Thursday, April 07, 2022

The Big Lie from Hitler to Putin and Versailles

Painting depicting the signature of the armistice in the railway carriage in the Forest of Compiègne, Eastern France, November 8. 1918. Behind the table, from right to left, General Weygand, Marshal Foch of France (standing) and British Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss and fourth from the left, British Naval Captain Jack Marriott. In the foreground, Matthias Erzberger (a member of the German government), Major General Detlof von Winterfeldt (with helmet), Alfred von Oberndorff and Ernst Vanselow. (Wikipedia)

In recent times in the West, Donald Trump has used the Big Lie to support his false claim that he won the 2020 US presidential election. Many Republicans support the claim of fraud at the top of the ballots on November 3, 2020, but they do not contest the results of the balloting for other offices that day. Ironically Mark Meadows, Trump’s White House chief of staff who spread bogus election fraud claims — and pressured government officials to look into them — is being investigated for alleged voter fraud in the 2020 election.

According to The Washington Post's Fact Checker team, Donald Trump made false or misleading claims that total 30,573 over 4 years in office. Trump's first Big Lie — that Barack Obama was not born in the United States — helped to make Trump president. His second Big Lie marks him as the worst of 45 men who have been president of the United States (Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president).

Adolf Hitler explained how the Big Lie works in 'Mein Kampf' where he accused Jews of spreading lies about the performance of the German army during the First World War.

However, Hitler's Biggest Lie was that Germany was undefeated in 1918.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian dictator, has a warped view of history dating back 1,000 years. Ukraine is currently run by Nazis while in Russia today it's a crime to refer to Stalin's collusion with Hitler in 1939-1941.

Putin like Hitler regards civilians as legitimate targets and despite the lies, it's clearly a part of the strategy in Ukraine.   

Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, writes in The Washington Post "A war based upon a Big Lie is ...hard on its culture of origin. Everyone is looking at the Russian nation — or perhaps, rather, for it. What does it do to a society to invade a neighbour, which it claims to love, on the basis of bottomless self-deception? Americans have not yet recovered from the lies they told about Iraq two decades ago, and the Russian deception campaign runs far deeper. How are Russian parents altered when they deny to their children in Ukraine that any war is taking place? What sort of nation makes war and then forbids the use of the very word?"

There has been no invasion of Ukraine and the war is a “special military operation.”

"Even as Russians are committing war crimes that violate Ukraine’s right to exist, Russians are told (and often seem to believe) that they are refighting the Second World War and resisting Nazis. That is a very Big Lie, and Big Lies do lasting damage."

Vladimir Solovyov a well-known fanatical pro-Putin TV propagandist said last week "This is a battle from the war that started on May 9, 1945, when they — pretending that they’re with us — were getting ready to destroy us.”

Soloyvev (or Solovyov) pretends to hate the West while having 2 villas on Italy’s Lake Como, which have been seized by the Italian authorities. The TV host has said on air that he will murder those who "stole" his Italian properties.

François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher. He wrote in his 1765 'Collection des Lettres sur les Miracles' / 'Collection of Letters on Miracles', "Certainement qui est en droit de vous rendre absurde, est en droit de vous rendre injuste" / "Certainly, whoever has the right to make you absurd has the right to make you unjust" (the last word 'injuste' is commonly mistranslated as 'atrocities.')

The Big Lie

The Big Lie (German: große Lüge) evolved from the "stab-in-the-back-myth" (German: Dolchstoßlegende) that the German armed forces were defeated in 1918 because of betrayal on the home front by Jews and leftists politicians.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) in his book 'Mein Kampf' (in English My Struggle or My Fight), noted that "the broad masses of a nation are always more easily...victims to the Big Lie than the small lie...It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths."

Hitler's Big Lie was on the Dolchstoßlegende which became a justification later for the Holocaust, while in the book he accused Jews of using the Big Lie.

Josef Goebbels (1897-1945), Hitler's propaganda chief, is often incorrectly seen as the originator of the term "Big Lie" but he did say in 1941, "The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous."

Hitler's book was published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926. It was dictated in prison to party colleagues such as Rudolf Hess (1894-1987 by suicide in prison), who edited it. Hitler and colleagues were in prison in 1924 for their part in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, also known as the Munich Putsch, which was a failed coup d'état by the Nazi Party (National Socialist German Workers' Party).

James Murphy (1980-1946), a native of Knockavilla, near Bandon in West Cork, Ireland, lived in Berlin from the late 1920s and he produced an English version of 'Mein Kampf' in 1939.

