Big Lie

The Big Lie is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book ‘Mein Kampf,’ about the use of a lie so ‘colossal’ that no one would believe that someone ‘could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.’

Hitler asserted the technique was used by Jews to unfairly blame Germany’s loss in World War I on German Army officer Erich Ludendorff.

Hitler wrote: ‘But it remained for the Jews, with their unqualified capacity for falsehood, and their fighting comrades, the Marxists, to impute responsibility for the downfall precisely to the man who alone had shown a superhuman will and energy in his effort to prevent the catastrophe which he had foreseen and to save the nation from that hour of complete overthrow and shame. By placing responsibility for the loss of the world war on the shoulders of Ludendorff they took away the weapon of moral right from the only adversary dangerous enough to be likely to succeed in bringing the betrayers of the Fatherland to Justice.’

He continues: ‘All this was inspired by the principle–which is quite true within itself–that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.’

Later, Joseph Goebbels put forth a slightly different theory which has come to be more commonly associated with the expression. Goebbels wrote on the topic in 1941, 16 years after Hitler’s first use of the phrase. The article, titled ‘Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik’ (‘From Churchill’s Lie Factory’) was published in his book ‘Die Zeit ohne Beispiel’ (‘A Time without Equal’): ‘The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.’

Historian Jeffrey Herf maintains that Goebbels and the Nazis used the Big Lie to turn long-standing anti-semitism into mass murder. Herf argues that the Big Lie was a narrative of an innocent, besieged Germany striking back at an ‘international Jewry,’ which it said started World War I. The propaganda repeated over and over the conspiracy theory that Jews were the real powers in Britain, Russia, and the U.S. It went to state that the Jews had begun a ‘war of extermination’ against Germany, and so Germany had a duty and a right to ‘exterminate” and ‘annihilate’ the Jews in self-defense.

The phrase was also used in a report prepared during the war by the United States Office of Strategic Services in describing Hitler’s psychological profile: ‘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.’ However, according to American journalist Michael C. Moynihan it has become common in contemporary US politics to criticize an opponent for [allegedly] being guilty of using the Big Lie technique. Moynihan’s main point there is that it is misleading and incorrect to imply that any such opponent is therefore somehow ‘analogous to’ either Hitler or Goebbels.

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