Friday, 13 November 2009

‘The Same old Hun?’: Anti-German Propaganda II

A third post of extracts from Ian McLaine, Ministry of Morale: Home Front Morale and the Ministry of Information in World War II (George Allen and Unwin, London, 1979), continuing the story of British WWII anti-German propaganda from a prior post.

See also ‘Morale and Morale Busting’ about WWII preparations for the coming multicult.

Keywords/themes: Holocausts posited for propaganda gain, fair-play, a Christian crusade against paganism, congenitally barbaric Germans, ‘primitive’ Japanese slated for total social and cultural destruction, ‘astonishment and awe,’ remarkable plasticity of public feeling toward the enemy dictated by day-to-day events, lies about civilian bombing, WWI style atrocity propaganda, don’t mention the Jews -- British public feeling is that ‘one thing Hitler had done is to put those damned Jews in their place’ etc...

There was in the Ministry’s anti-German propaganda a certain element of defensiveness, perhaps aggravated by the veto on statements about domestic reform, but stemming chiefly from the belief that the frenetic ‘dynamism’ of Nazi ideology was not unattractive to the British people. Two and a half years after the outbreak of war Home Intelligence observed:

The public has no clearly worked out conception of the purpose of the war. The Russians have a clear-cut purpose: they have a way of living that they think worth fighting for and which enables them to fight well. The Germans are believed to have


a purpose. We have only vague conceptions, fluctuating between ideas of holding what we have got and ideas of right and wrong.

The tone of the report echoed the stale, even bored, mood of the public in the first half of 1942, a period which witnessed considerable parliamentary and public dissatisfaction with the government’s conduct of the war. Britain seemed to be having a minimal impact on the course of events and, having in 1940 achieved the supreme feat of thwarting Hitler’s invasion plan, the public could now only set before themselves the distant prospect of victory. The Ministry appears to have believed that the British people, observing from the sidelines the fierce struggle of two nations fighting for opposed but compelling ideologies, yearned for a set of ideas that might invest their sacrifices with a greater significance than the preservation of national sovereignty.

An ideology of sorts was proclaimed by the Ministry of Information. Although used principally to discredit specific aspects of Nazism, it was supposed to represent something worth fighting for. Diffuse, vague and lacking the immediacy of Nazism and communism, it nonetheless reflected the sincere ideas of men forced by circumstances to articulate their convictions. These may be conveniently examined in terms of what the propagandists had to say about the past, the role of Christianity and the future.

The Ministry contrived to stretch a Whiggish interpretation of history back to the pre-Christian era. As part of that civilisation whose ‘ideal of a good life men have created through 2,000 years’, Britain had contributed the latest ideal:

... human history has been marked by certain definite phases of advancement, each one of which produced its own special contribution to the improvement of Man (e.g. Greece: the freedom of human intelligence. Rome: the sanctity of contracts. Middle Ages: chivalry. France: intellectual sincerity. Britain: fair play).

While the concept of ‘fair play’ may be deeply embedded in the British consciousness and was possibly a factor in the people’s dislike of German behaviour, it was hardly a stirring call to action. Nicolson preferred to speak of Britain’s past record in achieving social justice while at the same time preserving the rights of man. The conjunction of the ideas of Britain as a pioneer of freedom and justice, against both domestic and foreign tyrants, and of balanced, gradual social improvement was central to the propaganda, for the Ministry


could simultaneously combat the supposed attractiveness of Nazi social promises and represent the country as the defender of Western civilisation. RIOs were therefore asked to preach the following social philosophy:

Evolutionary revolution as distinct from revolutionary revolution is the characteristic British method of ensuring political, social and economic progress. The difference between our method and that of the Germans should be emphasised. One results in forward progression: the other in a reversion to systems long abandoned by the democracies.

[…] Germany’s claim to be the sole bulwark of Christian Europe against Bolshevism was reason enough for the Ministry to insist that a true reading of the situation pitted Christian Britain against pagan Germany. But the constant theme of Britain as a Christian nation, and a nation of Christians, also derived from the received opinion which stated that belief in Christianity informed the country’s secular virtues. There seem to have been few qualms about pressing religion into the service of propaganda. Pausing only to observe that the churches should ‘not be suspected of being used as channels of propaganda’, the senior officials set up the Religions Division, whose purpose at home was to impart ‘a real conviction of the Christian contribution to our civilisation and of the essential anti-Christian character of Nazism’.

