Those war books!

If one studies the large illustrated histories of the first and second World Wars, it becomes obvious that there are many differences in the propaganda, ideas and methods of the various capitalist governments. These changes in putting out their “War Propaganda” probably took origin in the fact that the working class had in the meantime learnt a thing or two.

If we refer to the well known “Illustrated” of the First World War (the Great War as it was called), edited by H. W. Wilson, who incidentally also edited “Japan Fights for Freedom,” and “Following the Flag to Pretoria,” the recognised histories of the Russo-Japanese and Boer Wars respectively, we find that flag waving was a dominant factor, with God, King, and Country closely wrapped up with the flags. Apparently these things made a far greater impression on the people than during the Second World War, for in Sir John Hammerton’s “History of the Second World War“, this flag waving type of propaganda is given little scope, and God scarcely gets a mention. Even the Germans thought fit to drop their famous motto of the First War “Gott mit uns ” after the Almighty had so badly let them down in the first round.

The German propaganda differed little in the two wars so far as flag waving intensity was concerned, while the Russian propaganda stuff merely had to replace the “Divine Little Father” by Infallible Uncle Joe!

The dominant idea in these history books of the First War, was that the Kaiser was ambitious, and at a later stage that he was mad. Many photos of him had the caption that he was looking obviously old and tired and suffering from war strain. Such words occurred early in 1915. The awkward point which the ruling class had to skirt around was that our own Royalty were German in origin and close blood relations with the Kaiser, who incidentally was born in Buckingham Palace and narrowly missed becoming King of England. This ticklish point did not arise in the Second War and it was easy to get at Hitler because he was, like so many members of the working class, once a corporal. Indeed such propaganda was slung at Napoleon by the bucketful. But don’t worry there is plenty of time for the ruling class to discover one day that Stalin was once a bank robber, not to mention the murderer of the “Old Guard.”

In the first World War Books, great play was made on the “devilish zeppelin raids,” for deliberately dropping bombs on women and children—an innovation in those days, whilst in the Second War, raids on civilians and towns, although met with by an outcry at first (Rotterdam, Coventry, etc.), were soon taken as a matter of course, and dealt with by “If you bomb our towns, we will bomb yours.” This principle followed along the lines of Baldwin when he declared (about 1935), that there was no defence against the bombing aeroplane, so the only thing to do was to bomb as many of the enemy’s towns as he did of yours. In other words, to concentrate on attack and destruction at all costs, and to justify your actions afterwards.

When both wars were over we learnt through these semi-official books the experiences of different countries in getting men to fight, and how nearly each side came to open revolt. In the spring of 1918 there were big revolts among the French troops during the critical German offensive, and British troops had to take over to check what would have an immediate disaster to the allies. In the second war Rumanian troops under German leadership were thrust mercilessly against the Russians with such enormous losses, causing sporadic revolts, that their use had to be discontinued because the Nazis had to devote so much time to driving them on that it was not worth it. It was the Rumanians who put down Soviet Hungary under Bela Kun, and Czech armies who marched right across Russia and had to be helped out by allied forces in Vladivostock.

The horrors of gas warfare were made the object of great play in the First War books, but in those of the Second, received only a casual mention in comparison. True in this case preparation beforehand did what was required.

One obvious difference in die two wars was due to the introduction of the Radio. Each nation poured out its stuff in as many languages as it could. The B.B.C. was in some respects well up to all the tricks, and not only encouraged listening to German stations, but actually on one occasion at least, re-broadcast one of Hitler’s speeches while it was going on, doubtlessly without his permission. True, very few could understand a word of it, except the thousands of refugees, but it probably had its intended influence on the “democratic propaganda” on which the B.B.C. prided itself.

The Germans were confronted with many difficulties in the radio direction and had told so many lies about events abroad that they had to make it a punishable offence if foreign broadcasts were listened to. But the B.B.C. were well in advance of this by a special station “Atlantic” that broadcast news and views along with gramophone records and “letters from home,” to German soldiers at the fronts. The news bulletins were such that they showed that a few more German planes were lost and a few more prisoners captured than Allied, while the pretence to be a German station was kept up very successfully.

The Russian rulers were even more scared than were those of the Germans, and went so far as to call in all the radio sets (Kravchencko “I chose Freedom”) thereby permitting only the massive state and factory sets for workers to listen to their beloved leaders.

The B.B.Cs. motto, “When nations can speak to one another there will be no wars,” seems to have fallen into disuse. Perhaps it is because there are other causes of war than those arising from being unable to speak to one another.

Those cruder methods of working up hatred such as the “Corpse factory,” Babies being stuck on the end of bayonets” “Women with their breasts cut off,” “Crucified Canadians,” or even the “Angel of Mons ” all of First War origin, made no appearance in the Second War, although similar things are alleged to have been put out on the German side in both wars. In the Second war no Russians were seen arriving in England with snow on their boots. Bolsheviks and Commu-Nazis became over night heroes and before the last shots of the Second War were fired, the Soviet heroes became once again Bolsheviks and Commu-Nazis, Red Fascists, and with the same ruthless dictatorship regime with all its spying, secret police and rigid propaganda as that formerly existing in Germany. In other words we had an ally whose political system consisted of those very evils which Chamberlain told us we were fighting against.

Do the workers notice all these things, or some of them ? Naturally it doesn’t all stick, if it did our mission would be largely fulfilled. The fact that the ruling class was compelled to modify its propaganda to the extent in which it did in the Second War, is sufficient indication that they are not too sure of themselves and of how the workers are going to take it all. In the event of another world war they will have an even more difficult task to deal with, that of having to live down two world wars, and finding fresh excuses for why they can’t get their system to work harmoniously.


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