institutions they would have us denounce.

• Glittering Generalities: Propagandists employ vague, sweeping statements (often slogans or simple catchphrases) using language associated with values and beliefs deeply held by the audience without providing supporting information or reason. They appeal to such notions as honor, glory, love of country, desire for peace, freedom, and family values. The words and phrases are vague and suggest different things to different people but the implication is always favorable. It cannot be proved true or false because it really says little or nothing at all.

• Transfer: Transfer is a technique used to carry over the authority and approval of something we respect and revere to something the propagandist would have us accept. Propagandists often employ symbols (e.g., waving the flag) to stir our emotions and win our approval.

• Testimonial: Propagandists use this technique to associate a respected person or someone with experience to endorse a product or cause by giving it their stamp of approval hoping that the intended audience will follow their example.

• Plain Folks: Propagandists use this approach to convince the audience that the spokesperson is from humble origins, someone they can trust and who has their interests at heart. Propagandists have the speaker use ordinary language and mannerisms to reach the audience and identify with their point of view.

• Card Stacking: Propagandists use this technique to persuade the audience to follow the crowd. This device creates the impression of widespread support. It reinforces the human desire to be on the winning side. It also plays on feelings of loneliness and isolation.

• Band Wagon: Propagandist uses this technique to make the best case possible for his side and the worst for the opposing viewpoint by carefully using only those facts that support his or her side of the argument while attempting to lead the audience into accepting the facts as a conclusion. In other words, the propagandist stacks the cards against the truth. Card stacking is the most difficult technique to detect because it does not provide all of the information necessary for the audience to make an informed decision.

More on the techniques of propagandists at this link.

It is and always has been a risk in free societies that those interested in power or ideology will take advantage of those freedoms to deny the same to others. Watch the film with an open mind, despite the dated style, and listen to the message. Then, the next time someone tells you to hate the "other," ask yourself if that "other" could one day become you.

In the film, the "others" are created by splitting minorities into groups to create disunity. The narrator refers to a priest who ended up in a concentration camp for speaking out against the strategy. His name was Martin Niemöller and his speech has become well known:

"First they came ..." is a famous statement attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group:

"They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up."

Niemöller's speech has been used and overused (and misused). Historically, it should not be forgotten that the first time he gave it was at his church in Dahlem, an affluent district of Berlin, as the Nazis marched to arrest him for the speech. He spent the years following at a concentration camp, where he was liberated by American troops at the end of the war.

Niemöller was trying to warn his parish of a lesson hard-learned. He had been a decorated submarine (u-boat) commander during the First World War. Niemöller had supported Hitler as a strong leader to take the German people out of the despair of unemployment following the double devastation of the Versailles Treaty (where Germany was economically penalized for the First World War) and the Great Depression. He was an educated and devout man who was vulnerable to the message of the other until he realized that he and everyone eventually becomes the other when such misuse of power goes unchecked.

Here's an example of the misuse of Pastor Niemöller's speech as Glenn Beck rails against those who have decided to boycott the advertisers of his show:

Recognize those techniques?

American has been the beacon of freedom for many around the world since its inception. It was founded on the principle of freedom of religion by Puritans leaving England because they could not worship as they wished. Waves of immigrants have followed, each facing their own tough road to acceptance. With African-Americans it was a journey of hell and not by choice that required a civil war to right -- followed by decades of prejudice and the stigmatization of the other that denied opportunities to so many. With the Irish, it was anti-Catholicism. With the Chinese, it was race. So many have come and have pushed through the prejudice.

Now, there is a growing prejudice against the devout of Islam. Fear of radical extremism is understandable; we are involved in war and we were attacked. But that does not excuse the broad brush assigned to all Muslims, including the many who died at 9/11 in the tower attack and those working to bridge the gap of understanding between cultures. And, it's not smart. We're in a war, whether we want to be or not. There is nothing our enemies would like better than the propaganda victory to be able to say: See, America is not tolerant, even of moderate Muslims who are American citizens and contributing members of their society.

Wherever a mosque may be, our constitution guarantees the freedom of religion and our society was built on the idea that we must not allow the ostracization of the "other." If you don't like Muslims or Jews or African Americans or Hispanics or Asians or members of the LGBT community or the unemployed...; if you want them to have less rights than you, if you decide to hate them because of something someone told you on the radio rather than from your own experience, are you being a sucker? Do you care about our country's founding philosophy or are you apathetic to what it will become if you undermine the power of the first amendment?

For reference: the first amendment of the constitution:  

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Speaking out is good. Speaking out to prevent others from exercising their civil rights because of intolerance, prejudice or the desire for political power may be as protected by the Constitution as is the right to protest against such hate speech. It should also be recognized for what it is and how it has been used historically with the consequences therein.

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