‘God is on our side’ has ever been the cry of nations at war and the Religions Division, although aware of the dangers in resurrecting it, comforted themselves with the knowledge ‘that the Nazi regime has openly derided Christianity and announced that it is setting up a new religion. The Christian issue has therefore become much


more important than in previous wars, when both sides invoked the same creed’. Organised in Protestant, Roman Catholic and, later, Orthodox and Jewish sections, the division worked chiefly through contacts in the churches. It encouraged public meetings, distributed printed material such as a weekly series called The Spiritual Issues of the War, stimulated the religious press and put out direct propaganda to the wider public on religious matters. John Betjeman, who was then the press attache in Dublin, was not a member of the Ministry but corresponded with the Religions Division on the extremely delicate matter of British propaganda in Eire - addressing officers of the Division as ‘Brother’ and occasionally concluding his letters with ‘Yours in Calvin’s name’. The Sword of the Spirit, founded by Cardinal Hinsley as a body to proclaim the Church’s hostility to Nazism, received a great deal of assistance from the Ministry of Information, a fact which the Religions Division was anxious to conceal.

The word ‘crusade’ sprang easily to the lips of the propagandists, since it was very tempting to cast Britain in the role of a Christian warrior opposing the forces of darkness. In September 1939 Lord Macmillan addressed a meeting of church leaders at Lambeth Palace and asked them to issue a joint manifesto declaring their attitude to the war, taking care to emphasise that the Ministry wished to appear in no way connected with the statement. A joint declaration was issued but it was not published until 21 December 1940 and, although exploited for propaganda purposes, could hardly have pleased the Ministry. Signed by the Archbishops of Canterbury, York and Westminster and the Moderator of the Free Churches, the statement made no mention of the enemy and, instead, dwelt on the religious and ethical foundations of a future peace, going so far as to recommend the abolition of material inequality and a fair distribution of the earth's resources. Clearly the leaders of the churches were not going to be drawn into a ‘crusade’ inspired by a government department.

But Duff Cooper had no reservations about characterising the conflict as a ‘religious war’. Nor did the members of the Religions Division, although in a slightly more qualified fashion:

... to speak of a Christian crusade is dangerously misleading. But our civilisation is based ultimately on Christian principles ... You cannot spread Christianity by the sword, but you can defend a society in which Christian principles are allowed scope and in which there is freedom of thought and worship.


Thus the Ministry turned its affirmation of Britain’s Christianity into an attack on Nazi Germany. And almost anything could be and was interpreted as an affront to the spirit of Christianity. The persecution of German clerics such as Pastor Niemoller and Bishop Galen and of churches throughout occupied Europe, the practice of euthanasia - these more obvious crimes were supplemented with accusations of paganism, sexual immorality, Fuhrer-worship and the perversion of children’s education. British Catholics were sternly warned:

No true Catholic can watch with a clear conscience the holocaust of his co-religionists in Nazi-occupied Europe. There can be no compromise or indifference in the realms of the spirit. Those who are not actively against Nazism must ask themselves whether by their passivity they are not actually for Nazism.

The imperative tone of such pronouncements was as strong as that found in the department’s general statements about Germany. But, staffed by clerics and working largely through the churches, the Religions Division adroitly sidestepped the potential embarrassment to the Ministry of a situation in which religion was seen to be a creature of propaganda.

Full use was made of symbols designed to fashion an image of the Briton as a tolerant, peaceable, home-loving family man - as opposed to the Germans who, because they found ‘it difficult to credit the individual as such with dignity and worth ... tried to acquire them by huddling into rigid hierarchies and disciplined formations, by reverencing rank and drill’. Furthermore, they ‘are dead - dead to joy, dead to decency, dead to thought, dead to reason, virtue and to freedom, dead to themselves, to that humanity which makes men men’.


