THE STRANGE ROLE OF THE PRESS
The years which followed, 1933-1939, were those of the brewing of the Second World War. "Prussian militarism", supposed to have been laid low in 1918, rose up more formidable than ever and the spectacle so absorbed men's minds that they lost interest in the affair in Palestine, which seemed unrelated to the great events in Europe. In fact it was to loom large among those "causes and objects" of the second war which President Wilson had called "obscure" in the first one. The gap left by the collapse, in 1917, of the legend of "Jewish persecution in Russia" was filled by "the Jewish persecution in Germany" and, just when Zionism was "helpless and hopeless", the Zionists were able with a new cry to affright the Jews and beleaguer the Western politicians. The consequences showed in the outcome of the ensuing war, when revolutionary-Zionism and revolutionary-Communism proved to be the sole beneficiaries.
My own experience during those years ultimately produced this book. When they began, in 1933, I had climbed from my clerkship to be a correspondent of The Times in Berlin and was happy in that calling. When they ended, in 1939, I was fully disenchanted with it and had felt compelled to throw up my livelihood. The tale of the years between will show the reason.
From 1927 on I reported the rise of Hitler, and by chance was passing the Reichstag when it burst into flames in 1933. This event (used to set up the secret-police-and-concentration-camp system in Germany, on the Bolshevist model) cemented Hitler in power, but some prescience, that night, told me that it meant much more than that. In fact the present unfinished ordeal of the West dates from that night, not from the later war. Its true meaning was that the area of occupation of the world-revolution spread to the middle of Europe, and the actual transfer to Communist ownership in 1945 merely confirmed an accomplished fact (theretofore disguised from the masses by the bogus antagonism between National Socialism and Communism) which the war, at its outset, was supposed to undo. The only genuine question which the future has yet to answer is whether the world-revolution will be driven back or spread further westward from the position which, in effect, it occupied on the night of February 27, 1933.
From the start of Hitler's regime (on that night) all professional observers in Berlin, diplomats and journalists, knew that it meant a new war unless this were prevented. Prevention at that time was relatively simple; Mr. Winston Churchill in his memoirs rightly called the Second War "the unnecessary war". It could have been prevented by firm Western opposition to Hitler's preliminary warlike forays (into the Rhineland, Austria and Czechoslovakia) at any time up to 1938 when (as Mr. Churchill also confirms) the German generals, about to overthrow Hitler, were themselves undone by the Western capitulation to him at Munich.
The trained observers in Berlin were agreed that he would make war if allowed
and so advised their governmental or editorial superiors in London. The Chief Correspondent of The Times in Berlin, Mr. Norman Ebbutt (I was the second correspondent) reported early in 1933 that war must be expected in about five years unless it were forethwarted, and this particular report was printed. He, I and many other reporters during the following years grew alarmed and perplexed by the suppression, "burking" and ignoring of despatches, and by the depictment of Hitler, in Parliament and the newspapers, as an inherently good man who would remain peaceable if his just grievances were met (at others' expense).
This period has become known as that of "the policy of appeasement" but encouragement is the truer word, and the policy changed the probability of war into certainty. The strain brought Mr. Ebbutt to physical collapse. From 1935 on I was Chief Correspondent in Vienna, which was then but another vantage-point for surveying the German scene. From there, late in 1937, I informed The Times that both Hitler and Goering had said that the war would begin "by the autumn of 1939"; I had this information from the Austrian Chancellor. I was in Vienna during Hitler's invasion and then, after brief arrest by Storm Troops on the way out, transferred to Budapest, where I was when the supreme capitulation of Munich followed in September 1938. Realizing then that a faithful reporter could do nothing against "the policy of appeasement", and that his task was meaningless, I resigned by expostulant letter, and still have the editor's discursive acknowledgement.
Fourteen years later The Times publicly confessed error, in respect of its "policy of appeasement", in that curiously candid Official History of 1952. This contains a grudging reference to me: "There were resignations from junior members of the staff" (I was forty-three in 1938, was Chief Correspondent for Central Europe and the Balkans, had worked for The Times for seventeen years, and I believe I was the only correspondent to resign). In this volume The Times also undertook never so to err again: "it is not rash to say that aggression will never again be met at Printing House Square in terms of mere 'Munich'." The editorial articles and reports of The Times about such later events as the bisection of Europe in 1945, the Communization of China, the Zionization of Palestine and the Korean war seem to me to show that its policies did not change at all.
Thus my resignation of 1938 was inspired by a motive similar to that of Colonel Repington (of whom I then had not heard) in 1918. There was a major military danger to England and qualified reporters were not allowed to make this plain to the public: the result, in my opinion, was the Second World War. The journalist should not regard himself too seriously, but if his reports are disregarded in the most momentous matters of the day he feels that his calling is a sham and then he had best give it up, at any cost. This is what I did, and I was comforted, many years later, when I read Sir William Robertson's words to Colonel Repington: "The great thing is to keep on a straight course and then one may be sure that good will eventually come of what may now seem to be evil".
