There are many enduring reasons to visit the National World War II Museum, but now through June 18, the sprawling center features an exhibition that makes the world's epic struggle against tyranny three generations ago particularly timely — and poignant.
State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda explores the ways Adolf Hitler and his followers used propaganda before and during World War II. It is impossible to see the exhibit and not feel it resonate against what's happening in America today. From Kellyanne Conway's suggestions of "alternative facts" to Donald Trump's default cry of "fake news" in response to valid criticism (not to mention "authentic" facts and news), the conversation in and around our nation's capital reeks of deception, deflection, distraction and distortion — virtually all of it deliberate.
In fairness — because truth plays no favorites — the left has been as guilty as the right of using propaganda to advance its agenda. Just ask either President Bush. That's one of the many truths imparted by the interactive exhibit, which begins with a poster containing this definition of propaganda:
"Propaganda is biased information designed to shape public opinion and behavior. Its power depends on message, technique, means of communication, environment and audience receptivity. Propaganda uses truths, half-truths or lies; omits information selectively; simplifies complex issues or ideas; plays on emotions; advertises a cause; attacks opponents; and targets desired audiences."
One cannot view the exhibit, which includes Nazi films, handbills and even board games for children, without placing these attributes of propaganda in the context of today's complex marketplace of ideas. Indeed, that's the point of the exhibit. "In the 21st century, the information landscape is far different from that of the 1930s and '40s," one poster notes. It adds, "While the World Wide Web has become the greatest marketplace of ideas in human history, it is also one of the primary transmitters of propaganda."
In a recent interview with Vox, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, a renowned critic of Russian leader and master propagandist Vladimir Putin, offered a chilling observation: "Dealing with propaganda and misinformation campaigns is a new fight for most Americans, but it's familiar ground for me and other Russians."
Kasparov lamented that a "constant bombardment" of propaganda can overwhelm people. The target is truth itself. "You start to doubt, to shrug your shoulders, to tune out, and that makes you vulnerable," he warned. "Instead of pushing one lie, one fake, they can push a dozen, or a hundred, and that's pretty good odds against one lonely truth. They win when you say: 'Who can be sure what really happened?'"
State of Deception is a traveling exhibition produced by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It was underwritten locally by the Goldring Family Foundation and the Woldenberg Foundation. The exhibit will include periodic lectures and discussions. For more information, visit www.nationalww2museum.org or call (504) 528-1944, ext. 463.
Whatever your politics, you owe it to yourself and your country to see State of Deception while it's here.