When Propaganda Backfires

Blonde Bombshells

(image source: Psywar.org)

The Plan: During WWII, Axis powers attempted to wage psychological warfare against the Allies in a highly unusual way. They'd fly over enemy camps and drop pictures of buxom ladies on the troops. The twist? Most of the women were pictured in passionate embraces with strange men.

The Hope: According to German officials, the drops were meant to get GIs thinking about their wives and girlfriends back home-specifically, thinking about them being unfaithful. Axis propaganda wasn't always so convoluted, though. Sometimes the Germans simply dropped pictures of scantily clad women posed over quotes such as "You can enjoy this if you surrender."

The Disappointment: Surprise! Apparently, giving out free pictures of sexy women isn't the best way to demoralize soldiers. Far from being upset, the GIs began collecting the pics and using them as pinups.


(Image Source: Flight's Image of the Day)

The Plan: Soviet leader Joseph Stalin wanted to spread the message of communism far and wide, so in 1934, he enlisted the ANT-20, a massive aircraft with a wingspan of more than 200 feet.

The Hope: In addition to its jaw-dropping size, the plane contained multiple radio stations, a photo lab, and even a printing press for distributing leaflets midair. But the best thing about the plane (from a propaganda point of view) was its loudspeaker. Known as the "Voice from the Sky", the sound system was so powerful that it could broadcast speeches and songs to the public from hundreds of feet in the air.

The Disappointment: Unfortunately for Stalin, the plane's lifespan didn't match its wingspan. In 1935, a fighter plane crashed into the giant aircraft during a demonstration over Moscow, killing 45 people. But that didn't stop the propaganda from living on. Soviet officials quickly blamed the crash on the fighter pilot, Nikolai Blagin, and a new word, Blaginism, was introduced into the Russian language. It translates to "a cocky disregard of authority."


(Image source: Awful Library Books)

The Plan: In 1975, President Ford signed the Metric Conversion Act, and the United States embarked on a full-fledged campaign to join the rest of the world in using meters and grams.

The Hope: The federal government tried to get Americans on board by pumping tons of money into the effort. It funded metric-touring posters, pamphlets, and TV spots-including a series of animated shorts by the same team that did "Schoolhouse Rock."There was even an answering service set up to help confused citizens.

The Disappointment: It turns out that citizens weren't exactly rushing to borrow 225 grams of sugar from their neighbors or ask the grocer for 3.79 liters of milk. In 1982, President Reagan cut the campaign's funding. Instead, he supported "voluntary metrication." lettiing Americans choose whether or not they wanted to embrace the new measuring scheme. (They chose not to.)


The above article was written by Maggie Ryan Sandford. It is reprinted with permission from the Scatterbrained section of the July-August 2010 issue of mental_floss magazine.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' entertaining website and blog for more fun stuff!

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

I know the answer to this one! I was a kid, my dad worked for the government. The part about stupidly trying to teach people the conversion formulas rather than just switching was a factor.

The real problem was that American manufacturers refused to switch as it would have meant retooling and upgrading factories to use metric parts. When their supporters in the Republican party won, the metric conversion project was ended. Of course, within a decade, they regretted it, because increasing globalization meant that American manufacturers became cut off from global markets due to interoperability factors, forcing them to often have to have doubled production lines to make both domestic and export versions. And the mass exporting of jobs and manufacturing from the US happened not only because of more expensive workers, but because American companies did not keep up with the latest manufacturing technologies. If there had been a massive amount of factory upgrades in the late 70s and early 80s, the US would probably not be as bad off as we are now. (Jobs wise.)

The people who pushed for the metric system in the US knew where the world was headed. Too bad people thought that ignoring the future was a good thing to do.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I also like the added math skills required with Imperial. Multiplying and factoring by more than the power of 10, in and of itself, means not letting my math skills deteriorate over time for the sake of convenience.

Each system also "speaks" differently about different things. When I drive, I drive in metric because cars and most roads talk metric. When I measure, I measure in imperial because my body talks in imperial - i.e. my thumb is an inch, my hand span is 8 inches, my foot is a foot, and my gait is a yard.

Fahrenheit also allows us to speak in "ranges" - i.e. "in the 10s, 20s, 30s, and so on, through to the 90s, and into the 100s", something that doesn't really resonate as well in Celsius.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
The thing that's nice about Imperial is its cultural roots. History is inherent in every measure unlike metric whose derivation is predicated almost exclusively by the abstract power of 10. One is rich in context. The other is rich in logic. There's room enough in this world for both, or at least, there should be.

In our Age of Disposable Living, we tend to discard context in our impatience for newness and the superficiality of "new and improved". Like languages, there's always more to be gained from assimilation and co-existence, than arbitrary displacement.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
It irks me to no end that there are 12 inches in a foot, 16 ounces in a pound, 5,280 feet in a mile, etc.I also work with tools, and prefer metric. It makes working quicker. And these days many things have BOTH metric and standard nuts and bolts. Totally frustrating.why use both? It's stupid.Also, when you eye up a bolt, figure it is about 14mm, and it turns out to be bigger, you can pretty much tell if you need a 15mm or 16mm wrench. With standard wrenches, it could be 7/16", 9/16", 1/2",etc. Annoying, to say the least.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
And the obvious answer is that the US is just too big a market to be ignored, so we get the luxury of being recalcitrant.

We're getting there. Liters are close enough to quarts that we use them interchangeably. Millimeters are tiny enough that who the hell cares what they're called?

There's also some inherent deficiencies with Metric units. E.g., Celsius degrees are farther apart than Fahrenheit degrees, which makes it less useful.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.
Email This Post to a Friend
"When Propaganda Backfires"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More