First I read this. Then I read this.
No connection between the two, you say?
This is one of my beefs with those who think that cultural relativism is harmless: after all, there's no harm done, right? That people are entitiled to their own opinions is a basic tenet in western civilization. The problem is that there isn't any clear distinction between truth and fiction, between reality and projection. And failing to make this distinction is one of the major challenges facing the coming democratization of the Middle East (and yes, I am convinced that this will happen, despite pundit's doubts and the protests of those with a vested interest in keeping the status quo in place.
Just like those who don't think it's necessary, indeed critical, to counter propaganda. Countering propaganda doesn't mean doing counter-propaganda, but rather of ensuring that the absurdity of the propaganda is shown. This is easier said than done, but needs to be done at the risk of losing the propaganda war. This happened in Vietnam: in the face quote to Col. Summers, General Giap pointed out that they didn't need to win on the battlefield - and indeed they lost every single time it came to battle - since they won the the war by convincing a sizable minority of the US Congress that it wasn't worth the effort.
The problem arises when propaganda is not countered and is accepted by its target audience as being plausible and therefore believeable. This is not limited, of course, to the Nazis, but was a key aspect to Soviet-era disinformation campaigns, such as the one that claimed that AIDS came out of a US bacteriological warfare lab and is being used to depopulate Africa in order to take over the raw materials of that continent.
Don't believe me? Check out both volumes of the Mitrokhin Archives: the documentation of disinformation and the accompanying campaigns are well documented.
Maybe the German government should try to undo what has been done. Rather than encouraging anti-americanism, it should try and undo three generations of bigotry and ignorance by pointing out how absurd anti-semitisim is. Instead, it seems that the priority is not to counter propaganda, but rather to make its dissemination more sophisticated and therefore for the uneducated more plausible.
The US government is bad at propaganda (the echos of derision from the left can be heard from across the ocean...hah!) because, fundamentally, no one in the US can believe that such blatant lies and mistruths can survive the first contact with an educated person. Which is, fundamentally, true: the problem is that propaganda is aimed not at the educated, but rather at the uneducated. When entire states are based on lies, mistruths, invented pasts (apparently the only thing that Mao didn't invent was library paste) and deliberate manipulation of societal taboos, the chance that propaganda won't work is relatively small, since people don't have the chance to develop critical intellectual tools in societies where being critical means you die, are imprisoned and generally are made to be as miserable as possible in order to prevent propaganda from being made ineffective.
And yes, we are in danger of losing the propaganda war: however, there are some serious shifts in the equation. First: the internet makes it possible to quickly research and review; second, the internet makes communication universal, rather than through limited channels; third and finally, the decline in the believability of the MSM, which while accompanied by the growth of blogging does not follow from it, means that critical thought and analysis are probably being made by more people today than has been the case in the last hundred years.
It's just that the critical thought today is not left-wing, but "conservative" thought, which today is anything but conservative.