When I resigned in 1938 I had a second reason, not present in 1933, for perplexity about the way the press is conducted. In that matter, too, I could only assume that some infatuation worked to distort the truthful picture of events. The outcome of the ensuing war, however, showed that a powerful motive had lain behind this particular misrepresentation.
In the case of "the Jewish persecution" in Germany I found that impartial presentation of the facts gradually gave way to so partisan a depictment that the truth was lost. This transformation was effected in three subtle stages. First the persecution of "political opponents and Jews" was reported; then this was imperceptibly amended to "Jews and political opponents"; and at the end the press in general spoke only of "the persecution of Jews". By this means a false image was projected on to the public mind and the plight of the overwhelming majority of the victims, by this fixing of the spotlight on one group, was lost to sight. The result showed in 1945, when, on the one hand, the persecution of Jews was made the subject of a formal indictment at Nuremberg, and on the other hand half of Europe and all the people in it were abandoned to the selfsame persecution, in which the Jews had shared in their small proportion to populations everywhere.
At that period I, typical of Englishmen of my generation, had never thought of Jews as different from myself, nor could I have said what might make a Jew, in his opinion, different from me. If I later became aware of any differentiation, or of the desire of a powerful group to assert one, this was not the result of Hitler's deeds but of the new impediment to impartial reporting which I then began to observe. When the general persecution began I reported it as I saw it. If I learned of a concentration camp containing a thousand captives I reported this; if I learned that the thousand included thirty or fifty Jews I reported that. I saw the first terror, spoke with many of the victims, examined their injuries, and was warned that I incurred Gestapo hostility thereby. The victims were in the great majority, certainly much over ninety percent, Germans, and a few were Jews. This reflected the population-ratio, in Germany and later in the countries overrun by Hitler. But the manner of reporting in the world's press in time blocked-out the great suffering mass, leaving only the case of the Jews.
I illustrate this by episodes and passages from my own experience and reporting. Rabbi Stephen Wise, writing in 1949, gave the following version of events personally reported by me in 1933, and undoubtedly purveyed the same version in the presidential circle of which he was a familiar during those years: "The measures against the Jews continued to outstrip in systematic cruelty and planned destruction the terror against other groups. On January 29, 1933 Hitler was summoned to be chancellor . . . at once the reign of terror began with beatings and imprisonment of Jews. . . We planned a protest march in New York on May 10, the day of the ordered burning of Jewish books in Germany . . . the brunt of the attack was borne by Jews. . . concentration camps were established
and filled with Jews".
All these statements are false. The measures against the Jews did not outstrip the terror against other groups; the Jews were involved in a much larger number of others. The reign of terror did not begin on January 29, 1933, but in the night of the Reichstag fire, February 27. No "burning of Jewish books" was ordered; I attended and reported that bonfire and have looked up my report published in The Times, to verify my recollection. A mass of "Marxist" books was burned, including the works of many German, English and other non-Jewish writers (my books, had they then been published, would undoubtedly have been among them); the bonfire included some Jewish books. the "brunt" of the terror was not borne by Jews, nor were the concentration camps "filled with Jews". The number of Jewish victims was in proportion to their ratio of the population.
Nevertheless this false picture, by iteration, came to dominate the public mind during the Second War. At the time of my resignation, which was provoked solely by the "policy of appeasement" and the imminent advent of "the unnecessary war", this other hindrance to faithful reporting was but a secondary, minor annoyance. Later I discerned that the motive behind it was of major importance in shaping the course and outcome of the Second War". When I came to study the story of Mr. Robert Wilton I perceived that there was also a strong resemblance between my experience and his. He sought to explain the nature of an event in Russia and thus was inevitably led into "the Jewish question". Twenty years later I observed that it was in fact impossible to draw public attention to the misreporting of the nature of the persecution of Germany and to explain that the Jews formed only a small fraction of the victims.
That matter had nothing to do with my resignation, but I was becoming aware of it around that time, and this widening perception is reflected in the two books which I published after renouncing journalism. The first, Insanity Fair, was devoted entirely to the menace of war. I thought, somewhat vaingloriously, that one voice might still avert it, and today's reader may still verify that motive. To account for this excess of zeal in me, the indulgent reader, if he be old enough, might recall the feeling of horror which the thought of another world war caused in those who had known the first one. This feeling can never be fully comprehended by those of later generations, who have become familiar with the thought of a series of wars, but it was overpowering at the time.
The second book, Disgrace Abounding, on the eve of war continued the warning theme, but in it, for the first time, I gave some attention to "the Jewish question". My experience was widening and I had begun to discern the major part it would play in forming the shape and issue of the Second War which then was clearly at hand. My thought from then on was much given to it; in this way I came in time to write the present book and in that light the remaining chapters on the brewing, course and aftermath of the Second War, are written.