In the arena of political and ideological competition it is understandable that each side or faction will endeavor to put forth its views vigorously, and try to downplay or even demean opposing views.  When this is done on the basis of factual comparisons of viewpoints, while it can become quite rancorous at times, it is part and parcel of the game of political one-ups-man-ship.  But, when a player in the political and ideological game resorts to outright distortions of the facts, and repeated falsehoods, it makes a mockery of the entire process.

The “Big Lie” is a propaganda technique, and the expression was coined by Adolf Hitler in his 1925 book, Mein Kampf, to describe a lie “so colossal that no one would believe that someone could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”  One of Hitler’s lieutenants, Joseph Goebbels, later refined this definition when he accused the English of using lies in their anti-Hitler propaganda; “. . . when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it.  They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.”

A psychological profile of Hitler further expanded this concept.  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.

In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Big Lie theory is mentioned a number of times.  In one passage, for instance, he writes, “the key word here is blackwhite.  Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings.  Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts.”  In another passage, he writes, “To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed.”

American author Richard Belzer summed up the Big Lie theory quite succinctly; “If you tell a lie that’s big enough, and you tell it often enough, people will believe you are telling the truth, even when what you are saying is total crap.”

Using falsehoods to gain political advantage can accrue short term benefits to the liar; can even work for a time.  But, policies built on lies are like a house built on a sandbar; at some point, the water of truth will erode the sand, and the house will crumble.  While it can be inconvenient, building on a solid foundation of truth results in a structure that will endure.

I wrote the foregoing words in 2010 when I served as U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe in response to the ruling party’s fast and loose way with facts and truth in dealing with the people. Having just endured one of the rockiest elections in U.S. history, during which the truth was sometimes mangled so badly I feared that it would be forever banished from our history, and suspecting that we’re in for a lot more over the next four years, I felt it appropriate to resurrect it.

Batten down the hatches folks, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Published by Charles Ray