One of the coolest things I have come across on the internet lately is the Prelinger Collection at archive.org (thanks to my daughter for pointing it out). On this site, you can browse hundreds of thousands of video, imagery and sound files that have been preserved – many for historical reasons – and all in the public domain. The Prelinger Collection, in particular, holds tens of thousands of videos, mostly produced by government(s) (which is why they are in the public domain) going all the way back to the earliest days of video. These videos provide a unique insight into history and the views that were common in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, for example.
One of the videos you can see on this site is a Dutch post-WWII propaganda film called “Holland Carries On.” Now, I’m sure many people would prefer to call this a “public diplomacy” film, in the sense that it’s positive, truthful, not subversive – i.e. it “informs” rather than “persuades” – but it most definitely does attempt to persuade. For me, this makes the line between “public diplomacy” and “propaganda” rather thin.
The film portrays the hard-working, Dutch (“Hollanders”), who have over the years heroically claimed their country from the sea, built a strong economy, and entered the modern era – with one of those cheerful 1950’s narrator voices and triumphant marching music in the background. Themes of “sweat, toil and perseverance” are presented with a liberal sprinkling of words like “conquest” – pertaining, of course, to Dutch efforts to bring their country into the modern era. It attempts to build kinship with Americans – particularly Dutch-Americans – in the hopes that they will carry the message further. This section ends with a great line: “No other nation can look at a map and say, ‘This, we made with our own hands. What other people can farm where their ancestors once fished?'” Peaceful farm animals follow, bring up deep religious conviction, and “peace-loving people.”
Then, at around the 8 minute mark – WHAM! The whole tone changes as the Nazis invade and we see everything destroyed. The film now has its hero and its villain – the perfect setup for an American audience. You can view the rest on your own:
The Netherlands Information Service, or Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst, was established in 1941, by the Dutch government that had gone into exile in London. The Service set up shop in New York, and spent the next few years producing films, pamphlets, and other products designed to garner American sympathy for the plight of the Dutch. After the war, their purpose shifted, presenting arguments in support of retaining their significant holdings in Indonesia. The Netherlands Information Service is a fascinating example of public diplomacy efforts mobilized in support of national interests, and many of their archives are preserved to this day in places like Holland, Michigan. You can learn more about the Netherlands Information Service here, or in this master’s thesis which talks about their collaboration with the Knickerbocker Weekly.
This particular video is available on the Prelinger Archives, but on the version that runs there, the audio and video are out of sync. I have corrected this (and cleaned the file up a little as well) and posted it on YouTube.