Vansittart’s broadcasts late in 1940 and the publication of his Black Record, in which he tried to show that the Germans since earliest times had been violent and aggressive, enjoyed considerable public attention and provoked much controversy. Not that his views were novel. At a meeting of the British Psychological Society in March 1940, Dr H. G. Barnes referred to Jung’s description of the periodic madness of the German people as ‘furor teutonicus’:

It must be assumed to be a latent potentiality of the German unconscious which has remained concealed like an underground mine since barbarian times. When the civilised Christian superstructure was undermined by defeat in war, physical deprivation, and a deep and galling sense of inferiority, ‘Wotan’ swept the nation away like a whirlwind. The individual man is hunted back into a herd collectivity by a daemonic spirit which Hitler himself identifies with Antichrist, and which has devoured Hitler’s own individuality.

At a later meeting of the same society, Professor T. H. Pear put an opposing view. He condemned Black Record for its distortion of ‘history, ethnology, sociology and social psychology in a manner which Dr Goebbels has made familiar’, and added: ‘No responsible social psychologist ... would claim that the Germans have a special innate tendency to cruelty, possessed by members of no other nation.’ Although Vansittart’s beliefs accorded with the Ministry’s indiscriminate anti-German propaganda, there took place a debate as to whether quite the correct emphasis was being given to it. At a


Planning Committee meeting in January 1941 the question was posed whether the line ‘Germans will always be Germans’ should be continued and Sir Kenneth Clark was asked to prepare a memorandum on the subject. His paper, entitled ‘It’s the Same Old Hun’, asked:

... firstly, if the Germans are really incorrigible, what can be the outcome of the war? Are we hoping to exterminate 80 million people or to keep them in continual subjection? The question is often in the mind of the average thoughtful man, and creates a feeling of hopelessness. Secondly, the comparison of this war to the last must have a depressing and disillusioning effect on anyone old enough to remember the post-war period. It would seem in our interest to stress the very great difference between the Germany of 1914-18 and to-day, by pointing out how in the last war all the best elements of German culture and science were still in Germany and were supporting the German cause, whereas now they are outside Germany and supporting US.

His argument is difficult to follow. To say that Germany was much worse than it had been in the Great War, and to demonstrate the thesis by reference to the fine men who had fled the country, was unlikely to reassure those people who despaired of ever seeing a peaceable Germany. However, in explaining his paper, Clark said, ‘The emphasis should ... be on the deterioration of the German character since 1918’ adding, ‘The problem of what to do after the war with the Germans if they were really unteachable should be passed over in silence.’

Evidently the ‘average thoughtful man’ would continue to be troubled. But there appear to have been few of his kind. According to Home Intelligence, large numbers of people felt ‘that no peace can be considered which does not ensure that Germany will never again be able to declare war on England ... Many ... want to exterminate, or at least ostracise, the whole German race’. Reports of this kind reached a peak during the period of intensive bombing. With its passing there were remarkably few expressions of bitterness and ruthlessness towards the German people - grim satisfaction and even exultation at the bombing of enemy cities, but little reported desire for a Carthaginian peace. Some people, indeed, were said to be concerned lest the ‘effect of Vansittartism might ... eventually hamper an equitable and reasonable settlement when the war is over’. But the Ministry continued to lay stress on the moral delinquency of the Germans:


Had it been any other nation that unleashed the present horrors upon the earth, one might well despair of twentieth-century civilisation, and feel that mankind is doomed to perish in a holocaust of ritual hatreds, brutalities and attempts at self-extermination. But the fact that for a second time in one generation it is Germany, and Germany alone, who has done these things - that, surely indicates beyond doubt where the evil lies ... In 1914 the cry was this: ‘Remember Belgium!’ Now, all who revere justice and honour have still blacker crimes to remember.

[…] The Roosevelt-Churchill declaration of August 1941 - the Atlantic Charter - and the magnanimous implications for Germany of Article 6 raised afresh the problem of the depiction of the German character. Evidently feeling some measure of responsibility for the material they produced, the members of the Publications Division asked on 28 August whether in view of the Atlantic Charter it was right to continue propaganda along Vansittart lines. On the following day the Deputy Director General issued a prompt and definitive statement:

We cannot combine a promise of peace and prosperity to all States, including the vanquished, with a quenchless feud against Germany. Nor can we regard ‘Hitlerite Germany’ as equivalent to Germany under all conditions. Nor can we equate the ‘destruction of Nazi tyranny’ with the destruction of Germany.

