Background: Things were looking good for the Nazis in April 1941 when Goebbels wrote this article mocking British efforts at propaganda. I have tried to locate the campaign Goebbels mentions in the first paragraph. Professor David Welch suggests to me that it might be the “Make Do and Mend” campaign that began in June 1941, two months after this article was published, but there may have been advance information. One aspect of the campaign was “how not to go about this,” which is a reasonable equivalent of "how not to do it.”
Goebbels claims British propaganda is hopelessly incompetent. Later in the war when Germany was losing, he looked back on English propaganda as an effective way of dealing with a precarious military situation.
The source: Joseph Goebbels, “Wie man es nicht machen soll, “Die Zeit ohne Beispiel (Munich: Eher, 1941). pp. 471-475. The article was published on 23 April 1941.
How Not to Do It
by Joseph Goebbels
The British Ministry of Information is currently conducting a radio and press campaign with the theme “How not to do it.” This is a particularly amusing matter for those in the know. There is not a single mistake in psychological leadership that does not make itself visible; indeed, upon closer observation one is astonished at how much a hopelessly bad case can be made in an even dumber and crazier way. If we had secret agents attached to Duff Cooper [the British Minister of Information], a Fifth Column as enemy countries like to call it, they could not have done any better. The world is gradually noticing that things are not going all that well for the Empire at the moment. But why provide so much evidence? Why bring an elephant into the China shop and let it break into a thousand pieces everything it can reach, even things in distant corners? We grant that English propagandists have not had an easy job from the very beginning. What can one do when he no longer has either Benghazi or butter, when Yugoslavia and Greece are gone, when swarms of German bombers that were supposed to be needed on distant new German fronts show up nearly every night, when unimaginable numbers of explosive and incendiary bombs are dropped on England's harbors and industrial centers! One has to say something, no matter how stupid. Here is how things look to them at the moment:
It is clear that the English tanks in Greece are far superior to German tanks. They cut through them like a knife through butter. And German Stukas do not live up to their reputation. A knowledgeable Theban tells London Radio that thousands of them have been shot down on the Greek front, with machine guns, you understand. One is no longer afraid of them, and even the entire motorized German army is only a bluff, for in a battle between man and machine, the man has always proved the stronger. The Germans are not proper soldiers, only robots. If the English follow their long-established practice of withdrawing to positions in the rear, that is because of higher reasons, not military necessity, probably because British troops needed a change of air. Of course the Austrians had no desire to fight the English, just as was true in Norway and the Western offensive. To the contrary, they express their distaste for the Führer by shouting cheers to Schuschnigg, and are driven into combat by Prussian officers with machine guns at their backs. One sees that this is all as stupid and boring as it was a year ago. One would be relieved, if only for variety’s sake, it was the Württembergers, the Saxons, or the Bavarians who refused obedience instead of the Austrians, or if those in London this spring discovered deep differences between the fire department and civil servants instead of between the army and the party.
One seeks in vain an oasis, or even a shady spot, in this Sahara of incompetence. English Labor Minister Bevin says that Hitler is making a big mistake in attacking London with the Luftwaffe because he uses up his strength. If he uses his air strength in the Mediterranean, North Africa, or the Balkans, then he scatters his forces. The big question: What should he do to use them as the English think he should?
In winter, London suggested, one was waiting only until spring for England to achieve air superiority over Germany. Then the deadline was suddenly pushed back four months. A clever chap in a fit of mad fanatic objectivity declared that the British air force would only appear in full strength in spring 1942. That is small consolation for the British public, which until a few weeks ago was being told ad nausea that the blows of the German Luftwaffe would soon be repaid two- or three-fold. The USA promised more than it delivered and suspicion is growing in England that the cousins over there have in mind driving England ever deeper into the misery of war in order to better inherit its possessions after its defeat. “We are fighting to the last Englishman,” a leading American newspaper wrote recently. Even if those in London are terribly distressed, it does not change the fact that the man in the street, who is always smarter than his government, is gradually beginning to think that if things go on as they are, and even if the war is won (which he no longer believes), he would still lose.
Far be it from us to interfere in the family conflicts of the Anglo-Saxons on this and the other side of the big pond. We do not base our hopes for victory on their disagreements. We only note that Mr. Roosevelt has recently been caught several times promising more than he delivered. The Serbian Putschists can sing a song about that. Since we are aware of his high moral standards, we do not want to assume that he got into the fires of war only because he enjoys war, but one must let us assume that he is like those brave coastal dwellers, who look out to sea during major storms and with Christian sympathy for the sinking ships and drowning sailors, pray: “Lord bless our coast!"
One need not wonder why in the face of such edifying conditions in London a kind of Katzenjammer mood prevails. It shows up occasionally in lively outbursts in the press. Mr. Eden is usually the target, who one cynically says has too much idealism and too little ability for his office. We are in the happy position to agree completely with the latter view. He is accused of sending General Wavell into the Southeastern Adventure — they are already calling it that! — to relieve North Africa. As a result one of the most sensitive parts of the Empire is most seriously threatened. But why Mr. Eden of all people should bear the chief responsibility for the English disaster in the Balkans and North Africa is really a mystery to us. We cannot imagine that Mr. Churchill would allow his foreign minister to mess around with military matters, setting up private war theaters wherever he wished. Is the old crook looking for a scapegoat, or is the whole affair one of those beloved English swindles that Mr. Churchill allows the London press to criticize, thus providing release for growing popular anger?
We will bet 10 to 1 that the Balkan war is his idea. It fits with his glorious military past. The plan and execution are exactly the same as his Gallipoli campaign, his attempted landing at Zeebrugge, his rescue expedition to Norway, and his adventure in France that came to an inglorious end at Dunkirk. He can twist and turn all he wants, but he cannot escape his responsibility for that. He let loose with his amateur endeavors, and the Serbian, Greek, and English peoples had to pay in blood.
Mr. Duff Cooper is not to be envied. His must explain all this criminal insanity to England and the world. But he does not have to be so untalented. No one believes his fairy tale about the successful withdrawal from Greece any longer; that aroused only general amusement when he used it a year ago at Dunkirk. And when he talks about North Africa he should tell things the way they are, not invent stories about that brave Australian fighter for the Empire who captured twenty German soldiers together with their rifles and machine guns, using only his bayonet. This heroic lad was placed before a microphone in London, where he told the admiring ladies that he beat down the last four Germans with his rifle butt, and not one of them came up with the idea of shooting, or even defending himself.
It is nonsense. One can only react to such insanity with pity. It is Falstaff redux. How wretched must things seem for the English people when its government even dares feed them such fare. And what do those amateurish British propagandists have in their heads besides brains? London radio broadcast a serious appeal to German U-boat captains urging them to let any English convoys they meet sail peacefully past, since they are the only ones at the periscope and the crew will not know. After all, each sunken British ship delays Hitler’s downfall.
It is no pleasure to have do deal with such incompetence every day. The opponents whom we faced in the struggle for power were not overly blessed with wisdom either. But at least what they said had some force. One could respond to it. That is not possible here. One never finds anything solid; wherever one turns there is mush. It is hopeless.
Such is the famed British war propaganda. It is no better or worse than it was during the World War. The German people followed its advice in November 1918 and made a revolution. Does Mr. Churchill really believe that could happen again? And if not, where does he find his hopes of victory after recent military experiences?
Go to the Goebbels Page.
Go to the 1933-1945 Page.
Go to the German Propaganda Archive Home Page.