6 Propaganda Campaigns That Backfired Hilariously
Propaganda is basically what happens when a government sprinkles glitter on a turd and then claims that it's unicorn meat. If done right, the people will eat it up and be thankful for the privilege. But, as we've pointed out before, if done wrong, we end up with hilariously failed propaganda campaigns that achieve the exact opposite of what they set out to do. For example ...
Hitler's "Perfect Aryan Baby" Turns Out To Be Jewish
After Hitler rose to power, the Nazis began to consider the image problems that could arise from them being perceived as human-shaped garbage bags filled with spoiled autopsy trimmings. So to give the Reich a family-friendly vibe, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels began the search for a "perfect Aryan" baby to use in a national campaign that would show everyone what the Nazis were all about.
After spending days huddled over his new collection of submitted baby pictures, Goebbels finally found a photo of an anonymous, cherub-faced little girl with brown hair and dark eyes. Granted, she wasn't the "Aryan ideal" of blond hair and blue eyes, but Goebbels sort of had this thing about dark-eyed brunettes.
So What Went Wrong?
The nameless baby had her face slapped on magazine covers, postcards, and propaganda material all throughout Germany. This caused a bit of an alarm for Jewish Berliners Jacob and Pauline Levinsons, who noted that the literal poster child for the Master Race was their 6-month-old daughter, Hessy.
It turns out that a few months earlier Hessy's parents took her to have her portrait done by photographer Hans Ballin, who hated the Nazis with the passion of Indiana Jones and the wit of Charlie Chaplin. When Ballin was asked to submit photos for Goebbels' contest, he thought that it would be hilarious if the Nazis' handpicked spokesbaby was secretly Jewish, so he surreptitiously submitted Hessy's picture to Hitler's right-hand man.
The Nazis eventually and unfortunately decided that choosing random citizens as models of Aryan perfection might not have been the greatest idea, as just a year later, they unwittingly selected the blond-haired, blue-eyed, half-Jewish Werner Goldberg as their "ideal German soldier." For a supposedly inferior race, the Jews were sure considered goddamn beautiful people by the Nazis.
The Government Of Argentina Makes Their Soldiers Terrified Of The Enemy
After Argentina's invasion of the Falklands in 1982, the U.K. decided to retaliate by throwing everything they had at it, including the terrifying Gurkhas, highly trained Nepali soldiers working for the British army. Now, other special forces aren't exactly pussies, but the Gurkhas are the kind that are apparently born with "god mode" on default. We're talking about people who can lose an entire arm and still somehow take down 31 enemy soldiers (literally) single-handedly.
Needless to say, the Gurkhas' reputation alone was enough to freak out some Argentinean troops, which their commanders addressed with the old "dehumanize the enemy" strategy. The ensuing propaganda campaign painted the Gurkhas as mindless coke junkies who had to be chained up between deployments. They supposedly didn't take prisoners and even feasted on the flesh of their enemies. Shooting those guys would be like a justified mix of self-defense and a mercy-killing, according to Argentina.
So What Went Wrong?
In a shocking twist that no one could have predicted, the only thing that the anti-Gurkha smear campaign accomplished was scaring the sanity out of Argentinean soldiers. Horrifying rumors spread of endless, self-replicating Gurkhas blindly charging enemy outposts, cackling and shrieking through fields of landmines with nothing -- not fear, not pain, not even basic survival instincts -- overriding their thirst for sweet, sweet Argentinean blood.
Soon, entire Argentinean units started retreating or surrendering to British troops if there was even a hint of a Gurkha nearby. In one instance, an entire battalion abandoned a critical position at Mount William, winning the Gurkhas a battle purely by reputation. It turns out that when having to choose between being taken as a POW and being cannibalized by a knife-wielding hellbeast, most people tend to go with option A.
Iraq Puts Clearly Beaten POWs On TV, Inspires Opposition
Near the start of the first Gulf War, U.S. Navy pilot Jeffrey Zaun, Italian Air Force officers Maurizio Cocciolone and Gianmarco Bellini, and two British pilots were all shot down and captured by the Iraqi army. The captive pilots were then brought to Baghdad, where they were filmed by Iraqi TV denouncing their homelands and expressing support for Saddam Hussein's government. This would have been a great propaganda tool ... if the men in the videos weren't so obviously under duress that you could basically see the gun being pointed at them off camera.
So What Went Wrong?
That's Cocciolone showing Saddam Hussein's legendary mercy all across his face. Whether the Iraqis were trying to send a message about what would happen to captured Coalition soldiers or simply didn't notice all the blood, bruises, and marks of torture on the man's face, we can't say.
Zaun, however, felt that Iraq was most likely releasing these videos to make itself look like the good guy, and he couldn't have that, so he went full "Edward Norton in Fight Club" and pounded his own face to make his wounds look even worse. Bizarrely, after taking one look at him, the Iraqi propagandists said, "Yep, ready for prime-time!" and put him on camera without even a touch-up from the makeup department.
