Playing into the hands of

More from Orwell, As I Please – this time from June 9 1944, just three days after the invasion started but he doesn’t mention it. (Nothing surprising in that, there was plenty of mention of it elsewhere.)

A phrase much used in political circles in this country is ‘playing into the hands of’. It is a sort of charm or incantation to silence uncomfortable truths. When you are told that by saying this, that or the other you are ‘playing into the hands of some sinister enemy, you know that it is your duty to shut up immediately.

For example, if you say anything damaging about British imperialism, you are playing into the hands of Dr Goebbels. If you criticize Stalin you are playing into the hands of the Tablet and the Daily Telegraph. If you criticize Chiang Kai-Shek you are playing into the hands of Wang Ching-Wei — and so on, indefinitely.

That’s the Orwell who was so good at seeing through ploys for shutting people up. That’s one of them. In a way that’s the subject of Jacques Rousseau’s piece about Ntokozo Qwabe and the server – the way the justifiable disgust at Qwabe could get out of control and end up “playing into the hands of” racists – as it is doing. Jacques says there’s a Facebook page devoted to “Don’t serve Ntokozo Qwabe” and it’s full of racist comments, surprise surprise.

Objectively this charge is often true. It is always difficult to attack one party to a dispute without temporarily helping the other. Some of Gandhi’s remarks have been very useful to the Japanese. The extreme Tories will seize on anything anti-Russian, and don’t necessarily mind if it comes from Trotskyist instead of right-wing sources. The American imperialists, advancing to the attack behind a smoke-screen of novelists, are always on the look-out for any disreputable detail about the British Empire. And if you write anything truthful about the London slums, you are liable to hear it repeated on the Nazi radio a week later. But what, then, are you expected to do? Pretend there are no slums?

What indeed? It’s very often a quandary. I run into it a lot when blogging.

Everyone who has ever had anything to do with publicity or propaganda can think of occasions when he was urged to tell lies about some vitally important matter, because to tell the truth would give ammunition to the enemy. During the Spanish Civil War, for instance, the dissensions on the Government side were never properly thrashed out in the left-wing press, although they involved fundamental points of principle. To discuss the struggle between the Communists and the Anarchists, you were told, would simply give the Daily Mail the chance to say that the Reds were all murdering one another. The only result was that the left-wing cause as a whole was weakened. The Daily Mail may have missed a few horror stories because people held their tongues, but some all-important lessons were not learned, and we are suffering from the fact to this day.

Well said – and at the same time, nothing is gained by referring to the Germans as “the Huns.” It’s not an easy thing, to reconcile those, but we have to.

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