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Over the next two years, they would advise the Roosevelt Administration; produce pamphlets, news articles, and books; and set the cornerstone of our contemporary faith in decentralized media.
The same technologies that were meant to level the political playing field have brought troll farms and Russian bots to corrupt our elections.
The same platforms of self-expression that we thought would let us empathize with one another and build a more harmonious society have been co-opted by figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos and, for that matter, Donald Trump, to turn white supremacy into a topic of dinner-table conversation.
Americans were more open, individualistic, expressive, collaborative, and tolerant, and so more at home in loose coalitions.
Whatever kind of propaganda medium the Committee promoted would need to preserve the individuality of American citizens.
In the years before the Second World War, Americans were mystified as to how Germany, one of the most sophisticated nations in Europe, had tumbled down the dark hole of National Socialism.
Today we’d likely blame Hitler’s rise on the economic chaos and political infighting of the Weimar era. When Hitler spoke to row upon row of Nazi soldiers at torch-lit rallies, the radio broadcast his voice into every German home. They are living in a Nazi dream and not in the reality of the world.
“I believe,” he said, “that more than armies, more than diplomacy, more than the best intentions of democratic nations, the communications revolution will be the greatest force for the advancement of human freedom the world has ever seen.” At the time, most everyone thought Reagan was right.
The twentieth century had been dominated by media that delivered the same material to millions of people at the same time—radio and newspapers, movies and television.
Members of the Committee joined many American intellectuals in subscribing to the views of the anthropologist Franz Boas, who believed that cultures shape the personalities of their members in predictable ways.
Germans, they thought, tended toward rigidity and an affection for authority, hence Hitler’s famously bureaucratic Nazi regime was a natural extension of the German character.