Last week, I visited the Holocaust Exhibition, a permanent display at the Imperial War Museum in London. If you haven’t been, go, take your friends, your partners, your family (if they’re over 14; for fairly obvious reasons, it’s age restricted). Each generation should be taught about man’s capacity for mindboggling barbarism and what can happen if society falls prey to malevolent forces and their cynical scapegoating and stigmatising of entire races, religions and groups.
The exhibition ends, fittingly, with the quote from Edmund Burke who died 150 years before the Holocaust: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
In case you’re wondering what this has to do with publishing, it’s this: Hitler targeted the free press very early on. Within one month of coming to power in 1933, the Reichstag Fire Decree suspended the provisions in the constitution that protected freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Citing bogus external threats, the Nazis closed down opposition party newspapers, beat up and imprisoned independently minded editors and left the rest in no doubt that towing the party line and self-censorship was the only way they would stay in business and out of prison.
“A lie told once remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth”, reputedly said Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister.
The blurring of the lines between truth and lies underpins all persecution and that is why would-be dictators target the press first. Take out those who might hold you to account.
Society must be taught that any attack on the press is an attack on itself. Without a free press to shine the light on wrongdoings, what’s to stop unimaginable evil taking root under the cover of darkness?