It follows that it is not our public aim to ostracise Germany in perpetuity. If it is not, it cannot be good propaganda to enlarge upon the theme that the Germans are a race which has no future in civilisation. What good can that do? It does not help to divide or weaken Germany: on the contrary. It does not encourage support in the USA whose people discern nothing but an age-


long feud which they can neither mend nor end. Its only legitimate use would be to dissipate sentimental Germanizing in this country. I do not think the public stands in any need of such a correction to-day.

This can be taken as Ministry policy.

This was the very matter touched upon by Sir Kenneth Clark early in the year. But in the intervening period the rhetoric of hate had become, if anything, even more shrill. Legitimate targets for criticism - Nazi education, the evils of occupation, racial persecution, the idiocy of Nazi ideology - did come under attack but were so uniformly drenched in emotional language as to leave the impression that everything German was and always would be abhorrent. That the future dangers of such a policy were appreciated in the Ministry is clear from the Deputy Director General’s statement. Why, then, was the policy not changed? In the absence of minutes and memoranda relating to the debate (if, indeed, it reached the proportions of a debate) the explanation can only be guessed at. Possibly the sheer momentum of the propaganda brushed aside any alternative. There is no evidence to show that such themes as were employed from the Anger Campaign had had any effect. Neither had there been objections to them. The end of the war seemed a long way off late in 1941. And it was no doubt easier for the Ministry to condemn the Germans wholesale than to embark at such a time upon what to many might have appeared as an over-refined nicety of distinction between the people and their Nazi leaders.

In this context it is instructive to examine what was said about the Japanese. For reasons which were closely related to the public’s attitude to the war in the Far East, the production of anti-Japanese propaganda was a peripheral activity. The Pacific war was remote to a people preoccupied with the European conflict and after the fall of Singapore it was regarded as very much an American sphere of responsibility.

The Japanese, described in terms appropriate to a newly discovered zoological species, were objects of amused contempt:

Smoking chimneys, policemen and traffic lights, taxis hurrying little men in black coats and bowler hats to offices that might well be in New York, bear witness to Japan’s modern technique and disguise her primitive heart.

Although undoubtedly brutal, their courageous devotion to bankrupt and hollow ideas made ‘these mediocre people assume the stature of


tragedy’. Their defeat would present the allies with a political and social tabula rasa: once the Japanese could be taught to exercise ‘self control’, their institutions would undergo a drastic remoulding along democratic lines and the old, inferior customs and habits of thought would be destroyed. Japan, in other words, knew no better. Whereas Germany did:

Japan was ahead of Germany in the follow-my-fuhrer danse macabre, but was also tremendously influenced by Germany. Amazing though the parallel between them is - in pseudoreligions, tribalism, aggression, brutality, false-swearing, density about other mentalities, contempt of women, contempt of freedom, contempt of the human spirit and negation of God - it is not complete. Germany is a heretic, relapsed from universal standards that Japan has never known.

German barbarity for its very wilfulness was therefore all the more reprehensible and, by implication, could not be easily - if ever extirpated. To say that the Germans had once conformed to a universal standard of civilised behaviour cannot, of course, be reconciled with the Vansittart line that they had never been truly part of European Christendom, but logic is ever the least regarded component of propaganda.

Because of the government’s insistence that British policy was directed solely at knocking out enemy war production and internal communications, the Ministry was rather more circumspect in its propaganda about bombing than in other issues involving Germany. A delicate path had to be picked out between the propagandists’ desire to show that German civilians were suffering heavily and the obligation to proclaim the essentially strategic nature of Bomber Command’s operations. But after February 1942, when the decision was taken to direct the main weight of the RAF’s attack against German civilians, the Ministry did more than exercise discretion. It lied. Noble Frankland has written of the Air Ministry’s publicity: ‘The damage to the residential and central areas, which were in reality the main aim of the area attacks, was ascribed to what could unfortunately not be avoided if the factories and so on were to be hit.’ The Ministry of Information was party to the deception.
Although not wishing in 1940-41 to adopt a ‘vindictive note’, it was nonetheless thought wise to hint at the fact that Germany was sustaining civilian casualties:


Since May 10th [1940], the RAF have carried out widespread raids on Germany ... For a number of reasons it does not pay us to adopt indiscriminate bombing for its own sake or as a measure of retaliation. The crippling of the enemy’s industry and war machine is likely to lead to far more conclusive results in a shorter space of time. Some of the targets which we have attacked are, in fact, situated in thickly populated towns and districts ... and, consequently, the enemy civilian population has by no means gone unscathed.

