Friday, September 12, 2008

George Orwell on historical truth

A thought for the day:

During the Spanish civil war I found myself feeling very strongly that a true history of this war never would or could be written. Accurate figures, objective accounts of what was happening, simply did not exist. And if I felt that even in 1937, when the Spanish Government was still in being, and the lies which the various Republican factions were telling about each other and about the enemy were relatively small ones, how does the case stand now? Even if Franco is overthrown, what kind of records will the future historian have to go upon? And if Franco or anyone at all resembling him remains in power, the history of the war will consist quite largely of "facts" which millions of people now living know to be lies. One of these "facts," for instance, is that there was a considerable Russian army in Spain. There exists the most abundant evidence that there was no such army. Yet if Franco remains in power, and if Fascism in general survives, that Russian army will go into the history books and future school children will believe in it. So for practical purposes the lie will have become truth.

This kind of thing is happening all the time.
George Orwell, "As I Please" (Tribune, February 4, 1944), in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters: As I Please, 1943-1945 (David R. Godine, 2000)

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

In general, Orwell fires me up, but this made me sadder than anything I've read in days (including more than 70 freshmen responses in the last 48 hours). I understand now why so many people hope so intensely for divine justice: we're unlikely to see any other kind.

Michael Leddy said...

Stefan, you can imagine my frame of mind when I came across this passage. The corporate media's response to distortions, evasions, and outright lies is appalling.

"In what respect, Charlie?"

In its lack of regard for truth.