IT'S BEEN A WHILE SINCE my last post about a propaganda email, but the one I received today deserves some comment.
It's both subtle and unbelievably nasty.
It begins with a very sweet picture of an old woman smiling, and reads, in part:
Look at this lady - Let us never forget!
The world hasn't just become wicked...it's always been wicked. The prize doesn't always go to the most deserving.
There recently was a death of a 98 year-old lady named Irena.
During WWII, Irena, got permission to work in the Warsaw ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist.
She had an 'ulterior motive'.
She KNEW what the Nazi's plans were for the Jews (being German).
Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried and she carried in the back of her truck a burlap sack, (for larger kids).
She also had a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto.
The soldiers of course wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises.
During her time of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants.
She was caught, and the Nazi's broke both her legs, arms and beat her severely.
Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she smuggled out and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard.
After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived it and reunited the family.
Most had been gassed. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.
Last year Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize.
She was not selected.
Al Gore won --- for a slide show on Global Warming.
The second half of the email—almost as long as the part above—declares that it is a "memorial chain" designed to help make sure that the world never forgets the Holocaust.
It goes into some detail about the horrors of the Holocaust, and urges the readers to do their part by continuing the memorial chain.
So what's wrong with that?
The answer, of course, is that there is nothing at all wrong with a chain letter designed to remind people of the Holocaust—and certainly nothing wrong with a chain letter designed to spread the story of this brave woman.
There is, however, something terribly wrong with using both our emotions about the Holocaust and our admiration of Irena's courage and love to make two cheap political shots look high minded and moral.
If you look at the structure of the email, you'll notice that it is, quite intentionally, not what it seems:
Opening thesis statement: The world hasn't just become wicked...it's always been wicked. The prize doesn't always go to the most deserving.
This tells the reader, up front, what the email is really about.
This is told as background information to the claim in the thesis.
The punch-line: Last year Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was not selected. Al Gore won --- for a slide show on Global Warming.
As is common with these propaganda pieces, the punch-line leaves the actual conclusion implied. If the reader has to make the connection for his or herself, he or she is more likely to believe it.
The conclusion we're supposed to draw has several parts:
Al Gore didn't deserve the peace prize.
Irena did deserve the peace prize.
Al Gore got the peace prize for reasons that are "wicked" in some sense.
The Nobel Committee is somehow implicated in all of this.
The Nobel Committee and Al Gore are thus on the side of "wickedness", along with the Nazi's, and Irena and the reader on on the side of goodness, along with the author of the email.
Which brings us full circle to explain the opening thesis.
After the punch-line, and after those subtle conclusions have been thoroughly implied, a long bit about the holocaust is added.
This is designed to do three things:
Distract the readers from the message that has just been planted, before they have time to question it,
Solidify the connection between the readers and the author—what kind of person isn't going to agree that the Holocaust was horrible?
Motivate the readers to send this viral message on to its next victims.
In the process, the email suddenly transforms itself from a story about how "The prize doesn't always go to the most deserving" and a cheap shot at Al Gore, to a high-minded "memorial chain" about the holocaust.
It's a very subtle, and very sleazy, little piece of brainwashing.
The readers are left with the vague impression that there are two sides to the world—good people, like themselves, who pass on "memorial chains" and care about people like Irena, and "wicked" people, like the Nazi's and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee and Al Gore.
Most readers won't even know that a criteria for the Peace Prize is being involved in significant activities during the past two years, and that therefore she didn't even qualify by the basic rules, at the time.
Most readers will believe the email's silly allegation that Gore won the prize for his slide show.
After all, that's what he's most famous for.
They won't bother to find out that it was for all of his "efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."
Was the slide show, and the book, part of that? Sure. And that's bad because...?
But the worst thing about this email is the disrespectful attitude the author takes toward Irena's heroism and the victims of the Holocaust.
If the author wants to take a cheap shot at Al Gore, or the Nobel Committee, that's fine.
But it's not fine to use this woman's courage, or the sorrows of holocaust survivors, as a screen for cheap propaganda tricks.
People have real emotions about these things, and it's not appropriate to use those emotions to manipulate them for slick political ends.
Irena is proof enough that the world is not uniformly wicked.
This email is proof enough that some people are.
At least, that's what I think today.