Saturday, June 13, 2015

Goebbels and Truth

For some years a colleague and I have been working to discourage the use of a dubious quotation by Joseph Goebbels:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
No one ever provides a source for the quotation.  Our point is not that Goebbels always told the truth, but rather that an effective propagandist is unlikely to say in public that he lies. Goebbels prefered to tell the truth, or at least part of it, whenever possible, since clear lies reduce the effectiveness of propaganda.  

I recently came across an interesting 1940 Nazi poster announcing Goebbels’s love of truth:

The truth is always stronger than the lie

In 1940 it was easy for Goebbels to tell most of the truth most of the time, since Nazi forces were winning on every front.  In 1945, to the contrary, he had a problem  Although he told some bald-faced lies then, he more often resorted to vague claims that Germany would somehow still win the war because of its insurmountable will.

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