Peter Berresford Ellis reviews The Origins and Organisation of British Propaganda in Ireland 1920by Brian P Murphy, Aubane Historical Society, Cork, and Spinwatch, ISBN 1 903497 24 8, £6/€9 pbk
ASK YOUR average UK citizen (beg pardon, subject) and they will tell you propaganda is something that regimes in other countries do. Institutions such as the BBC, for example, will "tell the truth to shame the devil". Propaganda is not something UK governments do because they believed in "fair play"
Well, Dr Josef Goebbels could have learned a lot from British propaganda. His was crass and amateurish compared to the orchestrated lies and spin that London indulged in. Liz Curtis's exceptionally fine book Ireland: The Propaganda War (1984) should have been an eye-opener for many. I was hoping that when Sásta republished it in 1998, Liz could have updated the work to cover the insidious campaign after the year of first publication.
The current work by Dr Brian Murphy, who has worked for many years on the subject of propaganda during the War of Independence, is an essential work because of the new outpourings of "revisionism", especially the appalling bias being churned out by Peter Hart. In fact, Dr Murphy has a section dealing with Hart's book on The IRA and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork 1916-23 and the issue of his "sources".
This work is primarily concerned with the role of Basil Clarke and his associates in Dublin Castle's Department of Publicity. Clarke was director of this department, an Oxford graduate who was a highly experienced and widely travelled journalist who had been a war correspondent for the Daily Mail during 1914-18. But Clarke's department was not the only propagandist unit. Captain H B C Pollard was press and information officer for the Police Authority; a journalist as well as army officer.
It's another book that expands our knowledge of the period and shows the reality of the British campaign of misinformation, which Erskine Childers called "The Manufacture of Hate". He went on to say: "The propaganda of a militarist regime is a study in itself".
Here we have just such a study, which is certainly essential for an understanding of the conflict.
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Copyright © 2006 Peter Berresford Ellis