OUR DAILY BUDGET OF WAR NEWS
<> WHAT TO BELIEVE OFFICIAL COMMUNIQUE CRITICISED M. Hiliara Bclloc contributes an interesting; article to "Pearson's Magazine on the subject of "What to Behove m War News." "The importance ol a sound public judgment upon, tlio progress of the war," ho savs, "is not always clearly appreciated. It depends upon truths which many men have forgotten, and upon certain political forces which, in tlie ordinary rush and tumble of professional politics, are quite forgotten. 'How is tlio plain man to distinguish in bis mows of the war what is true Horn what is false, and so arrive at a sound opinion : j In the first place, a? •, 08 a 'J s °und opinion are the ojncial communique's read with the aid or a map. You must read impartially tile communiques of the Austro-Hunga--I'ian and of the German Governments, together with those of tlio British Government and its Allies, or you will certainly miss the truth. Unless you compare all the statements of this sort, have most imporfcct evidence. . Ihese official communiques have certain things in common by whatever bovornment tliey are issued. These common features we may tabulate thus: (a) iJaces named as occupied by the forces of the Government in question are really occupied. To invent the occupation of a town or point not in one s own hands would servo no purpose; (b) Numbers, when they aro quoted m connection with a really ascertainable fact, and with regard to a precise and concrete circumstance aro nearly always reliable; though their significance differs very greatly according to tho way they are treated. Thus if a Government says, in such-and-such ■ a place or on such-and-such a' day we • took 3000 prisoners, it is presumably telling the truth, for tho enemy who i has lost those prisoners knows it as : well as they do. But estimates of what has happened in tho way of num- ■ bera, wihero the Government issuing i tho estimate can have no direct know--1 ledge, are quite, another matter. These aro only gathered from prisoners or - ' rom spies, and are often ridiculously i wrong; all official communiques of . whatever Government conceal reverses, I save in minor points. Tliey are wise ■ iit so ' " eoaUse there is no need to toll the enemy more than he may know of his own success. Reverses aro not "ictually denied. They are omitted. J-lie various Governments issuing the communiques have acquired' Certain habits m them wliich are wofth.oioting if one. is attempting to get sjff sn :accurate view of the war, and these habits may be briefly described as follow:—The British Government publishes short notes of advances made or of positions maintained, but very rarely-:.-refers to the losing of ground. It . publishes casualty lists, which are, ofioonrse, not complete till very long after the events wherein the casualties wore incurred. It supplements tho short communiques, and this by a inoro or less expanded narrative written by an official deputed for that purpose and giving" accounts, orten graphic, but necessavily of. no military value; of no value/- that is, for following the campaign. For if these narratives were of that kind the object of the censorship wquld ~be defeated. _ Tlio Belgian Government at the beginning of the war allowed very full accounts to go through; and permitted the presence of correspondents at the front itself. That phase is now over and does not immediately concorn us. : "The French Government is by far the most reticent. It occasionally mentions the capture of a (jolour, • but it publishes no casualty lists, no.account of the' field guns taken by French troops, and only now and then hints at the number of prisoners. 'It is, however, minutely accurate and even detailed in helping us to locate the fluctuations of the front,' and by tlie aid of the French communiques we can follow the war upon the reap better than by tho aid of any other. In its control of the. Press the French General Staff is absolute. There has been nothing like it before, and it has been perfectly successful, There is lastly to be noted In connection with the French communiques, especially after the first two months of the campaign, a remarkable frankness with regard to the occasional giving of ground by their own troops. The theory is that the enemy will know this in any case, and that as the position is secure, details of the. sort, though adverse, lend strength to the general narrative. The Russian Government is accurate, and, if anything, a little too tereo in what it communicates to the public, but. its censorship is far less strict than that of tho French or even the English. "When we turn to the enemy's communiques, we note first that the AustroHungarians are rare, insufficient, and confused. They are of little service, and may almost be neglected. But the German ones are iiumorous, extended, and precise, and it is our particular business to judge them accurately if wo are to understand the war, for when or if they tell the truth it is from them that we learn what would otherwise be hidden. Well, in my judgment, these official German communiques are in the main remarkably exact, and I believe it is possible to say why they are so exact, lie German General Staff makes war in a purely mechanical fashion. It gravely exaggerates, as' do all modern North Germans, the calculable eloment in human affairs. It is what used to be called 'scientific.' It is obvious that if you get a reputation for exactitude your falsehood, where it pays you to tell the falsehood, will : ho the more likely to work. "The remarkable general accuracy of the official German communiques cannot bo due to any other object. It cannot be due to a mere love of truth, for the samo Government deliberately circulates toits own provincial Press and to certain noutrals stories which cannot in the; nature of things be trae. Nor is this inaccuracy the result either of haste or of stupidity; it is very intelligent and obviously deliberate. When, therefore, a German communique tells an untruth, that untruth is deliberate and upon an effective scale, and we have to consider what object it has if we are to understand the news. Wo may take it-that the object is nearly always domestic and . political. Remember that these official German falsehoods, countersigned: "by; the General Staff and the Government, are as rare as they are solid. They do uot slip in. They are not vague or led up to by doubtful phrases. Let me take two of them. Scarborough was officially described as a fortified port, like slieerlioss or Cherbourg. That takes one's breath away. But monstrous as it is, it is not childish, because it was intended to give to the public that , read it at home a certain effect, which was in fact produced. It may be added in conclusion that, while German communiques rarely wander into conjeoturey when tliey do they iire idiotic."
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Dominion, Dominion, Volume 8, Issue 2425, 1 April 1915
OUR DAILY BUDGET OF WAR NEWS Dominion, Volume 8, Issue 2425, 1 April 1915
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