Truth and Propaganda. To the Editor of The New English Weekly
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[ 677 Truth and Propaganda To the Editor of The New English Weekly1 The New English Weekly, 15 (14 Sept 1939) 291 Sir, – It is surely a mistake to suppose that a nation enters into war knowing quite clearly what it is fighting for. When a nation is the victim of aggression , it enters into war because it cannot help itself; when it is a nation that has pledged itself to help such a victim, it enters into war to fulfil its obligations . As for the aggressors in the present conflict, we may doubt whether the leaders know what, in the long run, they may expect to gain: their people have been instructed to consider itself the victim of injustice. The clear formulation of our own aims cannot be arrived at without a deal of hard thinking by our best minds over a considerable period of time. There must be many of our own folk (to say nothing of neutrals) who are visited by the suspicion that this expense of spirit, body and natural resources may only lead to another uneasy interim entre deux guerres; there may be many amongst the enemy who are inspired by no worthier ambition than that of reversing the situation of 1918. We have the obligation to reassure the one group, and to undeceive the other. Official Bureaux of Propaganda, whether hastily improvised, or carefully elaborated, and however brilliant the personnel that they muster, have as their job rather the propagation of existing views, than the creation of the valuable views of the future. The ideas which are the most destructive of those of the enemy are not, necessarily, the most popular at home. To undermine fundamental enemy positions, may compel the abandonment of some that many Englishmen cherish. Our position at this moment is, I am sure, the right one. But, if we are to maintain it, we must make a further effort towards rectitude and intelligence. We cannot effectively denounce the enemy without understanding him; we cannot understand him unless we understand ourselves, and our own weaknesses and sins. The Germans will never understand why we hold opinions in opposition to theirs; if we can understand why they hold theirs, we shall have gained a position. But if we limit our thinking to opposition of Germany, we shall get no further than 1918. In order to get beyond that point, we Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1939 678 ] must venture on constructive thinking which may be as critical of ourselves as it will be of Germany. And that cannot wait for the cessation of hostilities. T. S. Eliot Note 1. TSE appears to write in response to NEW editorials in its Aug and early Sept issues on the growing threat of German attack. The first editorial was preceded by a quotation from the first chapter of The Idea of a Christian Society, which had been printed separately in the July issue of Purpose: “In times of emergency, it may prove in the long run that the problems we have postponed or ignored, rather than those we have failed to attack successfully, will be the ones to plague us. Our difficulties of the moment must always be dealt with somehow; but our permanent difficulties are difficulties of every moment” (NEW, 19 July, 19; 5.684). “The nations of the West,” the editor wrote in the issue of 31 Aug, “can change their unsound industrial economies into still more unsound economies without great inconvenience or suddenly distasteful change of habits: a propaganda of lies, fear and hatred is all that is required. . . . For though war may be the ultimate test of social endurance, preparation for it is, under the present conditions, the line of least resistance. It is facing up to peace, not to war, that would really strain the nerves of industrial men” (245). ...