History repeats itself, over and over and over and over, ad nauseam
The following article was found amongst the Papers of my mother by my brother, after her death. This article was part of a collection of 10 essays that my mother wrote in an internment camp for civilians in Bangkok during World War II. These essays are of historical value as they show that there is nothing new under the sun. It does not need much explanation :
It is called : MEDIA
L’HISTOIRE SI RÉPÈTE ad nauseam.
I leave it up to the reader to draw his or her conclusions in regard to our present time..
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen!
I am to-night in a rather awkward predicament because I have never read an English newspaper, nor was I ever in any way connected with the production of one. That I still dared to accept the offer to talk to you to-night in favour of this motion is because I don’t think there is fundamentally much difference between the contents of the English newspapers and that of the papers from the many other countries I have been living in. It is in the contents and in their influence on man’s mind and sentiments that we are interested to-night.
Now the word “intelligence” that is mentioned in our motion has been used in such a diversity of meanings, that it is better to define it before we all start discussing the motion. I looked it up in the Encyclopedia and found as the most satisfactory definition that it is “the power of conception” – the mental function of apprehending connections between things – be they material objects or abstract ideas. Is that intelligence while reading a newspaper quickened, stimulated to function or is it kept dormant?
At this point I want to quote a sentence from the Encyclopedia: “Nobody would be said to understand an historical period if he had merely committed to memory a string of facts without any insight into the causes which produced them.”
The question thus put becomes: do the modern newspapers give their readers only the facts, or do they deal with or suggest the connections that exist between them and do they refer to the root and cause of the obvious happenings and that in a truthful and unbiased manner? I hope that the majority of you will agree with me when I answer this question with an emphatic “NO“.
Before we go any further let us realize that the newspapers are owned by big financial trusts and are run on a purely business basis. The sole interest of the men behind these trusts is to keep up their dividends. In order to do so, they must obviously please their readers otherwise those readers would chuck the paper and sales would drop.
It is as everywhere else in the market an interaction between seller and buyer, in this special case between the newspaper and the customers. Just as well as one might say that the papers create their readers mind, can one maintain that they have to obey their readers demands.
What is the principal demand of the modern reader? It is to economize time. Here I quote another sentence from the Encyclopedia: “the modern reader likes his news in a brief, handy form so that he can see at a glance the main facts, without the task of reading through lengthy articles.”
This demand on the readers part was the origin of the Headlines. But now the boomerang returns on the head of the reader who hurled it. “You don’t want to read lengthy articles or discussions.” say the Big Brains behind the newspapers “All right, we shall give you your Headlines and we shall cram down your throat any piece of news we want you to have under the appropriate Headline.”
Now the cunning juggling starts, for you can do wonders with Headlines.
You make your readers believe that the fattest Headline covers the most important item of news. You make your readers believe a thing to be true when you repeat it day after day under constantly varying Headlines. You can make your Headlines alliterations or slogans that stick as leeches to your readers minds or cover the issues at hand with a thick fog.
There is great propagandistic value in the suggestive quality of a Headline. Look how in every fighting country in these days the own victories and projects are placed under staring Headlines in the Front-page, suggesting that they are far more important and far reaching than the enemy’s victories and the own losses which are mentioned inconspicuously somewhere on the last pages.
Moreover, truths and lies about war events are so cleverly mixed up, that it is even for a reader who tries to use his intelligence impossible to get an insight into the real trend of events. No wonder that the average reader accepts the suggestion offered to him, especially as it is the one he wants to believe. And so everybody is content!
As I said before, newspapers and newspaper propaganda are one of the strings on the bow of Big Finance, the power which rules the world, as politics is another. And the two have to coordinate. The papers have to propagate and stress the policy decided upon. It is easy to hoodwink the reader about things and countries outside his realm of knowledge.
All of you will remember the Abyssinian drama and how the Negus was pictured in the most sympathetic colours, presented almost as a Christian martyr. I happened in those days to meet French people who had been living for a long time in the country and they had quite a different tale to tell. How the country was in the most abject poverty and chaos through the mismanagement of that “enlightened” emperor who talked so well to the League of Nations. How people were thrown into prison for the sole reason that they roused the jealousy of his Majesty by possessing big beautiful bodies and were subjected to mediaeval tortures.
Surely there was something queer about a monarch fleeing from his country with a few score trunks crammed with gold coins among his personal luggage. Then why were we told those definite lies? Because there were other big national and financial interests at stake and a wave of sympathy had to be roused to support the subsequent policy.
Another more recent example is the juggling stunt that has been performed with regard to our attitude towards Russia. Russia and the Bolshevik regime have always been denounced as the great menace to the Capitalistic states, those that by preference are called the “democratic” states. Holland went even so far as never to recognize the Russian government until about three months ago.
