Monday, April 1, 2019

Heidi J. S. Tworek's "News from Germany"

Heidi J. S. Tworek is Assistant Professor of History at the University of British Columbia. She is also a non-resident fellow at both the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and is Project Coordinator of the United Nations History Project.

Tworek applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, News from Germany: The Competition to Control World Communications, 1900-1945, and reported the following:
I got lucky because page 99 is the start of a central chapter in the book. The chapter shows how and why the Nazis could control radio as soon as they got into power. As I explain on page 99:
“Our way of taking power and using it would have been inconceivable without the radio and the airplane,” Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels claimed in August 1933. Airplanes played a vital role in Nazi electoral strategy in the last years of the Weimar Republic: when Adolf Hitler campaigned to be president in 1932, he had flown to multiple locations a day to give speeches to roaring crowds. Although he lost that campaign to General Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler had still capitalized on German admiration for aviation. Radio could only become central to Nazi aims after Hitler became chancellor in January 1933. But Goebbels could quickly exercise power over radio, because the state already controlled its infrastructure and content. State control over wireless, and then radio, had been intended to defend democracy. It unintentionally laid the groundwork for Goebbels.
This page encapsulates one of the book’s two main foci: why did an apparently vibrant media landscape in the Weimar Republic give way to the Nazis? I explore the terrible irony that democratic bureaucrats tried to supervise radio content to prevent extreme content. As the Weimar Republic became increasingly febrile, those bureaucrats exerted ever more control. But instead of preserving democracy, this enabled the Nazis to use radio as soon as they came to power in January 1933. As governments around the world consider how and whether to regulate the internet, this chapter and the book more broadly remind them to beware the unintended consequences of their well-meaning actions.

What this page doesn’t encapsulate is the book’s second focus: the international dimension of German intervention in the media. Alongside understanding media within Germany, I also look at why Germans tried to use news to influence global geopolitics, economics, and cultural attitudes towards Germany. The international part of the book explodes the myth that information warfare is a new invention of the 21st century. Instead, I show how and why an aspiring global power tried to use information to change international circumstances. From 1900 onwards, Germany invested heavily in new wireless and radio technology to disseminate news from Germany around the world. It achieved unexpected resonance everywhere from China to Chile. This book is a work of history, but it is also meant to remind us how news has long formed an integral part of international relations.
Learn more about News from Germany at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue