On lying and vigilance

Josef Goebbels, press secretary for the National Socialist Party in Germany, engineered the Big Lie. Here’s his full quote:

If tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.[1]

Josef Goebbels, Press Secretary

To keep Big Lies alive, it’s necessary to limit freedom of the press. If leaders tell the masses that the press is delivering only “fake news”, no one will believe the truth when it is reported. Leaders may also attempt to limit dissent by excluding media outlets from access to information.[2]

The Big Lie tactic worked well in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Historian Frank Milewski writes that Germany “hoped to trick the world into thinking Poland committed an aggressive act against Germany and, as a result, Germany’s military retaliation would be considered a justifiable defensive action. It was a “false flag” operation where the Germans themselves faked an attack on a German radio station near the German-Polish border and made it look like an attack by Polish soldiers.”[3]

Those who care about Democracy are forever on the alert for signs that the Big Lie tactic is being employed by those in power. We are inherently skeptical when calls to nationalism and xenophobia arise from a possibly-manufactured outrageous event. Usually such events occur abruptly and trigger strong emotional responses from the majority, and those who resist the call to arms are defamed by questions about their patriotism. Consider the opinion of German Luftwaffe commander Herman Goering:

Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple qmatter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger. [4]

My own conclusion is this: in a Democracy being manipulated by Big Lies and repression of the free press, those who learn from history remain on high alert for that moment when manufactured outrage occurs and a call to arms promptly follows.



  1. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/joseph-goebbels-on-the-quot-big-lie-quot, viewed online 25 February 2017
  2. See, e.g., Byers, Dylan, “White House blocks news organizations from press briefing”, http://money.cnn.com/2017/02/24/media/cnn-blocked-white-house-gaggle/index.html, 24 February 2017
  3. Milewski, Frank, “1939 Nazi Invasion Began WWII and “Big Lies” Against Poland”, http://canadafreepress.com/print_friendly/1939-nazi-invasion-began-wwii-and-big-lies-against-poland, viewed online 25 February 2017
  4. http://www.snopes.com/quotes/goering.asp, viewed online 25 February 2017 (emphasis added)
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