The history of World War 1 continues to be eerily relevant today. In 1928, the leftwing British war resister Arthur Ponsonby published a book titled Falsehood in War-Time, Containing an Assortment of Lies Circulated Throughout the Nations During the Great War. Its lessons have massive relevance, that continues until today. In 2001, a leftwing Belgian philosopher called Ann Morelli codified the main themes of the pro-war propaganda Ponsonby had identified into a 10-point list as follows:
- We do not want war.
- The enemy alone is to be blamed for the war.
- The enemy is inherently evil, resembling the devil.
- We defend a noble cause, not our own interest.
- The enemy commits atrocities on purpose; our mishaps are involuntary.
- The enemy uses illegal weapons.
- We suffer small losses, those of the enemy are enormous.
- Artists and intellectuals back our cause.
- Our cause is holy, it has a sacred character.
- Whoever doubts our propaganda, is a traitor.
How startlingly timely is this today?
Ponsonby, by the way, is the guy at right, back of the photo above, which was taken at the 1938 meeting in Netherlands of the International Council of War Resisters International. Learn who the others were, here.
And here at right is Dr. Morelli, photographed with Angela Davis, in 2012.
In honor of Dr. Morelli’s work in creating the above, super-helpful list, I’ve created a game called “War Lies Bingo”, or “Morelli Bingo”, that I invite you to play with me when Pres. Biden delivers his Feb. 7, 2023 State of the Union address. (You can also play it with any group of friends, whenever you want.)
To make the bingo cards I had to have a list of at least 16 items, that the game-maker then randomized onto grids for me, of which I ordered 20… So I had to expand some of Morelli’s original 10 propaganda tropes to generate the additional six. (Each one also had to be kept short.) I hope I did justice to her—and Arthur Ponsonby’s— intent.
The grids are all in this 50K PDF that you can download.
I guess if we are going to play on Feb. 7, each player should choose one of the 20 grids, then put a big check on each item as it gets voiced by the Prez. Shout “Bingo” when you get a complete line or column, or “Full house” when you get that. (Mark the time when you attain any of those scores and post your winning picture onto Twitter or whatever…)
Of course, the main point of this is not to play a game, but to become more and more proficient in recognizing, calling out, and challenging pro-war propaganda whenever it is generated.
And I cannot end this post without giving a big shoutout to David Swanson, a leading light in World Beyond War and other antiwar organizations. Back in 2016, my company Just World Books did a re-issue of his powerful book War Is A Lie. In that book, he updated a lot of the kinds of observations that Ponsonby and Morelli had made about the nature of war propaganda.
It is extremely depressing that this work of propaganda debunking still needs to be done, more than 100 years after WW-1… Sigh.