This is a response to a 2004 article written by Christopher Sharrett entitled "9/11, the Useful Incident, and the Legacy of the Creel Committee." Read it here: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/cinema_journal/v043/43.4sharrett.html
I have a degree in history, so I guess I take a longer look back than is probably necessary in the interest of propaganda theory development.
I agree that technology has, indeed, changed the way propaganda can be used. However, I contend that America tends to be very egocentric and American scholars often see new developments where there is nothing more than the "same product in a new packaging."
A few points about the article itself:
The author, Christopher Sharrett, is clearly biased in his anti-Bush administration fervor. Statements such as the “fraudulent 2001 election” betray his motives in writing this piece. While accusing “media” of misconstruing history, Mr. Sharrett does so himself. For example, he states that the US was “complicit” in the Pearl Harbor attacks, yet fails to give evidence of this complicity. Also, he calls the Tonkin Gulf incident “fabricated.” There were in reality TWO Tonkin Gulf incidents and only the second one is questioned. (Note: the NSA declassified their report on this, http://www.nsa.gov/vietnam/releases/relea00012.pdf)
His thesis, as I understand it, is that to comprehend post-9/11 mass communication policy, one must look at the policy of the Spanish-American War. He presents this history as merely a “clash of civilizations” consisting of “racialist notions.” Mr. Sharrett also draws similarities between Nazi Germany and US policy by calling GI Joes “German Wehrmacht” dolls and referring to Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will.”
Mr. Sharrett is short-sighted in his thesis and in his approach. If one wants to view any government’s propaganda in a historical context, one must go much further back than the 1890s and look at more then just two governments. A good place to look would be the “Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide,” which was formed by the Roman Catholic diocese in response to the Protestant Reformation. I am not, in the interest of your time, going to outline similarities, but see the Notre Dame Archives for more information (http://archives1.archives.nd.edu/propfide.htm). Suffice it to say that this “us v. them” approach is nothing new and NOT exclusive to just the US and Nazi Germany.
Finally, while the comparison is fascinating, it is too narrow in its focus and misses several key factors in both the Spanish-American (Cuban-Puerto Rico-Guam-Philippino) War and the current wars in the Middle East. I believe Mr. Sharrett’s article to be a propaganda piece in itself and an especially dangerous kind. He states in the last paragraph that “Knowing the historical context of U.S. state operations is important in understanding how provoked or fabricated crises and a propaganda system that collaborates in this deception are necessary to gain public acceptance of policies that would otherwise be thought abhorrent. Historians and media scholars must put this knowledge at the disposal of large public coalitions.” I agree, they must. But they must do so with objectivity and facts (and in this light, Mr. Sharrett’s thesis is rather ironic!).