GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

TRUTH Is Britain’s Secret Weapon

February 15 1943
GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

TRUTH Is Britain’s Secret Weapon

February 15 1943

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

TRUTH Is Britain’s Secret Weapon

BRITISH propaganda is the worst in the world. Everyone believes that except the Germans. The Englishman not only believes his own propaganda to be deplorable but is secretly pleased about it, for after all, propaganda is rather a low thing, something like advertising, don’t you know? In fact his attitude toward propaganda is not unlike the Irishman who said: “I hate cauliflower and

glad I am of that, for if I liked cauliflower I’d eat it, and I’d hate it.”

The Englishman has a deep-rooted distrust of efficiency. Efficiency does away with improvisation and he loves to improvise. Efficiency wastes time proclaiming its own virtues. Efficiency is boring, it is unimaginative, it precludes inspiration. What the Englishman loves is something like the British Constitution, a mysterious affair to which we constantly refer in our speeches and which no one has ever seen. It can be altered any time because no one knows what it is. The Englishman feels very sorry for the Americans who have an actual and most efficient Constitution which is always getting in the way of things.

Therefore when the ugly reptile “Propaganda” began to rear its head some years ago the Englishman told it to go away. He wanted nothing to do with it. By 1937, however, there was such a clamor for the reptile that the Government could no longer remain inactive so they set out to find a superpublicist, a human concentration of mass persuasion, to co-ordinate all forms of national propaganda. And where did they find this wonder Barnum? Believe it or not they solemnly appointed Sir Robert Vansittart, the permanent head of the Foreign Office, who was known as “the man of secrets,” and who only dates a letter most unwillingly and in very tiny writing.

With a catlike tread Sir Robert went about his new business and nothing more was ever heard about it.

Then came Munich and the threat of war. With complete secrecy Chamberlain appointed a shadow Minister of Information who would have become a reality if war resulted. And who was the mystery minister? Believe it or not he was none other than Earl Stanhope, the then First Lord of the Admiralty. In the whole of these Islands no one less suitable could have been found.

When war actually came the Government did not compromise with the high standards already set. They appointed Lord Macmillan as Minister of Information—a learned judge, a man of vast scholastic background but also a man possessed of a deep distrust of propaganda and a complete ignorance of its necessities.

From Macmillan to Duff Cooper, who brought all the warmth of a life lived in the Foreign Office, the Guards, literature and society. For a job requiring the common touch they chose Duff Cooper!

Now, since the British are not complete fools, what was behind this succession of ludicrous appointments? No one is questioning the character or the specialized qualities of the various men I have enumerated—in other spheres they have done good work—but why hand over the nation’s publicity to

men who would not know a piece of publicity if, like Lady Godiva, it came riding down the street on a naked horse?

Leave It To the Nazis

THINK I know the answer.

It starts with a deep-rooted conviction on the part of the British that propaganda is a bad thing and apt to accomplish the very opposite to what it intends. If, however, there has to be propaganda then let it be decent, dull and sterile.

At the outbreak of war the experts threw up their hands in despair. Decent, yes, but why dull? And why sterile? “Look at the news reels! Look at the newspapers! Listen to the wireless! We’ve lost the battle of propaganda without firing a shot. We’ve been beaten in the battle for the headlines almost before it has begun.”

At which the Englishman in Whitehall or the Foreign Office lights his pipe and says: “Give the Germans the whole show in the newspapers—that’s what we want. What will the Germans do with it? There will be pictures of burning Polish towns, of Polish refugees on the roads, of Polish airplanes being shot down by the Luftwaffe, of U-boats sinkingmerchantships. Germany will spend £500,000,000 this year on propaganda to convince the world that the Nazis are brutes, that they menace the whole of civilization and that freedom is in danger. German propaganda is so efficient that in six months Germany won’t have a friend in the world,

only an accomplice or two.”

“Yes,” groaned the experts, “but look what a chance that gives us! Every neutral newspaper wants pictures of what A. Beverley Baxter, M.P. the British Army ÍS doing • and what our Air Force is up to. Can’t you see that the door is wide open to us?”

The Englishman puffs his pipe and shakes his head. “We haven’t much to show yet, and we won’t for quite a long while. Don’t you think we had better wait? Besides everyone is expecting us to do propaganda so I think we would be wise to do nothing. Let the Germans get on with their antiGerman propaganda.”

During the Battle of Britain London was bombed for fifty-seven consecutive nights. The British told the story badly, so badly that American correspondents kept arriving by plane to give the American public the real story in vivid, human Laftguage. “It’s better that they should hear it from their own chaps,” said the Englishman with the pipe as he put on his tin hat and prepared to go out to luncheon. In those days I saw quite a lot of the American correspondents in London. They were on a great story and they knew it, but also they had the zeal of fanatics who were determined that the epic heroism of the British people should not go unhonored and unsung.

“They’re doing it far better than we could have done,” muttered the Englishman, the world’s worst propagandist. .

Lord Haw Haw tried to win the Battle of Britain all by himself. Each night his smooth venom came across the air, decrying the British, glorifying the German, spreading “grief, despondency and dismay.”

“Why not have someone answer him immediately after each broadcast?” shouted the experts. “You can’t leave the whole field to him this way.”

“Why answer the silly blighter?” said the soul of Whitehall. “He’s such a liar that he will dig his own grave. Besides he makes our people angry with his sneers and we need to raise the temperature a bit—what?”

