Propaganda in war

It seems that Australia has been drawn into the Middle East conflict thanks to some very schmick marketing by the Islamic State group. Young men (always young, and always men) have joined the cause from Australia. The recent video we have seen of the young fellow from Sydney beating his chest and making all sorts of threats against the rest of the world illustrates to me how successful this marketing campaign has been. Islamic State offers young men a place to be tough and violent. They get a gun and they get brotherhood. One can imagine the appeal (although being neither young, nor male, my perspective may be somewhat skewed). The videos that are produced are very professional. They are set to music, and they show young men making a difference against the big bad rest of the world. Of course it’s appealing. And that is the point. It’s like any war propaganda – it’s designed to inspire young men to give their lives and to make the families respect their sacrifice. So when the young men die, and they do, it is because they have given their lives for the greater good.

My interest in this conflict is from the propaganda perspective. Hitler was an evil man, but he was a master orator. He could whip people into frenzies just through his public speaking. Thankfully it does not appear the Islamic State has anyone with Hitler’s charisma (or they wouldn’t need our young Sydney friend) but the rationale holds true. Get people to believe in something and they will die for it. The 21st century of war propaganda includes You Tube and Twitter, and not the stump speeches and pamphlet drops of old. The message, however, is the same. Join us.

To those of us not wearing blinkers, the propaganda is easy to see. But to the naive or disillusioned, a professional social media campaign provides just the credibility they are looking for. An opportunity to escape this world and rebel against the system. The news media then fuels the fire, reporting on the events, creating more ammunition to be used in the next round of propaganda. Such is the immediacy of journalism in 2014.

I am reminded of the Kony 2012 social media campaign. A flash in the pan to be sure, but a big flash at the time. Millions were drawn into the debate about Joseph Kony. And then it was over. What the Kony campaign had was a very professional video and a knowledge of marketing. The Islamic State campaign is being maintained longer and harder than the Kony campaign – but one wonders if it could exists without the propaganda. Just like the Kony campaign, once the publicity dies the campaign dies too.

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