Arsenal of Democracy – Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Propaganda has been used as a weapon in war either to suppress enemies and hide next course of action or manipulate citizens so that they can support government decisions during times of war. Propaganda is simply used to alter or manipulate people’s’ beliefs and attitudes towards a given subject. Therefore, it is important to understand the mechanisms of propaganda and how it has been used successfully by leaders such as Hitler and George W. Bush to shape public opinion. In some cases, propaganda is simply used to hide the truth.

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For instance, in a situation where a country is losing in war, propaganda is used as a tool to convince citizens that the war is going on well and that there are high chances of gaining victory. This paper will analyze George W. Bush ‘arsenal of democracy’ used emotional appeals, language and fallacies to convince or shape public opinion at the time. ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ was a phrase used by Franklin D. Roosevelt while trying to arouse popular support for sending military aid to some countries during World War II. The military aid was sent in support of countries fighting against Germany, Japan and Italy. During World War II, United States had not positioned itself as a powerful super power as it is today. Countries such as Germany, the Soviet Union, Japan and Italy controlled much of the activities about the war.

Furthermore, United States was recovering from the Great Depression that had affected the country’s economic position less than a decade back in time. Roosevelt therefore needed a solid claim to engage in World War II. The only way to achieve that was by shaping public opinion using propaganda. Earlier on, Roosevelt had made a pledge to U.S. citizens that he would stay out of war. He was serving in his third term and so he had a legacy to protect. Engaging in World War II would mean that he had violated the terms of the pledge that he had made while seeking reelection. Prior to U.S. engagement in the war and Roosevelt’s description of United States as an ‘arsenal of democracy’, Great Britain had expressed its interest to seek support from United States since it lacked sufficient capital to meet the costs of war materials that would be used to defend the country (GB) from Germany. Germany under Adolf Hitler was a major opponent in war. Germany enjoyed huge technological advantage in war. The country’s economy was also good. It was a formidable opponent in any engagement. On December 29, 1940, Roosevelt in a conversation broadcasted by a radio station convinced the nation that the security of United States was hinged on the survival of Great Britain in the war. Therefore, United States had to become the great arsenal of democracy to defend Great Britain and suppress the enemies who threatened the ‘security’ of Americans and the world. Use of Emotional Appeal and Language Emotional appeal as a method of persuasion seeks to create an emotional response.

Emotional appeal tries to convince the subject that their security is affected by another action that the subject may not have considered in the past. For instance, in this case, Roosevelt talked about the security of Americans before talking about America’s engagement in war. The wording used was carefully selected. Roosevelt ensured that he did not present the case as a situation where United States was engaging in war as an enemy to certain countries. United States was simply engaging in the war as an arsenal of democracy. The basis of its engagement was that if Great Britain was defeated, the ‘enemies’ would now come to United States and therefore affect the peace that citizens were enjoying. Using this approach, it was very hard for the public to resist the action taken by the government to support Great Britain. As a weapon of propaganda emotional appeal further touches on subjects’ feelings. In such a case, the public had to be made emotional and consider themselves primary participants or victims in the war. A huge section of the public had witnessed the effects of World War I to a country like USSR. Therefore, they found it important for United States to engage in war rather than exposing them to the dangers of Germany under Adolf Hitler. George W. Bush George W. Bush relied heavily on propaganda in his war on terrorism. George W. Bush wanted the citizens’ support so that he could engage in the war against terrorism. On 10th September 2001, he announced that United States would be engage in war against terrorism. He equally used emotional appeal to get the support he needed to engage in the war. In this approach, Bush’ approach aligned with Adolf Hitler’s approach on the use of propaganda in war.

While using emotional appeal in propaganda, the first step is to ensure that citizens feel vulnerable on the current state of affairs. In the 2001 declaration, Bush ensured that citizens felt insecure since it was possible that the terrorists would be planning to attack the country more in future. This was barely two months after the 9/11 attack. Therefore, the public was still in a state of fear and confusion. Many people had died during the attacks. The government under Bush administration would therefore sail easily after introducing the concept of fear and need to engage the terrorists. At that point, most citizens would easily support the government in any course of action that promised or guaranteed them peace and safety. In the speech, George W. Bush thanked different quarters for their support to the country. Later on, he emphasized on the words in the national anthem which unite the people. In this approach, he was simply targeting people’s’ emotions and feelings. For instance, when invoking the words in the national anthem and its role in uniting citizens, Bush wanted to show how important it was for the citizens to unite during that time when the country’s security was threatened by terrorists. Bush also knew that his course of action would most likely attract resistance from some legislators. To avert such a situation, he wanted to have the solid citizens behind him. Public opinion would be used to shape the course of action that he needed at that time. Later on, it would be easier to justify the actions if some people started resisting the steps taken by the country to counter terrorism.

The media was also used to propagate terror and shape public opinion after 9/11 attack (Kellner 320). In such cases, the government may also try to manipulate information released by media houses so that it can align with its agenda. Adolf Hitler Adolf Hitler used propaganda as a war weapon. Mass opinion has always been supremely important in politics (Roucek 67). The Nazis had several challenges in Germany. The first challenges was turning the country into a one party state and later shape public opinion to reduce chances of opposition. Joseph Gobbells was the minister heading the country’s ministry of propaganda. He was also in charge of all communications in the country. Therefore, in this case, it emerges that one of the way to use emotional appeal in propaganda is to sift and regulate the information reaching the public. Propaganda works through emotions. Hitler used that approach to show Germans the importance of seeking hegemonic control over their enemies. This control would be used to suppress enemies and hence boost the country’s economic position through trade. Conclusion It is important to understand the mechanisms of propaganda and its use to shape public opinion as it has been used in the past. In the three cases analyzed in this paper, there are striking similarities in the use of propaganda to shape public opinion. The three former presidents first ensured that they created a need among the public. The need would be used to arouse emotions and feelings. For instance in FDR’s arsenal of democracy, FDR emphasized that the security of Great Britain directly mattered to United States. He therefore created a need to engage in the war and hence reduced resistance that would come with such a step. George W. Bush also sailed in a similar wave after 9/11 attacks when he knew that U.S. citizens were feeling vulnerable susceptible from further attacks by terrorists. He used that as a chance to institute propaganda and start approve war on terrorism.

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Arsenal of Democracy - Franklin D. Roosevelt. (2019, Mar 01). Retrieved from