The menace of poisoned words and ideas

The evils of war propaganda 
were explained in this 1937 
"Ladies Home Journal"
"It is true that the techniques of war are constantly "improved" as the genius of an age of invention is put in the service of the war machine. But that is not what is most disturbing. What is revolutionary is that the minds of men, women and children are being deliberately trained, directed, distorted, by every conceivable instrument of education and propaganda, to make them tolerant of war, receptive of war, prepared for war, lovers of war. The greatest menace in the world is not poison gas. There are gas masks against that. The menace is poisoned words, poisoned ideas."
- Dorothy Thompson
In July 1937, journalist Dorothy Thompson published an essay called "Dilemma of a Pacifist" in the Ladies' Home Journal; a month later it appeared in Reader's Digest. She explained that, despite her peaceful leanings, she thought America should not isolate themselves from the world's conflicts. She had the credentials: she'd interviewed Hitler in 1931, and was later expelled from Nazi Germany.

Two years later, Germany invaded Poland, and in 1941, America entered the war.

The entire essay appears below:
Dilemma of a Pacifist

All my life I have been a pacifist. All my life I have hated war and loved peace. I have contributed to peace societies, written for peace, spoken for peace, paraded for peace. But today I seriously question whether our ways of seeking peace are not playing directly into the hands of those who love war and intend to pursue it. I see the nations of the world arming in ways that have never before been known in the modern world. I am not speaking of new forms of poison gas, heavier or swifter bombing planes, or parachutes to land brigades of soldiers. It is true that the techniques of war are constantly “improved” as the genius of an age of invention is put in the service of the war machine. But that is not what is most disturbing. What is revolutionary is that the minds of men, women and children are being deliberately trained, directed, distorted, by every conceivable instrument of education and propaganda, to make them tolerant of war, receptive of war, prepared for war, lovers of war. The greatest menace in the world today is not poison gas. There are gas masks against that. The menace is poisoned words, poisoned ideas.

A hundred and fifty million Russians have been told over and over again, by their teachers, by their leaders, by their schoolbooks, that an Armageddon is coming in which world capitalism will confront world communism and communism will emerge triumphant. Sixty-five million Germans are being told every day, in every way, that cannon are more precious than butter; that war is the natural and inevitable condition of mankind; that the Fighting Hero is the apotheosis of Man, and that the German People are destined to expand and to rule and to change the face and character of the earth. Forty million Italians are trained to despise peace and to glory in war. And all of young Japan is brought up in admiration of the warrior as the highest type of citizen.


I have seen a German youth camp, housing six thousand children around the age of ten, display in tree-high letters the words: “You were born to die for Germany!” I have seen babies of six and seven, black-shirted and belted, march in Italy in military drill. I have seen children in Russian kindergartens taught how to adjust gas masks and the strategy of trench warfare.

Once, wherever one might go in the world, one found men and women who shared one’s own dream of peace, and were ready to use their influence with their own governments to help find new means of arbitration, to further general disarmament, to seek international collaboration. Today, whole nations are hermetically sealed to all such ideas. Today in Germany the winner of the last Nobel peace prize is considered a traitor, and to attend any peace meeting would make one a candidate for a concentration camp. Today in Italy there is only one morality: the power and glory of Italy. Today in Russia all children are brought up to despise and hate “the class enemy.”

Russia is vast, with almost limitless resources. The conquest of Nature, the building of industry, the raising of the fertility of the soil, are likely to engage her energies for generations to come. Not the absence of war spirit, but the thousand and one moral substitutes for war which now engross the Russian interest, post- pone Russian dreams of conquest. Or so it seems.

But no such considerations curb the desire of other dictatorships to expand. Within the last years we have seen Japan invade China in violation of numerous treaties and agreements, Italy invade Ethiopia in a cynically open war of conquest, whole German and Italian armies land in Spain to aid a military attack on a legal, parliamentary government.

Where will all this end, and does it not demand a revaluation of what we mean by keeping the peace? Does anyone really think that there will ever be peace except inside the general acceptance of certain principles and codes of international behavior? “It takes two to reach an agreement,” says Hamilton Fish Armstrong in his gallant little polemic against dictatorship, called ‘We or They’, “but it only takes one to make a war.” That is a plain statement of fact. Are we, then, going to say to aggressive nations, “Go ahead and make war whenever you please. So long as you don’t touch us, it's no concern of ours?”

Actually that is what we are saying, with our present neutrality policy. We are saying, “Break treaties, invade other nations, bomb cities, blockade ports, starve women and children and we will take our ships off the seas and fold our hands. You can count on our doing nothing.” We contribute to world anarchy by such words, and hope that we, alone, will be spared the final results of that anarchy! But Emerson said: “Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principle.”

Not one of us would adopt such a policy in our personal lives. All of us in our personal values draw a line between attacker and attacked, between those who choose violence and those who choose law. If we failed to take such an attitude, we would soon live in a state of complete barbarism. None of us has ever been taught to obtain peace by yielding to blackmail. In a world where anarchy rules, no one is safe. To think so is to say aloud in a community where a kidnaper is loose:

“Snatch anybody else's baby. So long as you don’t take mine, I am not interested.”

The world today is divided into two groups of nations: those whose leaders teach them a belief in violence, aggrandizement, that the end justifies the mans, that success validates any procedure; and those who all too weakly cling to a belief in law, in-the sanctity of treaties, and in settling disputes by arbitration. To the latter group still belong the greatest, strongest, richest and most stable nations on earth: the United States, the British Empire, France and her colonies, Switzerland, Holland and the little states of Northern Europe.

Those who have resigned from the common dream, the common faith, the common intention of international behavior according to law, are strong only in will power and ruthlessness. Yet that will power and ruthlessness have driven the world upon the defensive. Isn't it time, per- haps, to take an offensive? Would it not be wiser, and more conducive to peace, to say, “We want no war, but we shall not be blackmailed nor condone violence in others. We shall draw as closely as possible to those who think our thoughts and speak the language of our minds and hearts. We are not disinterested in the fate of free government in the world. All friends of order, law and arbitration are our friends. We shall support them when and as we see fit. Do not count upon our neutrality?”

The expression of such an attitude of mind does not commit us to wage war anywhere. But it would enormously strengthen and hearten the moral forces on the side of peace. Or so, at least, it seems to me.

Perhaps it seems so to me because I know now that there are things for which I am prepared to die. I am willing to die for political freedom, for the right to give my loyalty to ideals above a nation or above a class, for the right to teach my child what I think to be truth, for the right to explore such knowledge as my brains can penetrate, for the right to love where my mind and heart admire without reference to some dictator’s code to tell me what the national canons on the matter are, for the right to work with others of like mind, for a society which seems to me becoming to the dignity of the human race.

I shall pick no fight, nor seek to impose by force these standards on others. But let it be clear. If the fight comes unsolicited, I am not willing to die meekly, to surrender without an effort. And that being so, am I still a pacifist?

- Dorothy Thompson, Wikipedia>>
- Phil Stephensen-Payne, Galactic Central Publications>>

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