How to Win a Propaganda War

by adapting the illustrations of A. Paul Weber

Paul Weber was one of the most virulent anti-Nazi and anti-war illustrators of Germany in the 1930s. The Nazis eventually sent him to prison for his activities. But he emerged once again after the war to illustrate how things had not really changed.

What I am going to attempt to do here is take some of Weber’s most hard-hitting illustrations and imagine how they could be used or adapted to win the propaganda war against the most virulent new strain of authoritarian thinking and action to have emerged around the world since the 1920s. Skillful illustrators and cartoonists as well as animators should study the work of Paul Weber for inspiration. Follow the link to the website of the museum which is dedicated to him here in Germany, in Ratzeburg, not far from Hamburg. And if you are ever in the area, do go and see the wonderful collections available there. It is most definitely worth the pilgrimage. The pictures used here [not for profit] are from the illustrated biography by Helmut Schumacher & Klaus J. Dorsch which was published in 2003 and is available as a pdf download here.

So let us begin.

The illustration under the headline is from the title page of an anti-Nazi article published in 1932 by the Widerstandverlag in Berlin. The title, when translated, says: “Hitler the doom of Germany.” So you can see that Germans were quite aware of what was happening and what was going to happen. Just like we are today. We can see where the likes of authoritarian leaders like Orban, Trump and Putin are going to lead us – to our collective doom. Widerstandverlag translated is “The Resistance Publishing House.” Where are the resistance publishers today? And are they getting through to anyone except those of us who already understand what the consequences are going to be if we allow these criminals to continue along the path of least resistance?

Some major publications have made hard-hitting illustrations and photo collages that have been used against Putin and Trump. But how cool would it be if we printed the above illustration, replacing Hitler’s image with Trump or Orban or Putin or Le Pen, in the form of a baseball card, with true facts and figures on the backs of the cards, so they eventually become collectables and thus even get through to the youngsters being influenced by the poison ideas of the right.

Auftakt 1932

From the same illustrated article as the Hitler picture at the start we have Auftakt, which means “Prelude.” Everyone knows what is going to happen when the main part of the program begins. But now it’s 1932 and it’s only the prelude to the horrors which will follow. The warning is clear, but the music of Mr. Death is enchanting to the multitude. The same as today. The masses of people who are enchanted by the death cult that is the Republican Party in the USA, the AFD here in Germany and the other right-wing parties across Europe who promise new power to the powerless and yet advocate anti-vax and anti-mask policies which put the health of all at risk. The worship of the gun as the final arbiter of any argument marks the epitome of cultish thinking everywhere.

What if someone were able to take this illustration and transform it into an animation, maybe 20 or 30 seconds long with Mr. Death playing the melody from Chopin’s Funeral March. There must be some super slick animators out there who could do justice to this picture.

Bestechlich 1930

Remember H. L. Mencken? His Notes on Democracy was translated into German (Mencken had German roots) and Weber illustrated an important argument: Bestechlich means “corruptible,” and as we have seen in all democracies, the rich have a way of making sure things go their way, either through direct bribery or through indirect bribery by contributing to the campaigns of those they know will work to make them even richer. This particular illustration also includes the clergy, who pay no taxes for the wealth accumulated by their institutions or, like in the USA, for their independent “church.” The promise of salvation is only guaranteed if you pay. The Reformation was supposed to have cured religion of time off (indulgence) in Purgatory for a monetary fee.

I’m quite certain plenty of you can think of how to relate this picture to the present.

Das Ende vom Lied: Der Sumpf 1933

“The End of the Song: The Swamp” is where all the party faithful end up. We have heard the prelude and so we know where it leads, but the poor delusional souls who believe their cult leaders hear only the beats of the march, and so they march forward until they enter the swamp, only to sink into the quicksand. How can we make them see that they are marching to their own undoing?

What if, again, someone creates a short animation in which the Nazi salute emerges from the swamp once, twice, three times, to slowly get sucked down, down, down, until all the saluting arms disappear and the mud bubbles that emerge from the swamp burst, with a feeble voice croaking out “We won! We won! We won!”