The source of the Big Lie technique is this passage, taken from Chapter 10 of James Murphy's translation of the book: remained for the Jews, with their unqualified capacity for falsehood, and their fighting comrades, the Marxists, to impute responsibility for the downfall precisely to the man who alone had shown a superhuman will and energy in his effort to prevent the catastrophe which he had foreseen and to save the nation from that hour of complete overthrow and shame. By placing responsibility for the loss of the world war on the shoulders of Ludendorff they took away the weapon of moral right from the only adversary dangerous enough to be likely to succeed in bringing the betrayers of the Fatherland to Justice.

All this was inspired by the principle — which is quite true within itself — that in the Big Lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the Big Lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X

In the final days in early November 1918, sailors of the German High Seas Fleet revolted in what's called the Kiel mutiny (German: Kieler Matrosenaufstand); a new civilian government was sworn in and the Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) prepared to flee to the Netherlands which had been neutral during the war.

General Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934) contacted Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929), the Supreme Allied Commander, to agree on an armistice.

Both Hindenburg and the other supreme commander First Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937) avoided the humiliation of surrendering in a railroad carriage in the Forest of Compiègne in Eastern France on November 8, 1918.

Marshal Foch demanded unconditional surrender and the politician Matthias Erzberger (1875–1921) signed for Germany (see a copy of the painting above). In June 1940 Hitler got the French to surrender in the same carriage.

Erzberger was assassinated in 1921 and the politicians who agreed to the armistice were called the "November criminals."

In 1919 in testimony to a parliamentary commission on the war, both Hindenburg and Ludendorff endorsed the Dolchstoßlegende.

They were too cowardly to accept responsibility for failure and the Dolchstoßlegende was a convenient shield. Why not blame the Jews?

General Ludendorff — a rabid anti-Semite — was with Hitler in Munich in 1923 during the failed coup d'état and Time put him on its cover.

In an article published in 1938, Sir John Wheeler-Bennett (1902-1975), a British historian, wrote on Ludendorff:

He allied himself with the ultra-Nationalist elements of the Right, refusing to be reconciled in any way with the Weimar Republic, and he never missed an opportunity of adding a new weapon to his armoury of hate. One evening in the autumn of 1919, Ludendorff was dining with the head of the British Military Mission, Major-General Sir Neill Malcolm, and his officers, and was expatiating, with his usual vitriolic eloquence, on the way in which the Supreme Command had been betrayed by the revolution on the “home-front.” His style of speech was turgid and verbose, and in an effort to crystallize the meaning into a single sentence, General Malcolm asked him: “Do you mean, General, that you were stabbed in the back?” Ludendorff’s eyes lit up and he leapt upon the phrase like a dog on a bone. “Stabbed in the back?” he repeated. “Yes, that’s it, exactly, we were stabbed in the back.” And thus was born a legend which has never entirely perished.

Germans were familiar with the "stab in the back" theme as it was used in Wagner's 1876 opera "Götterdämmerung," where Hagen murders his enemy Siegfried — the hero of the story — with a spear in his back.

*As reported by US War Department  via Encyclopedia Britannica

The Treaty of Versailles 1919

Edward Luce, the Financial Times columnist, has warned that Western countries dealing with Russia after the war, should remember the fallout from the Treaty of Versailles. 

He wrote in a March 31, 2022 piece, [Shortly after the 1918 armistice that ended the first world war, David Lloyd George, Britain’s prime minister, was thumpingly re-elected on the slogan “Hang the Kaiser.” Germany’s exiled Kaiser Wilhelm got off lightly. But the spirit of revenge that followed the “war to end all wars” held firm. The allies’ ensuing Treaty of Versailles sowed a peace that would poison all peace.]

However, while Luce reflects the common narrative about Versailles, it is an exaggeration. The Nazis had very little public support until the Great Depression.

The war debts of Great Britain and France were much bigger than Germany's: GB national income ratio 1911/1921 39/179%; FR 1913/1921 67/208%; Germany 1913/1920 63/72%.

The United States wanted Great Britain and France to pay off $10bn in war loans while in 1921 the reparations were set at $33bn. 

However, Prof Albrecht Ritschl of the London School of Economics has said that reparations came in three tranches, a net indemnity of 12bn gold marks (A bonds), a compensation of 38bn gold marks for inter-allied war debts (B bonds), and an additional, largely notional charge of 82bn gold marks (C bonds). See here and here.

