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09 March, 2016

A short story of the term invented to replace 'propaganda' in times of peace

In 1914 the Austria-Hungarian Empire led Europe into war. As the horror mounted, Sigmund Freud saw it as terrible evidence of the truth of his findings. The saddest thing he wrote, is that, this is exactly the way we should have expected people to behave, from our knowledge of psychoanalysis. Governments had unleashed the primitive forces in human beings and no one seemed to know how to stop them.

At that time, Freud's young nephew, Edward Bernays was working as a press agent in America. His main client was the world famous opera singer Caruso who was touring the United States.

Bernays' parents had emigrated to America 20 years before, but he kept in touch with his Uncle who joined him for Holidays in the Alps. But Bernays was now about to return to Europe for a very different reason.

On the night that Caruso opened in Toledo Ohio, America announced that it was entering the war against Germany and Austria. As a part of the war effort, the US government set up a committee on public information and Bernays was employed to promote America's war aims in the press.

The president, Woodrow Wilson, had announced that the United States would fight not to restore the old empires but to bring democracy to all of Europe. Bernays proved extremely skillful at promoting this idea both at home and abroad and at the end of the war was asked to accompany the President to the Paris Peace Conference.

Edward Bernays – 1991: “Then to my surprise they asked me to go with Woodrow Wilson to the peace conference. And at the age of 26 I was in Paris for the entire time of the peace conference that was held in the suburb of Paris and we worked to make the world safe for democracy. That was the big slogan.

Wilson's reception in Paris astounded Bernays and the other American propagandists. Their propaganda has portrayed Wilson as a liberator of the people. The man who would create a new world in which the individual would be free. They had made him a hero of the masses.

And as he watched the crowd surge around Wilson, Bernays began to wonder whether it would be possible to do the same type of mass persuasion, but in peace time.

Edward Bernays – 1991: “When I came back to the United States, I decided that if you could use propaganda for war you could certainly use it for peace. And propaganda got to be a bad word because of the Germans using it. So what I did, was to try to find some other words. So we found the word 'Council on Public Relations'.

Bernays returned to New York and set up as a Public Relations counselor in small office off Broadway. It was the first time the term had even been used.

Taken from the documentary The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis.


  1. Anonymous9/3/16 04:26

    Great movie. Everyone needs to see. Should be exhibitet in schools in fact.

    1. Indeed, but the system doesn't want massive awakening, on the contrary, it wants massive control.