Love, Hate & Propaganda

Love, Hate and Propaganda – A Review of a six hour DVD series on World War 2, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio Canada, (2010) $34.99 box set.

by Janet Nicol

The lessons of the Second World War still matter according to the filmmakers of Love, Hate and Propaganda. History teachers will agree as we continue to describe the events of 1939 to 1945 to students these many decades later. And while the Grade 11 Social Studies curriculum covers what happened in those pivotal years, expect this series to tell students why these events happened. A highly recommended resource for educators, the film is narrated by the dynamic Toronto-based talk show host, George Stroumboulopoulos and produced by Mark Starowitz, creator of Canada: A People’s History.

The six-part series does not chronicle the battles of the war. Instead, using archival film footage among other fascinating sources, Love, Hate and Propoganda is a fast-paced narration focusing on leaders and their use of mass propaganda. We are also reminded that manipulating the media is a technique used by “the good guys” too.

An important component to the series is the inclusion of stories about the war in the Pacific. How did Emperor Hirohito convince an entire society that death was better than surrendering? What was the fate of one Japanese writer sent by his government to witness the attack of China and who came back to write the ugly truth? And what was the legacy created by the Japanese government for a soldier taken prisoner by Americans at Pearl Harbour?

The early strategies of Hitler as he gained power open the series, in The Strongmen. Mussolini, a mentor to Hitler, is glimpsed as well as the authoritarian Russian ruler, Stalin. Nazi footage of rallies is set to contemporary rock music, giving students a sense of the emotionally charged atmosphere of the “new” Germany and the cult of personality created by Hitler. Germans could purchase postcards of Hitler, we learn, and listen to his speeches on cheaply mass-produced radios. They went to the cinema to watch the celebration of Nazi power in Triumph of the Will.

The second video, Selling the War explains how the Nazis rationalized the invasion of Poland. The lies are so big, even neutral government leaders believed Poles may have provoked the attack. Internal purges in Germany are also depicted, including that of disabled people living in institutions, given lethal injections by doctors. But when the government steps up the killings, by sending this targeted group to gas chambers, there is protest. Remarkably, the government stops for a time, but eventually reverts back to employing lethal injections.

Crossing ethical lines proved to be a precursor to the Nazi genocide of six million Jewish people in occupied Europe. As well, the pervasive racist Nazi propaganda created a climate of hate or indifference among the non-Jewish population. These morality lessons thread through the series and culminate in the fifth segment, Hiding the Horrors. Actual film footage of Red Cross officials visiting a “work” camp of Jewish inmates illuminates a masterful Nazi deception. Officials believed what they saw on the tour—children and adults happily at work and play. In actual fact, the inmates were coerced to “put on a show,” most destined to die in gas chambers.

Women play a role in film and poster-war propaganda. Stalin’s dream girl is a female sniper who helps push back the Germans at Stalingrad. Ronnie the machine worker is Canada’s “role model” woman on the home front. In Germany, a female actress and filmmaker orchestrates Hitler’s image with her skilled camera work and flair for the dramatic.

Truth is the first casualty of war, and the Canadian news coverage of the battle at Dieppe in 1942 is a case in point. A precursor to D-Day, the battle was a military disaster but it would be some time after the fact when Canadians at home learned the newspaper headlines had lied.

The series wraps up with Changing the Story, revealing how the allied governments trumpeted victory over the enemy in ways that suited their purposes.

Students in Grades 11 and 12 are guaranteed to find the content relevant and engaging. They can also tune in to YouTube on their personal computer to watch some of the six one-hour segments as a homework assignment. Teachers can encourage students to think about the “big questions” as they follow the series—“Why do we have wars? and “How do atrocities happen without protest?” A propaganda project is also a worthwhile follow-up activity.

Ultimately, the series proves understanding history is vital and instructive and the second world war still impacts on our society. The film’s narrator also concludes we continue to live in a world of love, hate, and propaganda, an idea offering opportunities for important classroom conversations well into the 21st century.

Reprinted from BC Teacher magazine, January/February 2011.

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