ABSTRACT

Having investigated the organisation and the message of aerial psychological warfare, this book must now turn to its reception. The idea that psychological warfare is a measurable entity has divided specialists and remains a contentious subject to this day. Harold Lasswell was the first to suggest that the exercise was challenging, if not impossible.1 On the other hand, Garth Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell suggested in Propaganda and persuasion that a thorough understanding of propaganda’s effectiveness was possible by asking the right questions.2 However, this method clashed with the approach of Jacques Ellul, who wrote that traditional investigations ‘preserve the old notion that the effect of propaganda manifests itself in clear, conscious opinions and that the propagandee will respond in a specific way according to the propagandist’s slogans’.3 Ellul underlined the evanescent nature of propaganda but offered reassurance for the possibility of analysing its effectiveness. The French thinker made a fundamental distinction between ‘propaganda effects’, or in other words what propagandists tried to achieve, and involuntary results accidentally triggered by propaganda.4 Both Ellul’s theories and the methodology created by O’Donnell and Jowett are useful when trying to understand how aerial psychological warfare was received. However, Allied and German propaganda units did not work in a vacuum and it must be acknowledged that other factors influenced the populations living in the occupied territories. One significant source of information came from the constant circulation of troops. Allied and German soldiers relayed oral and written news to civilians. French and British prisoners of war talked with the populations and sometimes sold them Parisian papers brought from the trenches while on their way to captivity. Even the Germans ignored specific orders and used home front newspapers and aerial propaganda, found either in the trenches or scattered after aerial drops, as a tradable commodity. In fact, it was not unusual for German soldiers and French civilians to openly discuss the war at home or on the street. Many families hosted and shared their meals with enemy soldiers, giving them the opportunity to talk about the conflict. German home front newspapers also found their way inside the occupied territories. Considered better than the

Gazette des Ardennes by educated civilians, their circulation was tolerated by the military authorities.5 It is often forgotten that radio transmission played a minor role during the First World War. There were two radio stations within reasonable distance of the occupied territories of France:  one at the top of the Eiffel Tower and another one in the Cornish area of Poldhu. Owning a radio was illegal and was usually considered a capital offence by the Germans. A  clandestine organisation from Roubaix ignored this ban and managed to build a device to listen to the transmissions. Overall, underground networks did not play a big part in spreading pro-Allied news in the occupied territories of France. French resistance did not have as much room to manoeuvre as Belgian clandestine groups, since military Ettapen regimes were far stricter than the General Governorate of Belgium. As a result, French resistance produced only three or four clandestine newspapers, a significant contrast with the seventyseven publications printed by underground groups in Belgium.6 Finally, there is no doubt that rumours and fake news fuelled the population’s imagination. There were several documented cases of fake newspapers made by crooks and sold at a high price on the black market, while dishonest citizens even sold made-up information to Allied secret services. These attempts to deceive reinforced the scepticism of a population already subjected to the inevitable rumours of war.7