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In today’s largely laid back consciousness, the dangers of propaganda and the insidious rise of totalitarian aggression rarely enter people’s consciousness. Partly, that is because it requires a degree of political awareness that in a self-centred world is becoming a rare faculty. We need to understand our times – and to do that we need to understand where we are coming from!

I have spent snatches of time these last few weeks watching Russian television and, found it a thoroughly dispiriting experience. Putin has long imposed an iron control on the Russian media, but it was still a shock to see the blatant propaganda they are now resorting to. Whatever legitimate rights Russia may have in the region, and they do, have long since been swamped by a deluge of not even half truths about the situation, as if Russian speaking people in Crimea were in deadly peril for their lives.

I found it frustrating that a number of ‘political analysts’ with American voices  were produced, without any reference to who they actually were, but all duly agreeing with the Kremlin point of view.

One courageous broadcaster stood her ground and refused to toe the party line any longer, declaring that she just couldn’t bring herself to agree that it could possibly be right to invade a sovereign state.

Putin is a high stakes poker player. He has probably felt as though he is holding many trumps in his hands: iron control over his own people, strong military forces in which he has invested heavily, and huge supplies of oil and gas which have made the EU so heavily dependent on their continuing supply that they were never going to take the step of imposing swingeing sanctions lightly now any more than it did following his intervention in Georgia. As the ‘banker’ of Europe, German receives a massive 40% of its supplies of oil and gas from Russia. Gas Prom, the Russian giant, has not hesitated to flex its muscles towards the Ukraine in the past, and is now declaring its intention to broker a thirty year deal with China – in other words, hinting that even if its sales in the European market were to dip, Russia has other outlets with which to deal.

Many years ago I read about the effects of Nazi propaganda in leading the German people by the nose. I summarised some of my findings in section 9:7 of Inspired by the Spirit because it is actually a very important topic, given that the world is heading for a meltdown in which people [voluntarily] believe the lies by which the antichrist spirit seduces the vast majority of the world. (2 Thess. 2:11) Hitler was well aware that his personal conviction of Lebensraum [his own great passion] would not prove easy to sell to a German people traumatised by war and greatly afraid of embarking on another one, Hitler deliberately softened his expansionist aims in public, to the extent of claiming that the ‘forced amalgamation of one people with another is not only a worthless political aim, but in the long run a danger to the internal unity and strength of a nation. Would we really want to lose two million of the German elite to conquer a land of two million people?’

In a major address in 1934, Hitler proclaimed Germany’s ‘peaceful’ intentions towards other nations:

Our racial theory regards every war for the subjection and domination of an alien people as a proceeding which sooner or later changes and weakens the victor internally and eventually brings about his defeat . . . No! National Socialist Germany wants peace because of its fundamental convictions. And it wants peace also owing to the realising of the simple primitive fact that any war would be likely to cause distress in Europe. The principal effect of every war is to destroy the flower of the nation. Germany needs peace and desires peace.

The vast majority of the German people swallowed this message whole. Overseas, foreign nations expressed themselves relieved and delighted. How naive they were! Hitler deliberately set out to confound the nations by preaching peace and disarmament, whilst secretly rearming and keeping a sharp eye out to exploit their weaknesses. His true nature, of course, was perfectly clear to any who were prepared to look beyond the facade.

In the course of ruthlessly crushing an imagined rising against him, [note the contemporary overlap!] Hitler conveniently rid himself of leaders he preferred not to have around, declaring brazenly, ‘Everyone must know for all future time that if he raises his hand to strike the State, then certain death is his lot.’

The whole point about deception, of course, is that it is not intended to be seen through. William Shirer, an American journalist who spent many years in Germany during the 1930’s, wrote this about his years of living at close proximity to the Nazi propaganda machine:

I myself experienced how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers . . . and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts. It was surprising to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts, and despite one’s inherent mistrust of what one learnt from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsification and distortions made a certain impression in one’s mind, and often misled it.

No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda . . . one realised how useless it was to even try to make contact with a mind which had become warped, and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.

The extracts are from Shirer’s masterpiece The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,  still makes for an important understanding of the times. Shirer charts in detail how Nazi ideas were disseminated through the university system and from there out into every strata of national life.

Some people are saying that what is happening in the Ukraine is more like Sudetenland in 1938 than Poland in 1939 – but the one paved the way for the other. Claiming that ethnic Germans were suffering, Hitler took over north and west Czechoslovakia, collectively known as Sudetenland, which merely raised his ambitions and paved the way for him to conquer the rest of that country.

May the Lord give the West wisdom and strength, not only in its immediate response, but in the whole way it addresses and thinks through what it is we stand for.

Back at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Kennedy made a
splendid act of public defiance but also a parallel private deal with
Khrushchev, which only emerged after a decent period had elapsed. So far
we are seeing nothing as clear cut from western leadership.