The Corpse Factory the story that never goes away….
In the spring of 1917, British and Belgian propagandists, in a concerted action with privately owned media, launched an invented story about “Corpse Factories”, where the Germans allegedly boiled down their own soldier dead to lubricants, fertiliser, pig fodder, and soap. The aim was to vilify the Germans, especially among American and Asian countries, which Great Britain wanted to drag into the war on her side. Its efficiency in mobilizing anti-German sentiments made the “Corpse Factory” the “master hoax” of World War I propaganda. Millions world-wide who still believe in its offspring, the World War II “Nazi human soap factory” legend, show its longevity.
In this paper ( above link) we have documented the way in which the Northcliffe press made this story believable, and we have suggested how recognition of the technique used can pay dividends for our understanding propaganda technique in general, but especially, we now venture to say, where the interests of news media owners coincide with those of political leaders beholden to corporate interests responsible for their election campaign financing.
The Corpse Factory story succeeded in its aim. Elaborate deceptions worked. But contrary to the expectation of bringing the war to an earlier end it may have contributed to prolonging it. The legacy of hatred and contempt contributed to the punishing terms of the Treaty of Versailles, paving the way for economic dislocation and the rise of Hitler. When the story was officially repudiated in Parliament in 1925 there were many people who resolved not to be fooled again in this way. Thus, when reports of the Holocaust began to emerge early in World War II, there were doubts about the truth of these stories as people remembered the Corpse Factory and other deceptions.
As we contemplate the legacy of suffering, ill will, and mistrust generated by the U.S.-led wars in Iraq in 1991 and 2003 and the deceptions preparing the way for these wars, we have good reason to look for brakes upon deceptive propaganda for war. Giving more attention to international law, and its prohibition of propaganda for war, is one route. But exposure of propaganda techniques, the main purpose of this paper, is another. A citizenry educated to recognize propaganda technique in a timely way can take counter-active steps, especially with the possibilities offered by the new media. Propaganda thus exposed can be, it is our belief and hope, propaganda nullified.
The story continues with the Syrian lie today….