By Published on .

Before joining the British Army early in World War II, I was a foreign student at Paris University. During the third week of the war, we suddenly heard air raid sirens. Emerging later from the shelter into the street, I saw some folded papers on the sidewalk. Overcome by curiosity, I picked up one of them and unfolded it. I got an immediate shock.

I was looking straight at a huge swastika. This was my first direct encounter with the enemy. I thought we were far from the war, safely protected by the impregnable Maginot Line.

The leaflet read: "Frenchmen, the war with Poland is finished. Germany wants nothing from France. Only Jews and plutocrats want war. There is no sense in spilling French blood for a Poland that doesn't exist anymore. We offer you peace. Insist that your government stop a war that nobody needs!"

From a purely professional propaganda point of view, it was difficult to find a better target on which to drop those leaflets. Thousands of students were concentrated in and around the Sorbonne building. In the late afternoon they spread out all over greater Paris.

Several years after the war, when I was the El Al spokesman, I met the deputy spokesman of Lufthansa, Capt. Lutz Hartdegen, at an international conference. He had some connection with psychological warfare in the army, like myself, but on the other side of the fence. I asked him whether the selection of the Sorbonne for the leaflets bombing in daytime was deliberate. His reply was: "Like yourself, I joined the army only after that incident. But you can rely on German thoroughness and assume it is quite likely the spot was planned deliberately."

The Royal Air Force dropped leaflets on Berlin and other German cities during the German invasion of Poland. Research conducted after the war showed that this propaganda was completely ineffective.

The Allies enlisted journalists, advertising experts, psychologists, writers, broadcasting specialists and film personnel to man the psychological warfare teams. Unprecedented budgets, unlimited manpower and university facilities permitted research, planning and the gathering of intelligence information. New methods of work and technological improvements also contributed to progress in the advertising and public relations professions during and after the war.

British and American psychological warfare management did not use refugees from Germany in leading propaganda positions. On the radio, they preferred English and American speakers who spoke perfect German, but had slight foreign accents.

Goebbels, on the other hand, fancied renegade Englishmen and Americans; William Joyce, with his perfect Oxford accent, was nicknamed "Lord Haw Haw" by the British public. Nobody believed his stories. Two Americans, Fred Kaltenbach and Douglas Chandler, were similarly used by the Nazis.

However, the Germans ran some propaganda operations completely on their own. For example, at the time I was an officer in a U.K. infantry battalion, German radio announced that the commander of a British submarine captured at sea (the only one in the war) would broadcast to English listeners. The news spread like wildfire and we were all in the officers mess to hear his story.

The naval officer described the treatment of prisoners of the Wehrmacht in favorable terms. He also gave a picture of general conditions in Germany as being not bad at all, and resentment in the mess began to grow. He concluded by saying: "Repeat my story to the soldiers, relay it to the men of the air force, say it to the sailors and tell it to the marines."

The moment the words, "tell it to the marines" were heard, the whole mess exploded with laughter. I am sure this happened wherever English-speaking people listened to the broadcast.

The officer behind prison bars, Lt. Cmdr. Waters, a man of courage and wit, managed to score a spectacular psychological warfare victory over Goebbels' boys. Their English was good, but not good enough to know that "tell it to the marines" meant that what was said were lies.

Two tactical weapons of psychological warfare were loudspeakers, installed at fixed positions at the front or on armored vehicles, and leaflets fired into the enemy rear by field guns or mortars.

Professional literature on psychological warfare in World War II and subsequent press reports have voiced the opinion that a tragic mistake was made by Allied leaders in psychological warfare against the Axis. Many analysts believe that the demand for "unconditional surrender" delayed German surrender by about a year.

Even some Allied military commanders have said or written that the great publicity given to this slogan prolonged German resistance. Sir Basil Liddel Hart, the world famous military analyst, wrote in his "History of the Second World War": "The war was unnecessarily prolonged, and unconditional surrender proved of profit only to Stalin-by opening the way to communist domination of central Europe."

In Germany, many thought that had there been no such Allied precondition, the German officers' uprising in July 1944 could have attracted many more followers.

Some observers conclude that with a more flexible policy, millions could have been saved during the last year of the war.

One cannot prove that the demand for unconditional surrender prolonged the war. However, there is tangible proof that leaflets, substituted for "I surrender" certificates, produced better results. Soldiers were more willing to accept and use leaflets worded, "I cease resistance." Somehow, this was considered more respectable.

Most Popular
In this article: