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George Orwell on Draza Mihailovich
Media Disinformation and Self-Censorship
By Carl Savich | Blog
December 3, 2008
When George Orwell published his political satire Animal Farm in 1945, he wrote a preface to the book that was deleted and censored from the rest of the text. In the preface, Orwell criticized the media censorship and suppression that were endemic in Western countries during World War II.
The censored, deleted, and suppressed proposed 1945 preface to Animal farm was first published in The Times Literary Supplement on September 15, 1972 as an essay entitled “The Freedom of the Press”. In the preface, Orwell analyzed and deconstructed government and media censorship in Britain during World War II. Orwell focused on the case of Draza Mihailovich, the Serbian resistance leader in Yugoslavia who was first supported and aided by the Allies, the U.S., Soviet Union, and Britain, but later denounced and rejected in favor of the Communist leader Josip Broz Tito. Why was there a shift and reversal of support for Mihailovich? What role did the Western media play in censoring, distorting, and falsifying the facts in the case?
In the deleted preface, Orwell discussed and criticized the British government’s censorship of his book Animal Farm in the wider context of Western media censorship. Orwell analyzed self-imposed media self-censorship and how events and facts were censored and distorted in British society, where the government and media suppressed uncomfortable or unpopular truths. In the dystopian satire 1984 (1949), Orwell would term this “duckspeak”, which in Newspeak meant literally to quack like a duck or to speak without thinking.
In 1984, duckspeak is defined:
“’There is a word in Newspeak,’ said Syme, ‘I don't know whether you know it: duckspeak, to talk like a duck. It is one of those interesting words that have two contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it is abuse, applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.’
Unquestionably Syme will be vaporized, Winston thought again.
George Orwell, whose birth name was Eric Arthur Blair, was a socialist himself throughout his life and career. During the Spanish Civil War, Orwell joined POUM (Workers' Party of Marxist Unification) in Spain and in 1938 joined the British Labour Party. He was wounded and labeled a “Trotskyite” when the Spanish Communist Party forces attacked the POUM and anarchist elements in the movement. In the 1920s, Orwell had been an anarchist. This is a fact usually censored and deleted in any biographical profile of Orwell. Orwell criticized Soviet Communistic socialism because he was a socialist himself. It took one to know one. The fact that Orwell was a socialist was de-emphasized because the British government and the U.S. government used and manipulated his writings against the Soviet Union and against communism and socialism during the Cold War.
Orwell became a primary source in the ideological conflict between the Western countries such as Britain and the U.S. and the Eastern countries represented by the Soviet Union and China. So his writings were invariably exploited and prostituted as propaganda in the ideological conflict of the Cold War. Propaganda and ideology are black and white. There is no room for any shades of gray. This is why his criticisms and examination of Western media censorship and suppression were themselves suppressed and omitted. The preface to Animal farm itself was suppressed and censored and deleted from the book. Orwell warned that media suppression in the West represented a “slide towards Fascist ways of thought”.
George Orwell had first-hand experience and knowledge on how Western persuasion and manipulation techniques worked. Orwell worked as a propagandist himself during World War II to make ends meet financially. Again, it took one to know one. From 1941 to 1943, Orwell worked on propaganda broadcasts for the BBC Overseas Service as Talks Producer that targeted India, which was a British colony at the time. He joined the Overseas Service on August 18, 1941. The BBC broadcasts were carefully controlled, manipulated, and censored by the British Ministry of Information (MOI). British propaganda was more subtle and sophisticated than German or Soviet propaganda.