In April 1941 RIOs were instructed to ‘stress the point that we cannot afford to divert our striking power from the main military and other kindred objectives to actions of a secondary nature’. Indignant at the implication that Britain desisted from bombing German civilians for strategic reasons only, the London RIO asked, ‘Must Government always shirk the moral issue? Have we not the courage to say that to take reprisals is wrong in itself, unethical, unchristian and unworthy of the British people ?’ There was a distinctly uncomfortable reaction to this protest but, at the same time, a strong reluctance to antagonise the public by saying that enemy civilians were being spared on moral grounds. ‘Sir Wyndham may be right’, observed one official. ‘Fortunately it is not for us to say. Perhaps we are not all Christians?’ The matter was hastily referred to higher authority for decision, although sufficient qualms existed for the BBC ‘to be asked to avoid describing bombs as “beautiful”. There is no indication in the records to show whether the matter was considered by the War Cabinet but as the policy underwent no change it may be assumed that the Ministry’s avoidance of moral entanglements earned the government’s approval.

News of heavy attacks was greeted by the public with enthusiasm, despite the knowledge of severe losses sustained by Bomber Command, and by 1942 the earlier veiled hints of civilian casualties had become heavy nudges. Of the extremely heavy raids on Cologne of 30 May 1942, the Ministry commented in a pamphlet: ‘Ninety minutes bombing created devastation over an area eight times the size of the City of London ... Steadily the storm will increase in violence.’ No one could mistake the fact that an attack on this scale had no purpose other than to destroy large areas of civilian housing. That there were, in fact, no illusions is clear from the Home Intelligence report following news of the Cologne raid:

... nothing has given such a lift to public confidence for many months as the raid on Cologne. The public’s astonishment and awe appear to have been almost as marked as their elation and satisfaction ...

Some regret has been expressed, ‘particularly by older people, that women and children should have to suffer from our bombing: but no one has been heard to suggest that we should limit our attacks on this account’, and ‘even the most soft hearted’ feel that it is ‘the only way, however distasteful, to drive home to the German people what their airmen have been doing in other countries’.

A debate which took place late in 1943 between Sir Arthur Harris, Commander-in-Chief, Bomber Command, and the Air Ministry had profound implications for propaganda policy. In a letter of 25 October, Harris objected strongly to publicity which encouraged the view that Bomber Command’s operations were ‘in the nature of an experiment or side-show’ and which misrepresented the situation by stating that the intention was not ‘the obliteration of German cities and their inhabitants as such’. Harris demanded that the ‘aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive ... should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers and the disruption of civilised community life throughout Germany’.

Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air, circled warily around the problem by declaring that no attempt had been made to conceal the immense devastation caused by area bombing but that the emphasis had been laid ‘on the fact that our prime objective is German war industry and transport’. These were not the primary objectives, as Sinclair knew, but he drew back from admitting the truth, not wishing to ‘provoke the leaders of religious and humanitarian opinion to protest’. The Air Ministry looked hard at Bomber Command’s general directive: ‘The progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened’. In reply to Harris the Air Ministry told him that the directive ‘neither requires nor enjoins direct attack on German civilians as such’, although it was recognised that attacks on military and industrial targets entailed the virtual destruction of German cities and heavy civilian casualties.

At first sight, this seems to have been an extraordinary situation. For eight months Bomber Command had been carrying out a policy


which was the result of a gross misinterpretation of the original directive. Harris, although placing rather more emphasis than his superiors on ‘undermining the morale of the German people’, could hardly be blamed for finding the Air Ministry’s reply ‘ambiguous’. Observing in a rather chilling way that it was not his policy to attack children, invalids and old people since they were a handicap to the German war effort, he stated:

This, however, does not imply, as the Air Ministry seems to assume that it does, that no German civilians are proper objects for bombing. The German economic system, which I am instructed by my directive to destroy, includes workers, houses and public utilities, and it is therefore meaningless to claim that the wiping out of German cities is ‘not an end in itself but the inevitable accompaniment of all-out attack on the enemy’s means and capacity to wage war’.

