Ed / Uncategorized

Fact versus fiction: Tips from WWII for living in a post-truth age


As the term ‘post-truth’ is chosen as term of the year by the Oxford dictionary, the uncertainty hanging over the UK’s Brexit vote and the controversy over the US presidential elections puts into perspective the influence that propaganda can have over our lives, we ask ourselves: What motivates us more: fact or fiction?

When we vote, the intricate details of political policies and their full implications are not always easy to keep clear in our minds. The emotion behind a decision, however, is easier to understand – and the powers that be have long known how to use this in their favour. The truth, in all its tangled, mind-boggling complexity, can quickly take a back-seat to finger pointing and vague promises that reinforce what they know the public want to hear.

Churchill's LegacyWinston Churchill was a man who knew how to appeal to emotion whilst also using hard-facts, and in Churchill’s Legacy: Two Speeches to Save the World, Alan Watson explains exactly how. After a long and brutal war (that started in social and economic climates not dissimilar to the ones we are presently living through), the thirst for change was replaced with one for peace. In his speech in Fulton, Missouri, Churchill alerted America to the reality of ‘Uncle Joe’ (some have drawn parallels with a similar threat coming from Russia today) — a tyrant determined to dominate Europe at any cost. Churchill also called for an Anglo-American alliance based on their shared values and the deterrent of America’s possession of the atomic bomb. And then, speaking in Zurich, Churchill boldly proposed a partnership between France and Germany: a United States of Europe. The hatred stirred up by the war had to be replaced by partnership for Europe to recover its economic vitality and regain its moral stature.


Churchill speaks to crowds  in Zurich

‘Scholarly, well-written and penetrating analysis’ Andrew Roberts

In truth, Churchill was the catalyst of a new era—one built upon effective defence, economic revival, and European unity. His speeches have been added to UNESCO’s International Memory of the World Register. With the beginning of this new ‘post-truth’ era, however, are we witnessing the end of the one Churchill helped to create?

‘[The speeches’] power and reach is still of huge relevance to us today. This book is well worth reading’ William Hague

9781448215362During the war, Churchill and the British government used fiction to illustrate fact. As the Battle of Britain raged, wearing down public morale with incessant bombing, the people of the UK needed to know how hard the air force were fighting for them.  The fighter planes were often distant specks on the horizon, drones passing in the darkness of night, so how could people comprehend the men flying those dangerous, and very often fatal missions?

One remedy came in the form of Flying Officer X, a fictional character created by H. E. Bates. In his unprecedented role as an official war writer with the R.A.F. during WWII, Bates animated the realities faced by pilots tasked with protecting the skies from enemy aircraft. The resulting stories that appeared under the pseudonym Flying Officer X were portraits of individual pilots narrated by an observer who, like Bates, was on the inside of the air force without being a pilot.

‘A picture of the bomber pilot as near to the truth as we on the outside are likely to get’ New Statesman

In true Bates style, the New York Times noted ‘These are tales told in impressive quiet, tales that are innocent of even the suggestion of flagrant heroism that colors so many stories about combat pilots.’ In essence, Bates’s fiction had an underlying truth to it, one that spoke to the emotions of readers, and captured the hearts of the English people.

In The Complete Flying Officer X Stories, all of these portraits of war are collected in one ebook.

‘No other book on the British flier—or any other flier for that matter—has the sharp, authentic note Flying Officer Bates has written into his work … If there were decorations for this sort of thing, H. E. Bates would have the highest’ New York Times

The roots of WWII were nuanced and complex, and we know that propaganda, on a large and premeditated scale, played a big part of it. Bates’s Flying Officer X Stories show us that this can be used on both sides of a conflict with his moving, emotive, but in many ways truthful, works of fiction. Churchill’s Legacy shows us that in the fall-out of the War, truth ultimately prevailed.


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