The model for the “Ministry of Truth” in the novel 1984 was the British Ministry of Information, not the Soviet Party organ Pravda as most erroneously believe. Orwell used his experiences working for the Ministry of Information to create satire. Orwell witnessed personally how history was falsified and rewritten which he explained in 1984: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” Orwell perceived how governments and the media manipulated language to serve their own ends: “Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Finally, Orwell saw how language was used by the governments and the media in Western countries to control and to manipulate thought and thinking: “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Ultimately, the goal of the Ministry of Information is to ensure the creation of unanimity and to preclude dissent by establishing “a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting - three hundred million people all with the same face.” The print media, television, radio, records, movies, books, magazines, cable and satellite networks, allow a government to control thought and public opinion and to ensure unanimity that was not possible before the advent of this new technology. Orwell noted in the dystopia 1984 that “private life came to an end” because the government and the media can now easily control and manipulate public opinion and thought. The pressures and weight of political correctness and societal conformity can be insurmountable. The government ultimately decides what is politically correct and acceptable. Uniformity and conformity are invariably the objectives.
British propagandists had learned valuable lessons from the propaganda of World War I. British propaganda in World War I had been over-the-top, outlandish, and based on outright lies and deceptions. British propagandists had discredited the media and had insulted the intelligence of the British population. The images of Belgian babies on German bayonets and German soldiers as baby killers and rapists which British propaganda had manufactured in World War I had been exposed as hoaxes and fabrications. The British media had lost credibility in the fallout of the post-war revelations. A change was needed to restore confidence and credibility in the British media.
The response was a more subtle and psychologically sophisticated model of persuasion, a persuasion model that was factually-based. British propaganda was based on sticking to facts, that is, in manipulating facts and in telling half-truths, not censoring the news outright, but selecting what news to present, and in pre-censorship, controlling the news at the point of generation, “invisible censorship”. This technique was the most effective.
The key to British and U.S. propaganda and censorship is self-censorship. In April, 1940, the Press and Censorship Bureau were incorporated directly into the MOI which allowed the British government to control the news, news dissemination and generation. The key, however, is not direct control and suppression or censorship. British, U.S., and Western propaganda were effective due largely to self-censorship.
In the deleted proposed preface to Animal Farm, re-titled “The Freedom of the Press”, George Orwell analyzed the role of censorship in Britain during World War II. Animal Farm was written in the form of an allegory or as “a fairy story”. But there was no doubt at all that is was based on and directed against the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin.
In the deleted preface, Orwell analyzed British self-censorship. In particular, Orwell examined the case of Draza Mihailovich:
“In the internal struggles in the various occupied countries, the British press has in almost all cases sided with the faction favoured by the Russians and libelled the opposing faction, sometimes suppressing material evidence in order to do so. A particularly glaring case was that of Colonel Mihailovich, the Jugoslav Chetnik leader. The Russians, who had their own Jugoslav protege in Marshal Tito, accused Mihailovich of collaborating with the Germans. This accusation was promptly taken up by the British press: Mihailovich’s supporters were given no chance of answering it, and facts contradicting it were simply kept out of print. In July of 1943 the Germans offered a reward of 100,000 gold crowns for the capture of Tito, and a similar reward for the capture of Mihailovich. The British press ‘splashed’ the reward for Tito, but only one paper mentioned (in small print) the reward for Mihailovich: and the charges of collaborating with the Germans continued.”
Orwell also noted instances of censorship during the civil war in Spain from 1936 to 1939 where he fought on the Republican side against Francisco Franco’s Nationalists. Although a socialist, Orwell was embittered by his experiences in Spain because of the repressive nature of the Communist forces there, supported by Joseph Stalin, which sought to suppress all dissent. He described censorship during the civil war in Spain:
“Very similar things happened during the Spanish civil war. Then, too, the factions on the Republican side which the Russians were determined to crush were recklessly libelled in the English leftwing press, and any statement in their defence even in letter form, was refused publication. At present, not only is serious criticism of the USSR considered reprehensible, but even the fact of the existence of such criticism is kept secret in some cases. For example, shortly before his death Trotsky had written a biography of Stalin. One may assume that it was not an altogether unbiased book, but obviously it was saleable. An American publisher had arranged to issue it and the book was in print — 1 believe the review copies had been sent out — when the USSR entered the war. The book was immediately withdrawn. Not a word about this has ever appeared in the British press, though clearly the existence of such a book, and its suppression, was a news item worth a few paragraphs.”
