“History stopped in 1936” – George Orwell,Looking back on the Spanish War
According to George Orwell, it was during his time fighting in the Spanish Civil War for the Republican side against the Franco-led fascists that he became aware of the pervasive use of propaganda used to support modern totalitarian regimes.
“I remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, ‘History stopped in 1936’, at which he nodded in immediate understanding. We were both thinking of totalitarianism in general, but more particularly of the Spanish civil war. Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’.”
Orwell’s observations were inspired by the World War II era, when totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and Communist Russia constituted a threat to freedom in the world. But since then, a number of thinkers have remarked that America and other Western countries are devolving into a soft totalitarianism; a pleasure-loving and increasingly lonely populace surrenders their freedoms to radical ideologies, which maintain their hold through education and a steady stream of propaganda.
As a result of the modern world’s reliance on propaganda, Orwell recognized that our access to the truth of past events—such as the Spanish Civil War or World War II—would be severely compromised:
“This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history… Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted. So for all practical purposes the lie will have become the truth.”
Orwell was not naive about history. He noted it was “the fashion” to suggest that history was essentially a long list of lies and recognized the likelihood that many writers of history “deliberately lied … or unconsciously coloured what they wrote.” “But what is peculiar to our own age,” Orwell wrote, “is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written”; that there is a “body… of neutral fact on which neither [historian] would seriously challenge the other.”
The propaganda of the past is now our history and the propaganda we see in the news today will be studied by future generations as truth.
Good luck with that