The more I learn about history, the more I know that it's the most reliable way to understand the present.

From Lord Arthur Ponsonby's, Falsehood in Wartime: Propaganda Lies of the First World War, published in 1928, in which he analyzes the making of war propaganda:
1: We don't want war
2: The enemy bears all the responsibility.
3: We are not waging war against a people, but against an evil leader.
4: We are fighting for a noble cause, not for material interests.
5: The enemy commits atrocities.
6: The enemy is using weapons that are not permitted.
7: Our losses are limited, the enemy's losses are high.
8: The artists and intellectuals support our cause.
9: Every war is a 'holy war'.
10: Anyone who calls the propaganda into question is a traitor.

Facts must be distorted, relevant circumstances concealed, and a picture presented which by its crude colouring will persuade the ignorant people that their Government is blameless, their cause is righteous, and that the indisputable wickedness of the enemy has been proved beyond question. A moment's reflection would tell any reasonable person that such obvious bias cannot possibly represent the truth. But the moment's reflection is not allowed; lies are circulated with great rapidity. The unthinking mass accept them and by their excitement sway the rest. The amount of rubbish and humbug that pass under the name of patriotism in war-time in all countries is sufficient to make decent people blush when they are subsequently disillusioned.
See also Arthur Ponsonby's Dream, by Stephen Gowans, written in 2002.
Ponsonby's efforts -- and those of others who've followed -- have failed, for two reasons: reach and credibility. Governments have both; people like Ponsonby have neither. Sadly, governments can spread lies widely, counting on the media to act as a largely passive and uncritical conduit between itself and the public (unofficial PR agencies for the government, or stenographers for those in power, as critics put it.) And the face of government is made up of those who have that much sought after quality, "credibility," something some people twist themselves into knots of endless compromise to acquire. But presidents need not comprise, for it's an article of faith that, on matters of foreign policy, the president has credibility; if he's caught making "dubious" assertions, it's because he slipped or exaggerated for effect or was imprecise, not because he lied or can't be believed; which is to say, those who are granted credibility as a matter of course, are the least deserving.

Incensed that "the press account of the 'terrible atrocities' (said to be committed by the enemy in WWI) were nothing but propaganda," The Nation predicted in March, 1929, "when the next war breaks out, statesmen will lie again; again deliberately set out to deceive and cheat the people in order to make them hate and fight." Yes, there is indeed a tradition of presidential lying in the service of war.

Ponsonby may have dreamed that someday, someone would be able to write, "when the next war breaks out, statesmen will lie again, and the people will call them liars, and will refuse to be cheated and deceived into going along."

After decades of being cheated and deceived, it's time we brought Ponsonby's dream to life.
More from Canadian blogger Stephan Gowans at What's Left.

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