It was understood that C bonds would not be paid. 

While the reparations were called the cause of Germany’s postwar difficulties, in reality, what was paid was a small fraction of government expenditures, exports, or German national income.

One-eighth of the reparations had been paid by 1931 when Germany stopped paying them.

Besides the "stab-in-the-back-myth" (German: Dolchstoßlegende), there was a strong reaction from the German public to Article 231 of the Treaty which became known as the War Guilt Clause.

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife, were assassinated by a Bosnian Serb in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Vienna declared war on Serbia. After 43 years of a fragile peace between the great powers, the German kaiser and his advisers thought a war was a good opportunity to expand the footprint of the Second Reich. The German decision triggered declarations of war by Britain, France and Russia.

Germany bore the most responsibility for the devastating war.

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) the British Depression-era economist, became a public figure after his book 'Economic Consequences of the Peace' was published from 1919 in many countries. Keynes had been a member of the British delegation in France and the book was a scathing indictment of the Treaty of Versailles' claimed vengeful settlement with vanquished Germany.

Jan Smuts of South Africa — a member of the British Imperial Cabinet — had written to Lloyd George, the British prime minister, in March 1919 and he called the reparations demand a "Carthaginian Peace." Keynes used the same term in his book.

Britain and France also had high war debts and most of the war had been fought outside German territory.

According to the Economist:

"The reparations imposed in 1921, in what Germans called the 'London ultimatum,' were large, but not impossibly so. Germany was asked to pay 132bn German marks, but this included 82bn marks in bonds that were never likely to become payable. The remaining 50bn marks — worth about $12.5bn then, or $185bn today — was less than what Germany itself had earlier offered to pay. It was about 160% of the country’s GDP, similar to British national debt at the time and only slightly larger than the $10bn that the recipients of the reparations owed the United States...Neither did reparations cripple Germany’s economy. Despite the hyperinflation in 1921-23 and allowing for changes in the map of Europe, Germany produced 30% more iron and 38% more steel in 1927 than it had in 1913, the previous record. By 1930 the tonnage of German merchant navy was about 4m tonnes, only a little less than the 5m of 1913."

Elizabeth Wiskemann, a correspondent for the Economist, in her memoirs, describes how she met Keynes in London in 1936: ["I do wish you had not written that book,” I found myself saying (meaning “The Economic Consequences,” which Nazis never ceased to quote) and then longed for the ground to swallow me up. But he said simply and gently, “So do I."]

The Nazi Party's path to power was enabled by the Great Depression.

The party only received 2.6% of the vote in 1928 but it had risen to 37.3% in 1932.

Two of the biggest German banks failed in 1931.

In an economics paper by Sebastian Doerr of the Bank for International Settlements, Stefan Gissler of the Federal Reserve, José-Luis Peydró of Imperial College London and Hans-Joachim Voth of the University of Zurich, they show the steep dip in goods production from 1930 while one of the big banks was run by a Jew, Jakob Goldschmidt, who became the main target of a Nazi propaganda campaign blaming Jews for Germany’s economic crisis.

The authors say that "Nazi propaganda consistently blamed the Jewish population for Germany’s economic ills – one infamous cartoon in Der Stürmer, a Nazi weekly, showed a gigantic, obese Jewish banker hanging a starving German businessman (Figure 5). Goebbels, later Minister for Propaganda, instructed party propagandists to emphasise that the banking crisis validated the party’s anti-Semitic line."


Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), a German-born Jew, wrote in 1951 in her book 'Origins of Totalitarianism':

In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.

The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

Putin wants a captured Ukraine to be a security buffer for Russia as Germany did in respect of Belgium in the First World War. But in both cases, it was a lie.

Prof Snyder writes "Like Hitler’s swastika, the Z the Kremlin uses has no inherent significance. It functions as a stand-in for culture: You display this meaningless symbol to buy time for excuses for mass murder that you will think up later. You pin ribbons with the symbol on your clothes so you do not have to say anything with your mouths. You form a letter with your bodies as an act of loyalty to an undefined cause. You are expressing your readiness to accept that definition, whatever it might turn out to be — you are obeying in advance. You write the Z on the doors of people who think otherwise in order to threaten them."

Putin's versions of history are myths

Ukraine, George Orwell and the emergence of state sovereignty

Useful idiots from Bernard Shaw to President Michael D Higgins

Vladimir Putin’s Rewriting of History Draws on a Long Tradition of Soviet Myth-Making