Propaganda, misinformation, fake news: call it what you like, there are many reasons this kind of meddling in foreign affairs is still so common. But the primary reason is that it works, both at home and abroad.
Misinformation campaigns are why some people think carrots are good for vision or that a human trafficking ring was run out of a D.C. pizza joint. If those stories sound absurd, strap in for a blast from the past, as the Axis powers of World War II try to kill everyone's favorite lake monster.
World War II was arguably the apex of propaganda and information campaigns. Every nation fighting the war used propaganda at home and abroad to further their war aims, either as a means to rally the populace behind the war effort or to demoralize the enemy.
All it took was a little bit of knowledge about the enemy and a whopping lie to take the wind out of their sails.
Before the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, a female radio announcer who broadcast swing music and demoralizing messages from Berlin told members of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment that they were jumping into a trap and they'd all die. The troops actually loved the show "Axis Sally" (as she came to be called) put on, but it was for the music, not the message.
The Axis powers attempted to exert influence on enemy populations as well as their own. Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels wrote in 1940 that the Loch Ness Monster was just a made-up thing, designed to boost tourism revenues. In a German newspaper, he cited the Loch Ness Monster as a reason the people of the United Kingdom were weak.
The Loch Ness Monster has been a cryptozoological and biological mystery since as far back as 1933 when reports of a strange creature of unknown origin, size or shape began coming from the loch.
If the people of England and Scotland were dumb enough to believe there was a dinosaur swimming around their lake, Goebbels reasoned to the German people, they were too dumb to win the war.
Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Fascist Italy, took the anti-lake monster rhetoric to a new level. In the newspaper Il Popolo D'Italia, he published the story of an Italian pilot on a bombing run across the UK in 1941. He claimed the pilot had dropped his bombs into the lake and hit none other than Nessie herself.
He even saw the body float to the surface before flying off.
Not to be outdone, the story was picked up by Allied newspapers in the British Commonwealth, specifically Australia's Daily Mail, which rewrote the story as a joke of monumental proportions. They even printed a counter-story.
Nessie, according to the Daily Mail, not only survived the attack, but was now considered a war hero to boot. According to the story, local J. Macfarlan Barrow and his son were walking along the loch one day after the alleged bombing and saw the monster swimming away at high speed, confidently shrugging off the Axis attack.
Keep calm and carry on.
-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at email@example.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.
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