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Saturday, January 8, 2022

Words to ponder while circling the drain: The Big Lie

One of many books on the subject

The occasion seemed special.  Nearly all official travel when I was stationed in Germany was done in the back of an Army two-and-a-half-ton truck, unless I was assigned to drive.  This time, however, the Army sent a bus.

For a week another man and I had to get up early, grab a quick breakfast, and walk to the post gate to get on an Army bus that would haul us the 40 miles to a class at Heidelberg.  The bus picked up men from a number of installations beginning at 5 a.m. and delivered us to the classroom by 8 a.m.  It would run the return route at 6 p.m. after we had supper in Heidelberg.  Ordinarily, when assigned to special training or duty, we would stay overnight at the place to which we were ordered.  But the Army ran out of room and decided that those of us who were stationed within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the U.S. Army European headquarters in Heidelberg could commute.

The training program was a special project in discerning and dealing with propaganda we came across in the areas we were stationed. It included officers and enlisted men who were involved in troop information and education. Most of the men chosen for the class had some college. Its first objective was to identify subversive propaganda directed at the United States and its allies.  While Nazi propaganda was dealt with, at the time communist propaganda was of more concern.  Our primary obligation in coming across such propaganda was to report it and send it up the chain of command to the intelligence agencies.  Our second obligation was to help the troops recognize and deal with subversive propaganda through the information and education sessions held by the various units.

I came to Germany as part of Overseas Package 5 from Fort Bliss, Texas.  We were to pick up an anti-aircraft gun battalion in Mannheim, West Germany, redeploy to the countryside, and convert it to an air defense guided missile battalion.  When we got off the plane, there was a small group of protesters outside the airbase at Frankfort bearing signs that said, "Sputnik, go home!"

As we learned in the class, that protest was the result of an attempt to circulate a big lie which would create distrust among the German people.  It was a rather complicated lie, which may be why it was successfully refuted.  The lie was that our bringing guided missiles to Europe was part of an American plan to take over Germany and the rest of Europe.  The missiles could have nuclear war heads which could be used to coerce Europe into submission to the United States.  A further aspect was that having guided missiles on European soil would make it a target if there was a nuclear war.

The problem with the lie was that American troops were in Europe for defensive purposes in cooperation with NATO.  And America was looking for ways to reduce that presence, while the NATO nations were asking the U.S. to maintain its presence as a restraint to Soviet aggression.  In the class, the lie was explained to us as an attempt to cast doubt on American intentions in order to shift the balance of power in Europe away from the NATO countries.  Intelligence agencies received early reports on the claim and were able to head it off before it gained circulation and credibility.  However, that demonstration at the airbase when we landed in Germany was evidence that forces were at work trying to discredit NATO and America.   But the big lie was not audacious enough.

The concept of the big lie was codified by Hitler himself, we learned in that class.  His big lie was the contention that the Jews managed to occupy a preponderance of the seats of power in the world and were taking it over.  This was the inspiration that drove the Holocaust. It was a preposterous contention that had no factual basis.  But  the anti-semites were bolstered at having their hatred confirmed and enthusiastically spread the lie.  Hitler understood what he was doing.  He knew that many would take the lie seriously because they did not believe that anyone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously." 

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it. [(CIA)["OSS Psychological Profile of Hitler, p. 46" (PDF).] 

The big lie that has  gripped America is that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.  Thirty-six percent of Americans profess that belief.   They cling to that belief despite numerous recounts, more than 70 law suits challenging the election thrown out of court for lack of evidence, and certifications that attest to the security of the voting and the witnessed counting of ballots from each state.  That psychological profile perfectly fits the progenitor of the big lie about the 2020 election, Donald Trump.

I never had occasion to observe any dangerous propaganda to submit to the chain of command while I was in the service.  But the lessons from that week of training sixty-some years ago have been revived and made relevant with the presidency of Donald Trump.  His big lie about the election being stolen set off the insurrection, which showed the world that democracy in America is in a precarious state.

Journalists who cover the national government have written books that report on Trump's flailing malevolence as the principle through which he ran the government.  Many other experts on democratic government have written books that examine how our democracy is failing.

Thirty-six percent of Americans believe Trump's big lie.  Almost forty-seven percent of Americans voted for him in 2020. With a person of Trump's known character as a candidate, the election is not a matter of choosing which party can best achieve the standards of liberty, equality, and justice set forth in the founding documents.  It is a matter of choosing or rejecting democracy.

Trump, his lies, and his vengeful oppression of people who do not grovel before him in adulation represent everything America was invented not to be.  Although about 15 of his former staff members are looking for ways to stop him from being a candidate again, America's reputation as a democracy has been severely damaged.  It has demonstrated that nearly half of its citizens have little interest in restoring the values of decency that the nation once represented.  

Even if America tries to restore its democratic goals, it is like a patient with a malignancy that is being held in check with chemotherapy.  The patient knows that at some point the cancer will prevail.  The fact is that all the patriotic optimism about the country's future will do little to heal its angry divide.  

Forty-seven percent of Americans voted against democracy and decency.  Democracy in America is circling the drain.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States