Surrealpolitik: Falsehood in War Time

Author: Arthur Ponsonby

Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing (2005, first published in 1928)

Quick Summary

The title says it all. This book seems to be the source of the famous quote: "When war is declared, Truth is the first casualty." It's presented as an unattributed quotation, along with other quotes, all epigrams at the start of the book. Anyway, it's an eloquent statement not only on lies told in wartime, but the public's propensity to fall for nonsense on a regular basis. And it's full of excellent examples. He makes a nice sort of taxonomy of falsehoods: -- The deliberate official lie issued directly to the people -- The deliberate lie to a small circle, which then gets spread by other means -- The lie "heard and not denied" and repeated or allowed to circulate -- The mistranslation -- The general obsession, "started by rumor and magnified by repetition" until it gains wide acceptance -- The deliberate forgery -- The omission of passages from official documents (distortion by selection) -- The deliberate exaggeration -- The concealment of truth -- The faked photograph -- The use of cinema -- The "Russian scandal", involving mischaracterized trivialities that turn into hysteria -- The atrocity lies -- The repetition of a single instance of cruelty to portray it as a prevailing tendency -- The use of unreliable testimony -- Pure romance (e.g., letters from soldiers, tales of heroism) -- Evasions, concealments, half-truths -- Official secrecy -- Sham indignation -- Contempt for the enemy, e.g., depictions of cowardice -- Personal accusations and false charges to discredit anti-war people and groups -- Lying recriminations between one country and another (muddying the waters)


There are 5 quotes currently associated with this book.

Man, it has been said, is not "a veridical animal," but his habit of lying is not nearly so extraordinary as his amazing readiness to believe. It is, indeed, because of human credulity that lies flourish. But in war-time the authoritative organization of lying is not sufficiently recognized. The deception of whole peoples is not a matter which can be lightly regarded. (page 13)
Tags: [Truth & Real, Lead Quote Candidate, Conspiracy, American Exceptionalism, Disinformation, Gaslighting]
A useful purpose can therefore be served in the interval of so-called peace by a warning which people can examine with dispassionate calm, that the authorities in each country do, and indeed must, resort to this practice [of organized lying] in order, first, to justify themselves by depicting the enemy as an undiluted criminal; and secondly, to inflame popular passion sufficiently to secure recruits for the continuance of the struggle. They cannot afford to tell the truth. In some cases it must be admitted that at the moment they do not know what the truth is. (page 13-14)
Tags: [Disinformation, Gaslighting]
The public can be worked up emotionally by sham ideals. A sort of collective hysteria spreads and rises until finally it gets the better of sober people and reputable newspapers. (page 14)
Tags: [Disinformation, Gaslighting, Paranoia]
War is fought in this fog of falsehood, a great deal of it undiscovered and accepted as truth. The fog arises from fear and is fed by panic. Any attempt to doubt or deny even the most fantastic story has to be condemned at once as unpatriotic, if not traitorous. This allows a free field for the rapid spread of lies. (page 25-26)
Tags: [Propaganda, Disinformation, Gaslighting]
This is no plea that lies should not be used in war-time, but a demonstration of how lies must be used in war-time. If the truth were told from the outset, there would be no reason and no will for war. Anyone declaring the truth: "Whether you are right or wrong, whether you win or lose, in no circumstances can war help you or your country," would find himself in gaol very quickly. In war-time, failure to lie is negligence, the doubting of a lie a misdemeanour, the declaration of the truth a crime. (page 27)
Tags: [Propaganda, Disinformation, Gaslighting]