Wrapped In A Flag: Transfer as Propaganda

Wrapped In FlagIn offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will controul the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.
George Washington, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796
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You’ve probably noticed the American flags used by politicians when giving a speech or holding a press conference. The flag is a symbol, but its presence isn’t an accurate measure of the speaker’s integrity and sense of responsibility for the nation’s welfare. Too often it is an imposture of pretended patriotism, and used as a propaganda symbol of Transfer. From The Institute for Propaganda Analysis:

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Propaganda Tricks of the Trade
#3: Transfer

Transfer carries the authority, sanction, and prestige of something respected and revered over to something else in order to make the latter acceptable.

In the application of the Transfer Device, symbols are constantly used. With the Cross, the propagandist lends the sanctity of the Christian religion to his program. The flag, standing for the nation and for patriotism, performs a similar service. Cartoonists make “Uncle Sam” portray an aged consensus of public opinion. These symbols stir emotions. At their very sight, with the speed of light, is aroused the whole complex of feelings we have with respect to church or nation.

Propagandists seldom permit a Transfer to depend upon one symbol. Music, pageantry, uniforms, ritual, scenery-all are studied and utilized when appropriate.

How can we analyze the Transfer Device, now that we know how to spot it? How can we distinguish its legitimate from its illegitimate-its fair from its unfair-application? We must teach ourselves to suspend judgment until we have answered these questions:

What is the proposal of the propagandist, stated as simply and concretely as possible?

What is the meaning of the thing from which the propagandist is seeking to Transfer authority, sanction, and prestige?

Is there any legitimate connection between the proposal of the propagandist and the respected and revered thing, person, or institution?

In other words, leaving the propagandistic trick out of the picture, what are the merits of the propagandist’s proposal viewed alone?

“A lie,” wrote Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf (My Struggle), “is believed because of the unconditional and insolent inflexibility with which it is propagated and because it takes advantage of the sentimental and extreme sympathies of the masses. … Therefore, something always is retained even from the most impudent of lies.” And lies, we must remember, take a vast number of forms, the chief seven of which are the unfair applications of our seven Propaganda Devices.

[See The ABC’s of Propaganda Analysis].

Transfer is designed to short-circuit our thinking and appeal directly to our emotions. Advertisements do this with pictures of weddings, babies, and reunions to surround their product with an aura of good feeling—we buy the product because we bought the feeling. Propagandists do this to sell a person, a policy or an ideology. They use Transfer to stir up and incite strong feelings before we have a chance to think about what we’re hearing.

Charles A. Fleming evaluates Transfer: (See Propaganda Shell Games a.k.a. Finding Unicorns for further explanation of General Semantics and these six principles).

Transfer. The “transfer” device carries positive qualities of someone or something over to whatever the propagandist is promoting. For example, using the American flag as part of an organization’s logo would tend to transfer positive attitudes toward the flag to the organization.

A General Semantics Interpretation          

  • Non-identity. The two things (flag and organization) are not the same, but the propagandist wants the audience to see them as similar. The propagandist wants feelings toward one transferred to the other because of the connection the propagandist has made.
  • Non-allness. The flag as part of the logo is not all there is to know about the organization. The propagandist wants the audience to take the flag’s presence as sufficient evidence of the organization’s worth, and not seek more information.
  • Self-reflexiveness. The propagandist hopes the audience will respond to the apparent connection between the flag and the organization, and not examine the non-verbal facts to see if the organization deserves approval. But this connection (the basis for transfer) is an abstraction of all there is to know about the organization.
  • Probability principle. Even if at one time there was a reason for connecting the flag to the organization, it is not necessarily so now. The propagandist wants the audience to assume whatever basis there might have been for a connection between the two, continues.
  • Symbol-signal reaction. The propagandist wants people to react automatically to the flag-organization connection and not to the non-verbal facts about what the organization does, or whether it deserves to be associated with the flag.
  • Extensionalization. The propagandist doesn’t want the audience to question whether the relationship has any basis in fact or ask if the organization deserves the same feelings people have toward the flag.

Transfer is designed sweep you off your feet. In Words At Their Flood Stage I mentioned critiquing the setting of a speaker. Setting is used as a set-up in propaganda.

Here are the IPA’s concluding words on propaganda.

Our seven ABC’s of Propaganda Analysis and our seven Propaganda Devices are offered…as workable means for aiding Americans to preserve their freedom of choice and with it their other freedoms embodied so largely in the expression… freedom of speech and assembly, of the press, and of religion. In closing, then, let us merely sum up the spirit of our seven ABC’s and seven devices in the following statements:

Don’t be stampeded.

Beware of your own prejudices.

Suspend your judgment until more sides of the issue are presented.

Analyze them.

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The Fine Art Of Propaganda; A Study of Father Coughlin’s Speeches” by The Institute for Propaganda Analysis, Edited by Alfred McClung Lee & Elizabeth Briant Lee, and published in 1939 by Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York via Phil Taylor’s Web Site, The Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds, UK.
Charles A. Fleming, “Understanding Propaganda From a General Semantics Perspective,” Et cetera, (Spring 1995) 6–7.
Protester at March for America wears an American flag, Rrenner: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

1 Comment

  1. I guess my comment on glittering generalities fits even better here.

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