In an almost Byzantine fashion, the Air Ministry conceded that Bomber Command had in fact been pursuing the right operational policy:

Thus, while in the case of cities making a substantial contribution to the German war effort, the practical effects of your Command’s policy cannot be distinguished from those which would accrue from a policy of attacking cities as such, the Council cannot agree that it is impossible to draw a clear distinction between these two policies. This distinction is in fact one of great importance in the presentation to the public of the aim and achievements of the bomber offensive.

What appears to have been a serious policy disagreement, with fatal consequences for thousands of Germans, was, after all, a mere difference of view on what should be said publicly about the RAF’s air raids. And Harris left the Air Ministry in no doubt that he felt free to bomb ‘any civilian who produces more than enough to maintain himself’.

The Ministry of Information was thus spared an extremely inconvenient change of direction. Having condemned the Germans’ use of terror bombing for three years, the propagandists could not easily have manufactured reasons for Britain’s use of the same tactic persuasive enough to overcome the inevitable moral objections from important sections of the community. For everyone concerned it was much more convenient to continue the lie.


In any event, it was unnecessary to tell the truth. The reports of Home Intelligence strongly indicated widespread public knowledge of the nature of British bombing policy. In the first place, little interest was shown in attacks on specific industrial targets, unless they were of a spectacular nature such as the destruction of the German dams in May 1943. In the period July-August 1942, for example, the public were said to be disappointed at the apparent failure of the RAF to carry out the destruction of German cities one by one:

... ‘in the light of the statements made on our policy to bomb Germany with ever increasing ferocity’ these raids are neither regular enough nor sufficiently drastic. It is asked why the 1,000 bomber raids are not materialising ...

There is a renewal of hope that with the longer nights, ‘the RAF will blow a bloody big hole where Berlin is’.

Repeated calls for thousand-bomber raids were, in fact, calls for the destruction of whole cities since few people could have been in any doubt that attacks on such a scale were aimed principally at housing and civilians. The press maintained the official fiction that Bomber Command had no such intention, although what were people to make of statements such as that which appeared in the Daily Telegraph in October 1943: ‘Hamburg has had the equivalent of at least 60 ‘Coventrys’, Cologne 17, Dusseldorf 12, and Essen 10’. The evocation of Coventry, of course, could only bring to the minds of most people a devastating attack on the thickly populated centre of a town.

Secondly, the public were reported to link their exultation at news of heavy raids with the supposed effects upon German morale, not upon industry and the general war effort as such. Similarly, demands for the bombing of Italy, and Rome in particular, seem not to have arisen because of concern about enemy war production but because the Italians were believed not to have suffered enough:

The news of the bombing of Italy is said to have been received with enthusiasm - ‘the really bright spot of the week’. It has given particular pleasure as ‘there has been a feeling for some time that the Italians are getting off too lightly - possibly for political or religious reasons’.


Occasional expressions of sympathy for the German population and doubts about the impact of bombing upon enemy morale appear to have been founded on the knowledge that civilians were the principal targets of British air attacks. One report mentioned ‘some feeling against the bombing of Berlin, on the grounds that there are targets of military importance which do not involve so much bombing of civilians’; another spoke of ‘ “A tinge of pity” for the women and children and horror at their suffering, but acceptance that “civilians must suffer” ’, and a persistent minority continued to wonder how decisive an effect the raids were having on German morale ‘in view of the effects of the German air offensive on this country’. Significantly, another minority were said to favour the restriction of bombing to military targets, because “they don't believe the mass raids destroy morale” ’.

The evidence from Home Intelligence is fragmentary but there seems to have been little that was not known in broad outline of the nature and intention of Bomber Command’s raids. It is equally clear that the public enthusiastically endorsed them. This throws a different light on the policy of deception practised by the Ministry of Information. It should, perhaps, first be asked just how much was known in the department. Bracken, as one of Churchill’s circle of close acquaintances which included Lord Cherwell, the chief architect of terror bombing, must have been aware of the policy and its development after February 1942. And in view of the arrangement made in July 1941 between Radcliffe and the Air Ministry, under which the Ministry received a secret daily summary of air operations and intelligence, the senior officials were in possession of detailed information regarding area bombing and its effects. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the Ministry attempted to mislead the public. Statements of the following kind continued to be made until the end of the war:

British bombing of German war production centres has, during the past two years, become steadily heavier and more concentrated. Inevitably, damage to civilian life and property has increased in proportion. But incidental damage of this type, heavy though it may in fact be, is a very different thing from the deliberate terror-bombing of civilians ...

