The big lie or many small lies

Here is an interesting question for all our readers? Who burnt down the Reichstag in 1933? Can you recall the name of Marinus van der Lubbe, the somewhat crazed Dutchman, who actually set it on fire? And even if you can, do you not think that there was somebody behind it all? After all, it could not be just a lone lunatic, could it?

It would be interesting to know how many of those who read the above paragraph nodded and said: “Of course, Hitler ordered and manipulated van der Lubbe (assuming you can recall the name) and then used the fire to get rid of the opposition and to blame the Communists.”

I am willing to bet that nobody said: “Oh yes, it was the Communists and they managed to get away with it because Dimitrov’s trial (assuming you can recall that name) was unsuccessful. Hitler merely took advantage of the event.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the difference between good and bad propaganda.

The truth is that van der Lubbe did act on his own. This has been investigated and proved by a number of historians. No evidence has been found of anybody else’s involvement. Further, Hitler did take advantage of the fire to do what he had always planned to do and destroy the remnants of German democratic parliament and ban the Communist Party of which the Nazis were oddly afraid. All of that is true.

Now we come to the battle of the propagandists. Everyone, but everyone, quotes Dr Göbbels’s comment about the big lie and compares every would-be spin doctor with him. But who actually believed Göbbels? A large proportion of the German people for a time and some supporters in other countries who wanted to believe him.

As opposed to that, millions of people across the world repeat certain “truths” for which there is “full agreement” without once realizing that it is propaganda first started by that genius of spin doctoring and promoter of the Comintern, Willi Münzenberg, without even knowing his name or comparing any tuppenny-ha’penny press officer to him. Now that is propaganda. Sheer genius. Achieved by a long list of small and medium-sized lies.

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So, How Would You Teach a Course on World War I?

A friend teaches at a State University. He is going to be teaching a one credit course on World War I, which he has never taught before. He described his students as moderately smart but not very knowledgeable about history. He plans to use All Quiet On the Western Front as his main text and a bunch of articles and excerpts, plus lectures. I offered my thoughts about how I would teach such a course. Since our readers seem to like posts which recommend books, I thought this might be of interest.

A course on World War I taught to moderately intelligent undergraduates, using All Quiet on the Western Front, and some short articles or excerpts for the rest of the readings, could be done very nicely. Even a very limited intro to WWI will do any kid a lot of good. You cannot understand the modern world without understanding something about WWI.

A number of thoughts spring to mind, especially Lord Acton’s timeless dictum, “study problems, not periods”. So, World War I should be taught as a tangle of problems within a framework of known facts (names, dates, locations and events, which WILL be on the test). Assuming twelve classes, here is my seat of the pants take on what I would do. Further mulling would of course lead to revisions, but this is what occurs to me.

The comment you made about the war, which I agree with absolutely, would be the theme of the class: This is where it all went wrong.

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German election results still highly uncertain, and might even be found invalid

It shouldn’t be this close

On Sunday, an estimated 69.1 million Germans — among them 2.6 million first-time voters — will head to the polls to elect a new parliament with 3,648 candidates vying for 598 seats. Polls will open at 8 a.m. CET and close at 6 p.m.

Latest opinion polls show support for the conservative alliance of Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) at between 41 and 43 percent and about 8 percent for their preferred coalition partners, the free-market liberal FDP.

Schrder’s Social Democrats (SPD) came in second at 32 to 34 percent, while their junior coalition partner, the Greens could take six to seven percent of the vote.

These numbers might not mean much, though:

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Germany Revisits Big Lie Theory

It’s been said that Hitler gained support for his anti-Semitic programs by appealing to a sense of conspiracy: He suggested that Jews were so fantastically nefarious that they were obviously behind the downfall of the Kaiser’s Reich. His pronouncement on the technique can even be seen on this PBS page:

Equally important was his theory that a big lie is always better than a little one because the masses “more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie.”

In this same spirit, the current German government, through the provenance of its own PBS analog, ARD, is now promulgating the very big lie that the “Bush Family orchestrated the 9/11 attacks.” We get the goods through Davids Medienkritik.

Readers here know what I think about conspiracy theories. The German public broadcaster’s conspiracy theory is debunked all over the place, but a particularly authoritative source is to be found at Popular Mechanics, which conducts said debunking quite thoroughly and scientifically. In the editorial introduction, the editors warn:

These 9/11 conspiracy theories, long popular abroad, are gradually–though more quietly–seeping into mainstream America. Allegations of U.S. complicity in the attacks have become standard fare on talk radio and among activists on both the extreme left and the extreme right of the political spectrum.

Don’t get me wrong: Healthy skepticism is a good thing. Nobody should take everything they hear–from the government, the media or anybody else–at face value. But in a culture shaped by Oliver Stone movies and “X-Files” episodes, it is apparently getting harder for simple, hard facts to hold their own against elaborate, shadowy theorizing.

The “Greatest Generation” fought a noble war to free a continent from the boot of a dictator who employed the Big Lie to further his conspiracy theory-driven agenda. Just because Germany is no longer among the greatest powers, just because she is no military threat to anyone, doesn’t mean that the insidiousness of these invidious allegations will do no harm. It is furthermore appalling that such bald lies are being aired on government-subsidized television.

If it were just on private television, then I’d say, great, the best way to fight abuse of the freedom of speech, is to counter with better speech. But it is certainly not helpful that Germany, of all countries, should be engaging in this sort of rumor-mongering.

All the more reason not to buy overpriced German cars.

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]