We often have a gut feeling when friends, family, colleagues, or even pets are lying to us, pretending they didn’t claw the new couch. However, millions of people around the world often take political propaganda as truth, no matter how absurd it may seem. Below are just a few vivid examples of such mass delusion.
The Myth of Crucifixion
This is a favorite tactic of military propagandists. For instance, in 1915, The Times newspaper published an article titled “Torture of a Canadian Officer.” It reported that during the battle of Ypres, the Germans crucified a prisoner by nailing his hands and feet to a stake. Inspired by this account, a British sculptor named Francis Derwent Wood cast a bronze sculpture of the crucified soldier and named it “The Golgotha of Canada.” However, when the monument was erected in London after the war, the Germans demanded proof that such an event had actually occurred. The eyewitnesses interviewed gave conflicting testimonies, and the body of the soldier was never found (his identity couldn’t even be established). The monument was quietly dismantled and eventually displayed in the Canadian War Museum years later.
Although the “crucified soldier” turned out to be a fake, it played its role in fueling hatred towards Germans. Therefore, in 2014, when Russia initiated a hybrid war against Ukraine, the Kremlin-controlled media decided to replicate this legendary tale. The myth of crucifixion reached new heights (or rather, hit a new low) of propagandistic marasmus on Russian television. The state-run channel “Pervy Kanal” (1 Channel) aired a segment featuring a resident of Slovyansk, Ukraine. She claimed that she had fled the city shortly after its liberation from Russian occupiers (operating under the flag of the so-called “DNR”). The woman swore that she had witnessed Ukrainian soldiers staging a public execution of “separatists”:
“They took a three-year-old boy, a little boy. In his underwear, in a T-shirt. They nailed him to a bulletin board, just like Jesus. One was nailing, two were holding him. And all this in front of his mother’s eyes. The mother was held back. And the mother watched as the child bled to death. Cries. Screams. And then they made cuts, so that the child would suffer. It was unbearable. People were losing their minds. And then, after an hour and a half of the child’s suffering, he died. They took the mother, who was unconscious, tied her to a tank, and drove her around the square three times.”
Needless to say, not a single piece of evidence supporting the actress from the Kremlin Propaganda Theater’s words has ever been found in the nine years that have passed.
HIV as a Racist Concept
In 1999, South Africa’s president became the convinced HIV dissident Thabo Mbeki. The country was ravaged by the AIDS epidemic, and thanks to the new ideological policy, people started simultaneously believing in two contradictory concepts. One was that HIV didn’t exist. The other was that white people invented vaccines to infect black people with the non-existent HIV. In order to find a cure for AIDS (don’t try to find the logic here), Thabo Mbeki allowed German millionaire Matthias Rath, a vitamin manufacturer who believed his vitamins were a perfect cure for AIDS, to operate in South Africa. Additionally, the South African Ministry of Health advised patients to consume beetroot, garlic, lemon, and potatoes to combat the disease.
However, the population didn’t trust the government’s advice. Rumors circulated that one could wash off HIV in the shower. And if you wanted a guaranteed cure, you had to rape a virgin… Rough estimates suggest that during Mbeki’s tenure, due to the refusal of antiretroviral therapy in favor of “tribal witchcraft” medicine, 300,000 people died prematurely in South Africa.
Young Godless Ones
Any propagandist knows that the best time to start manipulating someone’s mind is during childhood, before they have received education and critical thinking skills. One of the ideological enemies of Soviet propaganda was the church. How could they make children feel repulsed by any manifestation of religiosity? The best way to do it was through a game. In 1932, a propagandist named A. Pravdina (from the Russian word “pravda” meaning “truth”) published her original game called “Godless Skittles” in the children’s magazine “Murzilka.”
First, the figures of various religious characters had to be cut out from the magazine: Jesus, a Mongolian shaman, a German pastor, a Russian priest, a Jewish god, a Nanai people idol, and so on. These figures were then glued onto cardboard and bent at the bottom to form a stand, arranging them in a row on a table. The players were invited to take turns trying to knock down the figures by throwing paper balls, buttons, or whatever was at hand. Knocking down a priest scored one point, knocking down a god scored two points… Well, if the Big Lebowski had seen how Soviet children played this “godless bowling,” he might have switched from marijuana to heroin due to stress.
On April 17, 1917, the British newspaper The Times reported that the Germans had a Kadaververwertungsanstalt factory (“corpse processing plant”) where they used the bodies of their soldiers to produce oils, fats, and pig feed. The article was filled with gruesome details. It described how the bodies arrived on railway platforms, unloaded by workers wearing canvas suits and special masks. Then the bodies were hung on hooks on a conveyor that took them to a disinfection chamber. Afterwards, the bodies were thrown into a huge cauldron, where they boiled and mixed for eight hours… Later, the Daily Express decided to expand on this theme. It accused the enemy of cannibalism. Allegedly, after the battle of the Somme, the Germans had so many corpses that they started making margarine out of them, which they then fed to living soldiers. The entire world believed this wild story. It became one of the factors that led China to declare war on Germany – precisely what the British propagandists had aimed for.
Only after the war did it become clear that the corpse-processing factory was a fake. It was invented by former head of British intelligence John Charteris when he accidentally saw two photographs: a train carrying horse carcasses for processing and a wagon carrying dead German soldiers for burial. Charteris captioned the second photograph based on the template of the first one and sent it to a newspaper in Shanghai, from where the news spread worldwide. This story is notable because it demonstrates how dangerous propaganda can be. Later, the Nazis successfully used the fake corpse factory to prove the falseness of the British press.
Lately, Russia has become the main producer of insane, conspiratorial, and racist fakes. And its propaganda has its own peculiarities. For example, the main principle of Hitler’s propaganda was the “big lie” – creating a fake so enormous and shameless that no one would believe it could be invented. Russian propaganda, on the other hand, focuses on absurdity. Take, for instance, the case when Russia’s representative Vasily Nebenzya, speaking at the UN podium, claimed that Ukrainians were breeding infected combat birds, bats, and insects in secret laboratories. Moreover, this weapon supposedly only worked against people with Slavic genes… This is a striking example of propaganda that contradicts itself because Ukrainians are also Slavs. And if battle mosquitoes truly existed, they would be exterminating Ukrainians themselves as well.
Source: The Gaze