‘Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.’ Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda
The general assumption is that the Allies were the ‘good guys’ in WWII and always told the truth in their media coverage, while the Nazis, through their Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, deliberately misled their people.
But to what extent is this borne out by the facts? Did the Allies always tell the truth? Did the Nazis always tell lies? How is it possible to tell the truth and still tell a lie? What information did the Allies conceal about the likes of the Dambusters’ Raid and the Arctic convoys? How could the Nazis turn defeats in North Africa and at Stalingrad into the same sort of ‘triumphs’ as the Allies tried to create out of Dunkirk and Dieppe?
In Battling with the Truth (a follow-up to The Third Reich’s Celluloid War- The History Press, 2012) Ian Garden offers fascinating insights into the ways by which both the Axis and Allies manipulated military and political facts for their own ends. By analysing key incidents and contemporary sources from both British and German perspectives, he reveals how essential information was concealed from the public.
Asking how both sides could have believed they were fighting a just war, Garden exposes the extent to which their peoples were told downright lies or fed very carefully worded versions of the truth. Often these ‘versions’ gave completely false impressions of the success or failure of missions – even whole campaigns.
Ultimately, Battling with the Truth demonstrates that almost nothing about war is as clear-cut as the reporting at the time makes out. From the past, we can learn valuable lessons about the continuing potential for media manipulation and political misinformation – especially during wartime.