Truth—an election casualty
When war is declared, truth is the first casualty,” wrote Sir Arthur Ponsonby in “Falsehood in War-time.”
“The psychological factor in war is just as important as the military factor. The morale of civilians, as well as of soldiers, must be kept up to the mark. Departments have to be created to see to the psychological side. People must never be allowed to become despondent; so victories must be exaggerated and defeats, if not concealed, at any rate minimized, and the stimulus of indignation, horror, and hatred must be assiduously and continuously pumped into the public mind by means of ‘propaganda.’”
During World War II, Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda for the Nazi German government, presented a favorable image of the Nazi regime to the German people. When Germany began to lose the war, he turned battlefield defeats into victories, raising morale with each speaking engagement.
Japan produced an English-language news and music program—dubbed Tokyo Rose by the American troops—that was broadcast over the South Pacific to demoralize Allied forces by emphasizing the Japanese Imperial Army’s victories and exaggerating the Allied troops’ military losses.
During the Cold War between the United States and the USSR, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy claimed that the USSR had more nuclear missiles than the United States, warning that the country might fall behind in its arms race with Russia. It worked for him as a campaign issue. Days after he was sworn in as president, evidence surfaced that he knew all along the missile gap story was not true.
That brings us to political wars. During election time, truth is also the first casualty. As presidential daughter Sara Duterte Carpio famously said: “There is no single candidate who does not lie, so honesty should not be an issue now.”
She accused political opponents of making false statements about the administration of her father. But her own father released to the press a “narcolist,” which named certain candidates for local posts as being involved in the illegal drug trade. Expectedly, those named denied vehemently the allegations and called the narcolist black propaganda.
No, it is plain propaganda, as the source of the supposed false information is known. Black propaganda, the spread of false information to vilify a person, usually comes from a source purportedly other than the true source, which is the camp of the candidate who hopes to gain from the damage wrought upon his or her rivals.
Some of what are widely circulated in social media are black propaganda. False information damaging to the reputation of candidates is churned out prodigiously through the internet by unknown sources called trolls. Trolling has become a standard weapon in political wars.
Recently going viral, for instance, was a video claiming to be the “true narcolist,” which named, among others, an administration candidate for senator. The candidate went on television to show that what was claimed in the video was not true. Subsequently, netizens flooded social media with photos that appear to validate the allegation in the video. The question is: Are those photos authentic or fake?
It is worth noting at this point the contrast between a dishonest candidate and a candid nonelective official. Just six months after Rodrigo Duterte was sworn in as President, then Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said: “The candidate Duterte is different from President Duterte. You make campaign promises, but when you see the data you realize it’s impossible to fulfill.”
Candidate Duterte promised to eliminate the illegal drug trade in six months. President Duterte admitted in August last year that he was wrong in saying he would eliminate the illegal drug trade in six months.
To emphasize the contrast, we note further that Diokno also once said: “The budget is a political tool to reward administration allies and punish political enemies. If you are with us, then you get something. If you are not with us, then you don’t get something.”
Take note, bank presidents. Diokno says the truth in that one.
Oscar P. Lagman Jr. has been a keen observer of Philippine politics since the 1950s.
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