But now Russia is lauded to the Heavens by the very same papers that erstwhile painted her in the blackest colours and is even hails as: “the last bulwark of Democracy”. What is the intelligent Reader to think of that?
The only conclusion he can come to, after having read papers for years and comparing their contents with any chance item of real information that comes his way from other sources, is, that he is deliberately led astray. That he is given causes for events which are not the real causes. That his indignation is roused and his other feelings cleverly played upon for purposes which suit the powers behind the scenes.
And look at the subtlety with which they prepare our minds to an acceptance, an immunity of what is going to happen, like a doctor, who increases day by day the doses of his patient’s medicine.
Long before the war they started feeding us armaments, gas war, bombardments by teaspoons full and now we swallow buckets full every day and don’t think or feel much while doing it, for our intelligence has long ago given up the whole show as a bad job and left us at it.
Why do they resort to these methods? Why aren’t we given the plain facts, and the truthful ones at that? Why is it not left to our own intelligence to conceive the connections, to draw its own conclusions and find its own attitude towards the world’s problems?
It is because they cannot afford to have our intelligence at work, for fear that we might end in refusing to do what they want us to do. No general can accomplish anything when every soldier in his army has his own strategic plan and is apt to criticize him.
That is the reason why in peacetime a democratic state works so much slower and less efficient than a dictatorial one and why in war time even the democracies have to adopt autocratic methods to get the masses to move.
On the other hand why are we, the readers, content with this state of affairs? When we don’t revolt against this deliberate misleading and befogging by the newspapers it must be that we voluntarily put our own intelligence aside.
And why don’t we let it function properly as it was meant to do, as is our birthright to do? Don’t forget that real intelligence – the coordination of mind and heart in a harmonic conception of the universe – is one of the greatest gifts in life.
As far as I can see it, the reason for this extra-ordinary state of affairs is mental laziness and fear, perhaps mainly fear. For using our intelligence means leaving the well-trodden paths of humanity for an unknown wilderness and who knows what we may find in the heart of it? Not everybody is strong enough to climb the rocky paths of the lonely mountain, even though he knows that the panorama from the summit must be superb.
So we prefer to adhere, to stay on the level of the muddled mass thoughts. After all we feel safer when belonging to a community, a nation, even if we have to accept the national idiosyncrasies and hypocrisies in the bargain. And it is this fear, this trend of human character, which the newspapers make happily use of.
Let us have done with the news and political part of the newspapers and take stock of a few of the other elements that use to compose them, e.g. society gossip, serials and short stories and scientific treatises for the general public. The first element is a definite concession to a still inherent trait of a large fraction of the reading public. It is the afterglow of romance, and romantic people are easy to lead, or to mislead. By a skillful play on a set of the commoner sentiments – snobbism, class distinction, envy – the suggestion is kept alive that there is something wonderful in the doings of the nobility and the other “right people” and that it is a privilege to be governed by them.
The less is said about the serials and short stories, the better is my opinion. I don’t know much about English newspaper stories but in Holland all of them are very poor literature, definitely third rate and certainly no food for our intelligence.
And now for the last, that anomaly called “popular scientific essays”. I call it an anomaly, because science can’t be popularized and if you try to do so, it ceases to be science. Moreover these articles have the worst educational value, because they don’t make the reader think.
They don’t pose the problem, but present him all the facts and conclusions cut and dried on a tray and all he has to do is to swallow them. They make “wise cracks” of the readers, people who are sure where men of science hesitate, who think e.g. evolution is a fact instead of the plausible work hypothesis it is.
Let me shortly touch on the last part of our motion before I run out of time. To what extent do the newspapers “corrupt the sentiments of the public”?
There are two ways in which mass sentiment works. You undergo the direct influence when you are in a crowd, whether it be looking at a good match or at the royal coach passing by, and are swept away by the surging emotion around you to a display of stamping and shouting yourself.
But the indirect way of creating mass sentiment is by the word, whether spoken or written, and here is where the newspapers come in.
Day after day, month after month they prescribe you in heated wordings what you ought to feel, how to love and hate, and whom, what to adore, what to despise.
It is they who create in these days abstractions like “patriotism”, “retaliation”, “heroism”. There is no space left to think about the purely human side of affairs, the agonies and suffering of the individual.
The biblical virtues are thrown aside if not despised. And woe unto you if you refuse to accept this mass suggestion which as a veritable dragon saps your resistance and with tongues of fire licks away your defenses. You will be an outcast, and as man fears nothing so much as the necessity to fall back on his own self he will give in and proclaim hatred a virtue and killing a duty.
In old days the saints and sages conquered the world with their voice of truth out of the silence and serenity of their solitude. Nowadays the newspapers have conquered man’s minds and hearts by benumbing them with a deafening roar….