How to win an information war The propagandist who outwitted Hitler

Peter Pomerantsev

Book - 2024

"From one of our leading experts on disinformation, this inventive biography of the rogue WWII propagandist Thomas Sefton Delmer confronts hard questions about the nature of information war: what if you can't fight lies with truth? Can a propaganda war ever be won? In the summer of 1941, Hitler ruled Europe from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. Britain was struggling to combat his powerful propaganda machine, crowing victory and smearing his enemies as liars and manipulators over his frequent radio speeches, blasted out on loudspeakers and into homes. British claims that Hitler was dangerous had little impact against this wave of disinformation. Except for the broadcasts of someone called Der Chef, a German who questioned Nazi doctr...ine. He had access to high-ranking German military secrets and spoke of internal rebellion. His listeners included German soldiers and citizens, as well as politicians in Washington DC who were debating getting into the war. And--most importantly--Der Chef was a fiction. He was a character created by the British propagandist Thomas Sefton Delmer, a unique weapon in the war. Then, as author Peter Pomerantsev seeks to tell Delmer's story, he is called into a wartime propaganda effort of his own: the US response to the invasion of Ukraine. In flashes forward to the present day, Pomerantsev weaves in what he's learning from Delmer as he seeks to fight against Vladimir Putin's tyranny and lies. This book is the story of Delmer and his modern investigator, as they each embark on their own quest to manipulate the passions of supporters and enemies, and to turn the tide of an information war, an extraordinary history that is informing the present before our eyes"--

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2nd Floor New Shelf 940.5488/Pomerantsev (NEW SHELF) Due Apr 20, 2024
New York : PublicAffairs 2024.
Main Author
Peter Pomerantsev (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xix, 277 pages ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Preface: The Real Lives of Sefton Delmer
  • Chapter 1. Propaganda Is the Remedy for Loneliness
  • Chapter 2. The Nazi Circus
  • Chapter 3. Not Reliable
  • Chapter 4. All Doubts Fall Away
  • Chapter 5. Into the Ridiculous
  • Chapter 6. That Beastly Pornographic Organisation
  • Chapter 7. Strength Through Fear
  • Chapter 8. D-Day and the Death Drive
  • Chapter 9. Valkyrie
  • Chapter 10. How Dead Is Hitler?
  • Chapter 11. How to Win an Information War
  • Chapter 12. Ordinary Ordinary
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Disinformation expert Pomerantsev tells the remarkable story of daring British journalist and WWII counterpropagandist Sefton Delmer. Delmer began on the receiving end of propaganda as a British "enemy schoolboy" attending school in Germany. Fast forward to Hitler as his forces dominated Europe, using propaganda to whip his followers into a frenzy, especially with radio broadcasts. Delmer got close to the Nazis during the 1930s and witnessed the power of their propaganda, inspiring him, once back in England, to fight fire with fire, setting up covert radio stations with programming designed to undermine the Nazi message, most effectively with the defiant Der Chef, seemingly an insider's anti-Nazi rants. As head of Special Operations for the Political Warfare Executive, Delmer ran complex and audacious projects, working with German refugees, artists, and writers, including Ian Fleming and Muriel Spark. As Pomerantsev details Delmer's efforts, he also considers the transmission of lies then and now and how propaganda reinforces fear, fuels resentment, and casts blame. This profile of the "nearly forgotten genius of propaganda" deepens our perception of disinformation as a vile and dangerous weapon.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this evocative if less-than-persuasive study, journalist Pomerantsev (Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible) mines the history of WWII-era British propagandist Sefton Delmer for methods to counter recent Russian misinformation campaigns. A Brit born and raised in Germany, Delmer emigrated in his youth but later returned in the 1930s as a reporter given exclusive access to Hitler. Eventually joining British intelligence with a mandate to create radio programming that would make Germans question Nazi propaganda, he invented the persona of Der Chef, a foul-mouthed German soldier who railed against Nazi excesses while sharing their vile prejudices. The goal, as described by Delmer, was to propagate "subversive rumour... under a cover of national patriotic cliches." Der Chef's rants were sprinkled with apparently leaked details about Nazi higher-ups, making him seem like a genuine mouthpiece of dissent and hinting at potential rebellion. Pomerantsev concludes by advocating for modern anti-Russia propagandists (including civilians posting online) to follow in Der Chef's footsteps ("sometimes people just need a way to discover the best of their inner pigdog"), a clearly dicey proposition. Still, his prose sparkles and his delineation of Delmer's theories of propaganda fascinates ("We're always somehow parroting it we're rarely completely hypnotized... People are slightly faking their fanaticism"). It's a fleet-footed history of propaganda with an unconvincing takeaway. (Mar.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A striking account of a German-speaking Australian working for the British secret service during the era of Nazi aggression. Pomerantsev, a disinformation expert, is the author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible and This Is Not Propaganda. In his latest book, he introduces us to Sefton Delmer (1904-1979), an Australian born in Berlin whose anti-Nazi radio programs in dozens of languages across Europe helped undermine the Nazi war effort. Growing up in Germany's Weimar Republic (his father was a professor of English literature in Berlin) and often mocked for his British ways, young Delmer desperately wanted to fit in. After a stint in Britain, he returned to Berlin--now on the cusp of Nazi control--as a journalist for the Daily Express, where he witnessed and understood viscerally the power of political propaganda to promote belonging. Hence, in advising the British--who at first did not trust him, as he had interviewed Goebbels, Hitler, and others--Delmer could convey the psychological power of the Nazi message. It wasn't enough, he argued, to simply "defend democracy," a slogan that failed to resonate strongly; you had to "appeal to the groups vulnerable to the propaganda that plays into the desire to submit to strongmen." Delmer became the head of Special Operations for the Political Warfare Executive, returned to journalism, and published his memoirs in the 1960s, but they have been largely forgotten or discounted. Historians continue to debate the extent to which anti-Nazi propaganda helped win the war. Delmer believed that it aided in the "corrosion" of German will, and the author demonstrates how crucial Delmer's work was then--and still is, as Pomerantsev has advised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in his efforts to counter Russian propaganda and aggression. A brilliantly inspired study of the power of propaganda to influence geopolitical narratives. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.