4 September 2013

The Wartime Press

F. A. Voigt, Combed Out (London: Swarthmore Press, 1920), pp. 139-141:
There never was in all the world an infamy as great as the infamy of our war-time Press. A horde of unscrupulous liars and hirelings spat hatred and malice from safe and comfortable positions. They played the hero when no danger threatened. They defied an enemy who could not reach them. They boasted of the deeds they had not done. They gloried in the victories they did not win. They mouthed frantic protestations of injured innocence when they should have felt the burden of guilty shame. They were mawkishly sentimental when they should have felt keen grief and horror. They denounced murder and they urged others to commit murder. They spewed their venomous slime into every spring of healing water. At a time when clear thinking and balanced judgments were needed more desperately than ever before, they squirted into the air thick clouds of lies, and half-truths, and misleading phrases, and judgments distorted by hatred and warped by malice. And as for those who were either lured on to perpetrate the great iniquity by grandiose and seductive falsehoods or were dragged from their homes and families and sent unwilling to the slaughter, these miserable slaves the Press of all countries urged on, one against the other, brutally deaf to their misery, representing them as glad and cheerful when they had reached the extreme of human suffering, magnifying them into heroes of epic proportions (before they donned their dingy garb of war they were "lice" that had to be "combed out"), endowing them with absurdly impossible virtues — when they were just ordinary human beings in misfortune with no ambition except to live in peace and comfort — and at the same time bestowing lofty patronage upon them and calling them "Tommies" and sending them cigarettes, chocolates and advice, as though they were children to be petted, with no will or intelligence of their own.
The Press, the cinema, the atrocity placards, and propagandist leaflets, they all practised the same deliberate and colossal deceit and kindled hatred against the enemy. And so successful was this diabolical conspiracy that hatred became second nature to vast masses of people. To think evil of the enemy was an article of national faith, and to question this faith, or still more to repudiate it, that was heresy of the most heinous kind. Religion died long ago, but the cult of nationalism that replaced it was infinitely more pernicious in its intolerance and cruelty than religion at its very worst.
Individually men are often good, but collectively men are always bad. The national mob had never been so powerful, nor had it ever been so servile, and that was why its passions were those of the coward and not of the brave man; that was why chivalry and generosity and fair-mindedness were execrated, and only hatred and boastfulness and vindictive malice were allowed to live.