“Not a ship has entered a British port for nine days,” snarled Haw Haw like a pantomime demon. “You are starving. The Battle of the Atlantic is over. Everyone knows it except your drunken, Jewfinanced Churchill.”

That week the unloadings at British ports were the biggest for a month. The British Government never mentioned Haw Haw or Goebbels. It just allowed the figures to slip into print, reluctantly, accidentally as it were.

Disraeli once said that the most effective repartee in Parliament was a majority. In the present war the British believe that truth is their best secret weapon.

Propaganda Backfires

ONLY in the tragic desert battle of June, 1942, did the British decide to use the megaphone. Stimulated by the exuberant approval of Major Randolph Churchill the famous “Cairo spokesman”

Continued on page 29

London Letter

Continued from page 11

let himself go. Day by day he proclaimed to an awe-struck world that Rommel had lost his tanks, that Rommel was in full retreat, that the desert was ours...And just then Rommel hit back, Tobruck fell, Egypt was invaded and Alexandria was in jeopardy.

“You see,” said the pipe-smoker in Whitehall, “that is what happens when you blow your own trumpet.”

Parliament shook its head. The British people shook their heads. Churchill senior shook his head and fired the generals at the top.

The war went on. “The Mediterranean is completely closed to the British,” bellowed Goebbels. And even as he shouted the words a British convoy was steaming out from Gibraltar to force its way through to Malta.

“The Murmansk route to Russia is closed for ever to the British,” shrieked Goebbels. And the captains on the bridges of their ships gazed calmly as the convoy steamed on with aid to Russia.

Never has any man worked so hard to convince the world as Dr. Goebbels. Day after day he made his claims in categorical language and day after day the British Navy answered “liar.”

I can almost find it in my heart to be sorry for the little clubfooted

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Ananias of Berlin. Plow could his twisted mind and shrunken soul understand the seamen of Britain?

Six months ago I was staying with the captain of a cruiser at Portsmouth. “That Murmansk route is pretty tough,” he said. “The Germans have made a Gibraltar out of Trondheim. We’re exposed to aerial and submarine attack almost the whole way and most of the time the weather is so cold and foul that you’re/rozen to your marrow. And then there’s always the chance of the Tirpitz coming out.”

“So Goebbels is probably right,”

I said. “We can’t send any more supplies to Russia by that route.”

He poured himself a whisky and soda.

“Russia has to have supplies,” he said calmly.

Two or three weeks ago I saw a picture of him coming away from Buckingham Palace. He had gone through to Murmansk once more. “Don’t talk to me about the British Navy,” said a pretty Argentine woman at dinner one night lately. “It always makes me cry and I look so awful when I cry.”

I could not help recalling a virtuous visit I made a year or so ago when I called at the Admiralty to see my parliamentary colleague, A. V. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Earnestly I pleaded with him to give out more news about the Navy. He was impressed by my sincerity and summoned an officer j who has more or less something or j other to do with publicity.

“Haven’t you anything you could give out?” pleaded the First Lord.

The officer looked surprised. “I shouldn’t think so,” he said, “there’s only the usual stuff. Just routine, you know.”

Came November 1942. The world i

rang with the magnificent landing of the Americans in Africa. Well done, America! It was a brilliant plan audaciously carried out.

“Listen,” said the Americans who had landed. “Who do you think brought us here?”

The British Admiralty almost blushed. It was extraordinarily decent of the Americans but really, old boy, it was just another job for the Navy. And once more it was the Americans who told the tale for the British.

Cruel Blow for Hitler

BUT DO not imagine that the British had not something up their sleeve. November wound to its close. Hitler, bleeding from a dozen wounds, made a speech. “The month of November,” he said, “has worked out exactly to our plan. Our glorious troops have disengaged themselves from the British in Egypt and from the Russians in the Caucasus. The war can only end one way.”

The British reply was one of the cruellest things in history. The British Parliament met for a full week’s discussion— on the war?—on the second front?—on the air offensive?—or prospects for 1943? No. It was summoned to discuss reconstruction plans for after the war and to receive the “all in” economic postwar report of Sir William Beveridge.

I suggest to you that as propaganda during a war it has no parallel in all history. Imagine the effect on Germany ! It is as if two boxers were struggling for a knockout in the last round and one of them, while holding the other at bay, says to one of his seconds: “ Y ou might order me a table at the Savoy, will you? I want to celebrate.”

It is really very hard on the other fellow’s morale.

All day and night the radio, in a dozen languages, has been pumping the Beveridge report into the countries of Europe. “We are going to do away with want in Britain,” they say. “Britain, by her example, will lead the world to a new era of human security. And this is how we shall do it.”

Not a mention of Hitler or Mussolini. Not a word about Africa or Egypt. It was just a forecast by John Bull & Co. of their plans for the future to be put into effect as soon as existing commitments are concluded. Poor Goebbels! Poor Haw Haw! Poor Hitler, chewing the corner of his carpet! And they thought they knew all about propaganda. . . *

My mind goes back to that morning in March 1938 when Hitler had marched into Prague and Doctor Fitz Randolph of the German Embassy had come to lunch with me.

“I think it means war,” he said gravely. “I am afraid that nothing can prevent war now. And when it comes we shall be beaten as we were before.. .by British propaganda.”