During the autumn and winter of 1943-44, Berlin received a series of paralysing raids - raids designed not to terrify the civilian population, but simply and systematically to eliminate Berlin as the focal point of the German war effort.


Many thousands of Germans will owe their lives after the war to the fact that, given ample opportunity and provocation, BRITAIN CONTINUED TO SET HER FACE AGAINST TERROR BOMBING.

The high moral tone, shunned earlier in the war in favour of the argument from expediency, apparently satisfied the Ministry and the public, between whom there was a tacit conspiracy to pretend that Britain declined to use the methods of total war.

As the Anger Campaign paper proposed, the Ministry of Information did exploit stories of atrocities committed by the Germans. But for most of the war they were incorporated in the general propaganda about unscrupulous enemy methods rather than selected for special treatment: thus Germans were said to ‘blast and bomb their way across the homes and bodies of human beings, machine-gunning even the sick in hospital and children in the playground’. Much of this material had a perfunctory feeling, as if the Ministry were going through the motions and taking over where their predecessors had left off in 1918. ‘But the Nazis now prove’, read a pamphlet of 1941, ‘by their deeds that no infamy is too foul for them to commit - that bullying, massacre· and slavery are things in which they frankly rejoice.’ Was there no one in the Ministry who feared that this sort of material would eventually devalue the language of outrage? Apparently not, for the propagandists did not cease stressing the theme that there was nothing of which the Germans were not capable. Of a disturbingly large number of Germans this was true. But the language of hate was too exhausted to describe the enormity of what had been done in occupied Europe when it became known.

In July 1941 the Planning Committee considered whether atrocity stories should be lifted out of the context of general propaganda and given more emphatic treatment as part of a campaign to combat apathy. Sheer horror stories, it was suggested, repel the normal mind:

In self-defence people prefer to think that the victims were specially marked men - and probably a pretty bad lot anyway. A certain amount of horror is needed but it must be used very sparingly and must deal always with treatment of indisputably innocent people. Not with violent political opponents. And not with Jews.

It was not until late in 1942 that news of the true fate of European Jewry began to trickle out of the occupied territories,


but certainly it had been known for a long time that the Nazis were systematically persecuting Jews of many nationalities. According to Andrew Sharf, ‘Few facts of Nazi anti-Semitism were left unstated by the British Press’. Why, then, was the Ministry reluctant to employ in its propaganda the facts that were known, even after the publication by the Inter-Allied Information Committee in December 1942 of a detailed account of Nazi extermination procedures? For example, the propagandists placed much greater emphasis on the persecution of Christian churches in Europe, whose members did not suffer as the Jews suffered.

Again, there is little to go on owing to the complete absence of minutes and memoranda relating to this issue. It cannot be doubted, however, that the Jews were regarded in the Ministry as ‘indisputably innocent’ victims of Nazism. Nor can it be doubted that there were any reservations about exploiting a crime of this magnitude as a means of demonstrating what had been said of the Germans since mid-940. The Ministry almost certainly hesitated because of the widely reported prejudice in the British community against Jews. First reported in June 1940 - when Jews were supposed to be fleeing from Britain to the United States - and reaching its first peak at the time of the East End Blitz, anti-Semitism became such a regular subject that it was placed in Home Intelligence’s ‘Constant Topics and Complaints’ at the end of each weekly report together with such matters as poor transport and shortage of crockery. Jews were said to control the black market, to display ostentatious wealth, to avoid war work and military service, even to force their way to the heads of queues and to exhibit truculent behaviour. A report of May 1942 stated:

‘The growth of anti-Semitism is reported from widely separated areas’, according to the North Midland report. Infringements of the rationing orders, dealings in black markets and ‘deliberate cunning evasions of measures instituted by the Government to meet war-time conditions’ are said to have aroused strong public feeling.

Allegations are made of ‘enormous’ numbers of young Jews boasting of evading the call-up; the expression of ‘open indignation’ is feared unless measures are adopted ‘to bring home to this race that they are inviting a similar revulsion to that which they have experienced in other countries’. This view is confirmed in another Region, whence the comment is reported that ‘one thing Hitler had done is to put those damned Jews in their place’.