Der Spekulant auf Heldentod 1934

“The Heroic Death Speculator” is known to us all. He works in the arms industry and in politics, the one gets contracts from the politicians and the other gets money to remain in power. It’s a profitable two-way street. I would put the death speculator on a baseball card, with facts and figures on the rear about death from war, pandemic deaths allowed through lack of caution and death due to poverty which could so easily be eliminated if the death speculators would just pay fair taxes on their windfall profits.

Das Leichentuch (Leviathan 1941/42)

“The Shroud” is an illustration of the book by Thomas Hobbes. Published in 1651 it is about the structure of society and what Hobbes believes to be legitimate government. It argues that there is a social contract and that society should be ruled by an absolute sovereign. Well, this is the inevitable result of unlimited power in the hands of an absolute sovereign. You can see how history has illustrated this and how it is being illustrated once again by the absolute ruler of modern Russia.

Obviously here the main character is the one dragging the shroud over the bodies. Another baseball card or animation, with the main character perhaps looking over his or her shoulder with a grisly smile. Putin? Trump? Le Pen? De Santis? There are, unfortunately, so many to choose from.

Der letzte Privatier (1944/49)

“The last privateer.” This is the final delusion of the oligarch. Oligarchs believe, deep down in that warped psyche of theirs, that when the earth has been reduced to ashes everywhere, there will still be a place where they can live safely behind a high wall and live a wonderful life. Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio depicted such a life during the the Black Death, probably the epidemic of 1348. Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death showed the results of such fantastical thinking.

Surely someone can place an oligarch’s mansion or subterranean hideaway into this context and illustrate the final result. Or, better yet [warning, self-advertising imminent] you can read my play Sheol. Use that for your illustrative or animation inspiration.

Die Diskussion im Boot (1948)

“The discussion in the boat.” Oh, we talk about it, we write about it, some of us make suggestions about how to use illustrations to win a propaganda war, but what are we actually doing about it?

One of the things which annoys me about talk shows and their hosts is that there is this absurd attempt to give the other side a chance to express their opinions. Why? How are the opinions of “the other side” being treated on the Murdoch Media Empire? How about in Putin’s Russia? In Orban’s Hungary? Here in Germany one cannot publish Nazi propaganda or use Nazi symbols in public. I’m quite happy with that. We know what happened here. Most of us have been to a death camp. These are not nice places. Don’t be fooled, the neo-authoritarians do not hesitate to use brute force. Remember Argentina? Remember Chile? It’s happening next door to you in Mexico and next door to me in Ukraine.

Stop talking . The boat is sinking. Do something!

Deutsches Verhängnis (1931)

“German doom.” Everyone knew what was coming and yet paid no attention. And it’s coming again. A short animated film of an endless stream of the Trump/De Santis/Putin faithful marching over the hill and into the casket of doom, which never fills up to the brim because it is bottomless!

…und kommen nach kurzer Pause wieder (Widerstand 1934)

“…and we’ll be right back after this short break.” They are already back.

Rückrad raus! (1951)

“Out with your spine!” The “democratic” parties have lost it I’m afraid. Their corporate masters have been busy for years removing spines. The razor-sharp knife they wield is money, and too many of our purported democrats are willing to lie down and have their spines removed.

Surely an animated short film no longer than a minute can come from this, with your favorite corporate villain holding the blade while your favorite politician submits willingly to the treatment.

There are so many more possible illustrations, but I will end with these two:

Der Staatsfeind (1956)

“The Enemy of the State” is, and always will be, the poor person. You have nothing, you have nothing to lose, therefore you are the enemy of the state that gives you nothing. Add this to your baseball card collection, with facts and figures about poverty in your country.

And last but by no means least:

Triumphzug der unsterblichen Dummheit (1955)

“The triumphal procession of immortal Stupidity.” A potentially wonderful animation that shows the dumbest of the dumb carrying their god “Immortal Stupidity” on their backs, enjoying their triumph over logic and love. In full color of course, with an endless procession!

Don’t let it happen.

Get to work!

Danny Antonelli lives in Hamburg, Germany