An article on The Medievalists site flags up an interesting point about how governments of all stripes down the ages have used fear of some threat to steer the ordinary people down the desired path. History abounds with examples where the supposed threat from some 'monster' has been used to create support for a war, or to drive a campaign for some potentially unpopular political move. Every dictator and autocrat in history has, at some time, used this device - but it may surprise many to realise that even "democratic" governments use it. In fact you can find examples all around us today.
The motivation for it is straightforward. A government wants to raise support for a particular campaign, so they need to create the fear that, unless the desired course of action is taken, something bad will happen to the nation. So there is a drive to create an "enemy" that is a threat to the peoples' sense of security. Hitler's classic use of this in targeting "The Jews" is a good example. First he resurrected the Tsarist Secret Polices' forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and made a great play of the passages in that which purport to require the mixing of blood from non-Jewish children to make Matzos. Instant "monster" in the community. Of course, what he and his henchmen were really after was control of the population, so they needed to focus on an "enemy next door".
It must be said that the British government did a very similar piece of work on the Germans during and shortly before World War 1. The arms race was expensive, so various reports were commissioned to talk up the "threat" posed by the German Fleet and Army. In reality the underlying reason it was necessary was the fear in Westminster and Whitehall of a German Empire that threatened British trade and export markets - but that wouldn't have played well with the populace. The answer was to play up a threat to "our way of life" by creating the myth that the Kaiser wanted to recreate the Roman Empire in Europe and "conquer" Britain. It was even suggested that Germany and the Germans wanted to rule the entire world and would stop at nothing to achieve it. Once the war started the propaganda became almost hysterical, with the Germans accused of bayoneting babies, eating the corpses and boiling down dead Allied soldiers corpses to make soap.
It has to be said though, that some of the German Army's actions in dealing with "agents-provoceteur" and supposed "spies" certainly helped the media frenzy, but what is often overlooked is that the British, French Italians and Russians weren't exactly squeaky clean either.Only now are some of the atrocities from the Allied side emerging. We've all heard of how the German's executed the nurse, Edith Cavell, but how many of us have read a single line about the two German nurses the British shot after a similar trial and using equally suspect "evidence"? The Bryce Report, commissioned by the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, is detailed and contains some balance, but does include a number of speculative statements and tends to enlarge on other instances where there was little positive evidence to support it.
Prior to the 1880s when the anti-German feelings began to arise - sparked by their success in the war against the French in 1870 to 71 - we'd had a very similar campaign painting the French as baby bayoneting savages, hell bent on destroying the British way of life and world domination.
Both of these propaganda images, however, have stuck. There are still people who believe that Germany "started" World War 1, and that the objective was to defeat Britain and take over the Empire. There are still people who believe that the French wanted to march across the channel and behead evryone who didn't support their Revolution.
More recently we have seen the Soviet Union and its satellite states paint "The West", but the US in particular, as the "enemy of the people" and as "undemocratic" (which must be the ultimate irony) while the US and most western nations raised the spectre of "communism", and communists having designs on your house, car, personal wealth and everything else. We thrive on "monsters" and now that the threat of communism has fallen away, our governments have found a new one. Now it's either "Anthropomorphic Climate Change" driven by "Carbon" and our need for transport reliant on hydrocarbon fuels, or "The EU" and the hordes of "economic migrants" apparently waiting to flood into the UK (and other western European countries) to "steal our jobs" after 2014.
In the Middle East and most other Islamic countries, the ever handy "Jews" are available as the "monsters" eating non-Jewish babies, stealing the food from starving Muslims, raping their women, corrupting their children and, of course, secretly ruling the world and controlling the finacial markets. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are the ever popular source for most of this monster building. At various times different "monsters" have been drawn by propagandists, the white community in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) or the white population of South Africa, the Maoists, Islamists, anyone on the "right" of politics is now a Fascist and so on. The main criteria is that the "monster" must be remote from the population you are trying to steer, must be fairly nebulous and far to powerful for any mere individual to handle alone. It doesn't matter that the average Joe Public is unlikely to ever meet the monster, just that they must think about it, worry about it and be prepared to endorse what the government says it will do about it.
We've moved on from Vampires, dragons, werewolves and the supernatural, now the monster in the closet is the racist, the churchgoer, the foreigner, Brussells (I have some sympathy with that one), the immigrant or the guy who believes in freedom of expression. It doesn't matter who or what the monster is, as long as enough people believe it affects them, governments will continue to create them. Perhaps it's time we all grew up and stopped believing in the monsters governments, the media and sometimes our own imaginations create for us.
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