After falling off in the months between early August and December 1942, when there were only three reports, anti-Semitism appears actually to have been revived by the authoritative disclosures of the Nazis’ systematic massacre of European Jews. Although there was ‘extreme horror’ and ‘widespread indignation, anger and disgust’ at the news, there took place a recrudescence of feeling against Jews in Britain and Home Intelligence came to the conclusion ‘that “as a result of the publicity, people are more conscious of the Jews they do not like here” ’. The Bethnal Green tube disaster of 3 March 1943, when 173 persons died in a crush on the stairs leading to a shelter, was widely blamed on panicking Jews - an accusation confirmed in many people’s minds by Herbert Morrison’s decision not to release the findings of the subsequent inquiry.

It is difficult to estimate how accurately these reports reflected the degree and extent of British anti-Semitism during the war; but their frequency was such as to suggest that the propagandists drew back from giving the plight of European Jews more prominence than that of other groups and nationalities under Nazi domination. A Jewish Section was set up in July 1941 as part of the Religions Division. It was not allowed to touch ‘political problems’ - chiefly because of the Zionist controversy - and was therefore confined to disseminating propaganda to the Jewish community and explaining Jewish religious life to Christian citizens. It did not function as a centre for the compilation and distribution of material revealing the situation in Europe.

In February 1942, Robert Fraser, head of the Productions Division, issued a warning against the use of unverified atrocity stories:

It must be remembered that the twenty years between the two wars were occupied by a well conducted campaign against atrocity propaganda, and that some people are contra-suggestible to atrocity propaganda. I do not know whether there was a ‘corpse factory’ or not. But most people believe there was not.

On the whole it appears the majority of people were ready to believe reports of German brutality, especially if they concerned victims geographically close such as the Dutch and the French, but there was a sufficiently large minority sceptical both of stories and of photographs to act as a restraining influence on the Ministry. Another constraint was the evidence reaching the Ministry of the public’s hard attitude towards the enemy. ‘Hatred of Germany - “enemy No. 1” - is expressed’, read a report of February 1943, ‘as well as


a hope that the Russians get to Germany before we do, “as they’re more ruthless”.’ A survey conducted by the British Institute of Public Opinion in April 1943 showed that 41 per cent of the sample thought the German people, as distinct from the Nazi government alone, were the chief enemy. In September 1939 the percentage stood at 6, although it had risen to a peak of 50 per cent at the height of the blitz. The public often displayed impatience at any suggestion of a less than implacable attitude on the part of political and military leaders. In November 1942, for example, a photograph appeared in the press showing Montgomery entertaining one of the defeated Afrika Korps generals, von Thoma. It aroused ‘extreme annoyance’ and distaste, for the spectacle of the British ‘treating him as if he were the captain of an opposing cricket team’ was said to be universal. Such reports were undoubtedly instrumental in persuading the Ministry that atrocity propaganda was unnecessary.

In September 1944 A Catalogue of Crime, a pamphlet of some 5,000 words, documented extensive and authoritatively verified evidence of the Nazi extermination of Jews and other peoples, its unusually dispassionate and concise form of presentation making the facts all the more horrific. The introductory section reviewed German history since the time of Bismarck and endeavoured to show the gradual process by which Germany had irrevocably advanced towards these latest outrages. In conclusion it was stated:

The German people have accepted from the nineteenth- and twentieth-century leaders of German thought and action, and have fully supported, the principles and practice of glorification of war; pursuit of world domination; and total ruthlessness in method.

Why, at this late stage, were the German people still identified inextricably with Nazism? Having for so long insisted on the wickedness of the enemy, perhaps the Ministry could not help but regard the discoveries of the allied armies in Europe as final proof of the allegation. If there had been any question of reversing the policy, the prospect of drawing a distinction between Nazism and the German people was simply too daunting to be undertaken. Bracken was certainly in no mood to do so:

Most of the victims appear to be foreign slaves, and if the German people did not endorse the conduct of the people whom they put in power, then the German people must remember that they have to accept the consequences of the government ... In this war,


the Germans have shown themselves to be very good in organised fighting, and let me warn the House that they will be equally good in organised whining!


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