Orwell analyzed how censorship in the Western countries differed from that in the totalitarian states. In the totalitarian states, censorship was outright and open. In the Western countries, however, censorship was more subtle and covert in nature. Censorship existed in both states, but in the Western state censorship was perceived as benign and innocuous and self-imposed. In Western countries, censorship thus becomes self-censorship.
Orwell analyzed British self-censorship:
“We have not been subjected to the kind of totalitarian 'co-ordination' that it might have been reasonable to expect. The press has some justified grievances, but on the whole the Government has behaved well and has been surprisingly tolerant of minority opinions. The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news - things which on their own merits would get the big headlines - being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that 'it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is 'not done' to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was 'not done' to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.
At this moment what is demanded by the prevailing orthodoxy is an uncritical admiration of Soviet Russia.
Obviously it is not desirable that a government department should have any power of censorship (except security censorship, which no one objects to in war time) over books which are not officially sponsored. But the chief danger to freedom of thought and speech at this moment is not the direct interference of the MOI or any official body. If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion.
It is important to distinguish between the kind of censorship that the English literary intelligentsia voluntarily impose upon themselves, and the censorship that can sometimes be enforced by pressure groups. Notoriously, certain topics cannot be discussed because of 'vested interests'.
The issue involved here is quite a simple one: Is every opinion, however unpopular - however foolish, even - entitled to a hearing?”
Orwell cited Voltaire’s argument that free speech consisted of or entailed the right to utter unpopular or unacceptable statements: “Voltaire: 'I detest what you say; I will defend to the death your right to say it'.”
Orwell argued against media censorship and suppression: “If the intellectual liberty which without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of western civilization means anything at all, it means that everyone shall have the right to say and to print what he believes to be the truth, provided only that it does not harm the rest of the community in some quite unmistakable way.”
For Orwell, freedom of speech means ultimately the right to say what is unpopular and what is unaccepted or unacceptable: “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
In 1984, the meaning of freedom is explained as being free to say what is obvious and self-evident: “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
In the January 12, 1945 As I Please series in the Tribune, George Orwell discussed censorship and media manipulation and deception in the case of Draza Mihailovich:
“I invite attention to an article entitled ‘The Truth about Mihailovich?’ (the author of it also writes for Tribune, by the way) in the current World Review. It deals with the campaign in the British press and the B.B.C. to brand Mihailovich as a German agent.
Jugoslav politics are very complicated and I make no pretence of being an expert on them. For all I know it was entirely right on the part of Britain as well as the U.S.S.R. to drop Mihailovich and support Tito. But what interests me is the readiness, once this decision had been taken, of reputable British newspapers to connive at what amounted to forgery in order to discredit the man whom they had been backing a few months earlier. There is no doubt that this happened. The author of the article gives details of one out of a number of instances in which material facts were suppressed in the most impudent way. Presented with very strong evidence to show that Mihailovich was not a German agent, the majority of our newspapers simply refused to print it, while repeating the charges of treachery just as before.”
Orwell referred to the article “The Truth About Mihailovich?” which appeared in the World Review by Captain Maurice Vitou, who had been an escaped British POW who had joined Draza Mihailovich’s resistance forces, the Yugoslav Home Army, in 1941. Vitou offered his personal and eyewitness accounts of the resistance movements in Yugoslavia during the war.
On July 21, 1943, the German occupation forces published a reward of 100,000 German gold marks for the capture of Draza Mihailovich and Josip Broz Tito in Novo Vreme and other newspapers in Yugoslavia.
The BBC, however, in making its international news broadcasts declared that the 100,000 reward was offered for Tito only, omitting the fact that the reward was for both Mihailovich and Tito. As David Martin noted in The Web of Disinformation, in the context of Yugoslavia, this amounted to deception: “This was one of those half-truths that are equivalent to total falsehoods.” The BBC had based its information from that provided by the SOE Cairo, the Special Operations Executive, the wartime British intelligence agency, whose Yugoslav Section was based in Cairo, Egypt. The error was pointed out to the BBC but no corrections were made. The lie and falsification was allowed to stand.
