This excerpt is from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, an American historian. If you haven’t read his book, you should, especially if you use Nazism as an historic prop to any of your arguments. The author benefitted from actually living in Nazi Germany as a foreign correspondent and relayed some of the historic events of the time from a first person viewpoint—something you don’t expect in a book on an historical subject.
In this excerpt, Shirer talks about the effects of propaganda in that society which has an eerie correlation to the current climate in the U.S. as undocumented opinions from journalists and pundits become the parroted remarks of social streams, feeds and blogs. The repeated inculcation of misinformation becomes “truth” which can be dangerous when leveraged in the mechanisms of our country (public school, higher education, crowd wisdom, news outlets coupled with a populace that doesn’t read or think critically) to engineer a desired outcome, good or bad.
Do not skim:
I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans, I had daily access to foreign newspapers especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda.
Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspaper. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence as if one bad blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth said they were.
As Peter Hitchens (brother and opponent of the late Christopher Hitchens) stated, “Is there any point in public debate in a society where hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think?”