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‘A subversive use of facts’: Soldatensender Calais and Black Propaganda

November 13, 2013

Psywar.org has an endless supply of interesting historical documents on psychological warfare.  They’ve just posted this copy of a 1943 memo from the British Political Warfare Executive to its twin supervisors the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, and the Minister of Information Brendan Bracken.  The context is the launch of the most successful British ‘black’ station of the war Soldatensdender Calais, this pretended to be German forces station and was intended to encourage dissension and defeatism.  The BBC feared that it would soon become obvious that Calais was a British station and that this would damage their credibility.  The PWE who controlled the station dissented and this memo sets out the arguments.

I quite often see it asserted that ‘black propaganda’ means that the content of service is false.  The PWE is at pains to point out that even ‘black’ needs facts and goes on to defend the use of black stations even if their cover is paper thin.

(vi) “CALAIS”, while admittedly a “fundamental lie”, relies on a subversive use of facts, not on untruth. Its news is convincingly true; its comment is intelligent selection and presentation of facts and of intelligence derived, in the main, from Service sources.

(vii) For a station such as “CALAIS” an apparent German origin is a necessary and useful convention. That is to say, even those Germans (vide prisoners’ evidence about Atlantik) who suspect its British origin will nevertheless accept its arguments because it is essentially German in its approach, in tune with their feelings and emotions as Germans and providing a psychological alibi which an avowedly enemy station does not. (It provides an actual alibi if caught listening – “We thought it was a German station”). Moreover, “CALAIS” can talk of “We Germans” while the B.B.C. must talk of “You Germans”; the first removes inhibitions, the second creates them.

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