In October, 1943, Mihailovich’s guerrilla forces destroyed five bridges on the Uzice-Visegrad-Sarajevo railway line, four in the Mokra Gora region of Serbia and one in Visegrad in eastern Bosnia. On October 4, 1943, Mihailovich’s resistance forces had captured the Bosnian town of Visegrad which had been occupied by a German and Ustasha garrison, made up of local Bosnian Muslim collaborators with the Nazis who had committed massacres of Bosnian Serb civilians at the outset of the German occupation of Yugoslavia. Mihailovich’s forces were reported to have killed several hundred German troops and Ustasha/Bosnian Muslim collaborators in seizing the town. Mihailovich’s guerrilla forces then blew up a Visegrad bridge that was 150 meters long, a steel span railroad bridge over a gorge. The explosive charges were set by Major Archie Jack, a member of the British mission that was part of Mihailovich’s forces. Brigadier Charles Armstrong, the chief of the British mission to Mihailovich, and U.S. Colonel Albert “Dutch” Seitz, the chief of the U.S. mission to Mihailovich, personally witnessed and participated in this important guerrilla action by Mihailovich’s resistance forces. Colonel William Bailey had also witnessed operations of Mihailovich’s guerrilla forces. David Martin described the destruction of the Visegrad bridge: “This was probably the biggest single bridge-busting operation carried out by Balkan guerrillas during the war.” Armstrong sent a detailed report to SOE Cairo describing the operation and sent a request to the BBC to announce the success of the action.
The BBC, however, announced in its news broadcasts that Tito and the Communist Partisans had blown up the bridges. The BBC announced: “The Partisans have destroyed the five bridges of the railway Uzice-Visegrad.” The BBC never corrected this error and deception. There was never any retraction.
Armstrong sent a letter of protest on November 18. 1943, to SOE Cairo:
“If you want to get the best out of Mihailovic you must give him fairer press and broadcasts. Bailey was with Mihailovic forces when [they] took Priboj and Prijepolje and Berane. I saw capture Visegrad, destruction bridges, and know Ostojic took Rogatica. Mihailovich never credited with any [of] these, although reported to you.”
U.S. Army Colonel Robert H. McDowell was sent to Mihailovich’s forces from August to November, 1944 and prepared an report to OSS which vindicated Mihailovich and disproved the Communist Partisan allegations against him.
Finally, when Mihailovich’s forces under Major Zaharije Ostojic seized Rogatica in mid-October, 1943, which was garrisoned by Ustasha troops, which in the context meant largely Bosnian Muslim Nazi collaborators, killing over 200, the BBC erroneously attributed the capture of Rogatica to the Communist Partisans under Tito.
The disinformation campaign was organized by James Klugmann, a Communist and suspected Soviet mole in the Yugoslav Section of SOE Cairo. Klugmann, described as the “Fifth Man”, was a part of the Cambridge spy network that included Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, and Anthony Blunt. Klugmann was a hardcore Communist and Stalinist who had joined the Communist party in 1933 while still at Cambridge and was suspected of being a Soviet spy or mole. He was an open and militant Communist who wrote the History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, From Trotsky to Tito, and The Peaceful Co-existence of Capitalism and Socialism, after World War II. Klugmann was at the center of a web of disinformation that included members of the Special Operations Executive, SOE Cairo, the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and the Political Warfare Executive (PWE). What resulted was the distortion, manipulation, and falsification of the facts in the Mihailovich case that allowed the emergence of a Communist dictatorship in Yugoslavia led by Josip Broz Tito.
Self-censorship and media suppression and manipulation are endemic threats in a democratic society. The censorship and suppression of the facts in the Draza Mihailovich case allowed a Communist dictatorship to be established in the former Yugoslavia. George Orwell showed that for democracy to be viable and legitimate, self-censorship and media suppression must be understood and examined.