When Propaganda Backfires

08 Jul

Blonde Bombshells

(image source:

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.

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