As soon as the videos hit the airwaves, Americans, Britons, and Italians were pissed at the sight of their bloodied POWs, whose messed-up mugs went on to become the symbol of why Saddam had to be stopped. There were speeches, calls to action, and people clamoring to bring those responsible to justice. It was the kind of free propaganda that hawkish governments dream of.
As for the pilots themselves, they were thankfully released 47 days later.
Germany Enrages Own Soldiers By Mocking Teddy Roosevelt's Son
On July 14, 1918, American aviator Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son of Cracked's god-king Teddy Roosevelt, was shot down and killed by German planes over France. After achieving the seemingly impossible and killing a Roosevelt, German authorities used a picture of Quentin's corpse and crashed plane on propaganda postcards that would inspire the men to go out there and kill more Americans for the Kaiser.
So What Went Wrong?
Upon seeing the postcard, the first thing the German soldiers did was wonder why the son of a U.S. president bravely put his ass on the line like that while the asses of Kaiser Wilhelm and his sons stayed safely planted in their palaces.
The second thing that the postcard did was make the troops angry. To the German rank-and-file, the idea of their commanders gloating and high-fiving each other over the honorable death of an enlisted man, who was not unlike themselves, was like a giant slap to the face.
This was especially galling as Quentin Roosevelt was widely respected by the Germans, who buried the fallen airman with full military honors. As a result of the postcard, soldiers began to realize that, son of a president or not, they were all insignificant cannon fodder in the eyes of their commander, leading to bitterness and dissent spreading throughout the trenches. This failed propaganda was later identified by a young German officer as one of the main reasons for the breaking of morale in the German army.
The Dictator Of Chile Gives The Opposition A Taste Of Free Speech, Immediately Regrets It
More than 40 years ago, the CIA instigated a coup in Chile, replacing President Salvador Allende with General Augusto Pinochet, aka The Great Vanishini, famed for his signature trick of "disappearing" critics of his regime. But in typical villain fashion, Pinochet eventually became arrogant, and by 1988 decided to legitimize his rule with an open election. He even allowed the opposition to appear on TV and talk about their platform, confident that it'd make no difference.
So What Went Wrong?
Lagos was ruthless. He straight-up called Chile's dictator a liar, pointing to a newspaper article where he promised to not "run" for the presidency after 1988. He then criticized the general's many human rights violations, speaking firmly but calmly like a trial lawyer in the case of Chile vs. Augusto Pinochet's Stupid Face. The interviewers attempted to redirect the debate to something less get-them-killed-y, but were rebuffed by Lagos, who explained: "I speak for 15 years of silence."
Pinochet was watching this from his palace and, according to someone inside his camp, "climbing the wall" in psychotic rage -- with good reason. See, the vote he organized had only one name on the ballot: Augusto Pinochet, and people were suppose to vote "Yes" for keeping him on for another eight years, or "No" for "Eh, we'll figure it out later." The opposition had no face that the people could rally behind ... until Lagos came on the scene and quickly became a symbol of the Not-Pinochet campaign, whom Yes-Pinochet could no longer vanish without sparking a riot.
When the plebiscite came around, the "No" votes prevailed, and Pinochet was forced to step down or risk stepping into a lamp-post noose.
Holocaust Deniers Help Legally Recognize The Holocaust As An Indisputable Fact
In 1979, the Institute For Historical Review, a Holocaust-denial think-tank, offered $50,000 to anyone who could prove that Jews were killed in gas chambers at Auschwitz. Now, of all the things that happened in history, we're pretty sure the Holocaust happened the most, thanks to the Nazis' terrifying efficiency when it came to both ethnic cleansing and keeping detailed records of said ethnic cleansing.
For Holocaust deniers like the IHR, however, all of that inconvenient "evidence" was just part of a Jewish conspiracy, so it's hard to tell what exactly they were looking for. Maybe they just wanted free publicity, or maybe this was all a secret government project meant to motivate someone into finally coming up with a time machine?
So What Went Wrong?
Because they were as impatient as they were assholes, in 1980 the IHR decided to be proactive and contacted Holocaust survivor Mel Mermelstein, telling him that they have this contest where if you've lived through Hell on Earth, they'll give you a shit ton of money. They did specify, however, that his evidence would be judged according to U.S. criminal law, not "to the standards of Nuremberg."
Mermelstein accepted the challenge and offered his detailed, notarized account of having actually been at Auschwitz as proof. The IHR, naturally, refused to give him the money, so Mermelstein brought them to court for breach of contract. The judge issued a judicial notice declaring that the gassing of Jews at Auschwitz was supported by evidence "not reasonably subject to dispute." Under California law, this officially established the Holocaust as a stone-cold fact on par with stuff like "Wednesday comes after Tuesday."
The IHR were ordered to pay Mermelstein the $50,000 plus an additional $40,000, via a document that the judge presumably signed with a little drawing of himself flipping them the bird.
For more hilarious propaganda, check out The 16 Most Hilariously Ineffective Propaganda Posters and The 7 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Propaganda Campaigns.
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