Monday, June 8, 2015
Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him.
LIES BEHIND LIES
This isn’t so much a considered essay as a brief assertion, inspired by two images.
A year or two back, a Hong Kong newspaper printed and publicised a story about a senior official of the North Korean Communist Party, the dictator Kim Jong Un’s uncle, being purged and executed. It claimed that the luckless uncle was killed by being fed to 120 hungry dogs. The Hong Kong Newspaper was an affiliate of the Chinese Communist Party. The story was picked up by some (but not many) Western journals, with the obvious intention of showing the paranoia of North Korea’s closed Stalinist state and the extreme things it did when it wanted to get rid of party members who had fallen out of favour.
Before too long, however, doubts began to appear. It was pointed out that the Chinese Communist newspaper, which first publicised the story, was noted for its sensationalism, and was often the voice of Chinese Communist propaganda when it wanted to rebuke its annoying and embarrassing North Korean neighbour. It was further pointed out that no South Korean newspaper had run the story, even though they are quite partial to running exposes of the brutality of the North. Soon the consensus was that the tale of Kim Jong Un’s uncle being eaten by dogs was a fabrication, even though (reported in quite other terms by North Korean outlets) it was true that the man had been purged and executed.
But here something very predictable happened.
Now that the lurid story was proven to be false (or “proven” inasmuch as anything can be proven about a closed state which forbids free scrutiny), apologists for North Korea took the opportunity to argue that all negative things reported about North Korea in the Western media were false. Stories of people being executed by hungry dogs? How ridiculous! Why, soon you will start believing those stories about mass starvation in North Korea, constant surveillance of the population and the country’s extensive gulag!
Some years back, while researching the history of New Zealand’s sad little Communist movement as part of my history studies, I came across a pamphlet written in the 1950s by a CPNZ member. It was about the iniquitous things that had been said against the peace-loving Soviet Union by Western propaganda. The pamphlet was filled with lurid, and untrue, newspaper reports from the early 1920s about Bolsheviks “nationalising” women, encouraging cannibalism and so forth. The cover of the pamphlet was an early anti-Bolshevik cartoon of a hairy, bomb-throwing Bolshevik, the bomb being one of those cannon-ball-shaped things with a burning wick, such as used to appear in cartoons.
The intention of the pamphlet was obvious. Surely you can’t believe all this silly stuff, the pamphlet argued. Why, it’s pure “demonization” (a favourite word even today with apologists for Russia’s current dictator Vladimir Putin). So why should you believe those things that are being reported from refugees and defectors about Stalin’s terror state, purges, engineered famines, ethnic cleansing, the gulag and complete lack of civil liberties? These things must be mere hysterical propaganda too.
Thus, to his own satisfaction, the CPNZ pamphleteer could discount many real and valid exposes of the USSR.
The phenomenon these two examples point to is fairly obvious. Apologists for terror regimes love exaggerated propaganda stories about them, as it gives them the opportunity to argue that all negative reportage on those regimes is false. Indeed exaggerated propaganda stories are meat-and-drink to them, in very much the same way that the actions of ISIS are beloved by atheist propagandists who want to argue that all religion is fanatical and leads to terror.
The burden laid upon the rest of us is to recognize when a propaganda story is mere propaganda, even if is appears to be propaganda in a good cause. After all, in the end fabrications defeat themselves and, when exposed, give comfort to those who want to peddle other lies.