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Big lie

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Adolf Hitler claimed that the "big lie" spread by Jews was the idea that German general Erich Ludendorff (pictured) was responsible for the country's loss in World War I.

The big lie (German: große Lüge) is a gross distortion or misrepresentation of the truth, used especially as a propaganda technique.[1][2] The German expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, to describe the use of a lie so colossal that no one would believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously." Hitler claimed the technique was used by Jews to blame Germany's loss in World War I on German general Erich Ludendorff, who was a prominent nationalist political leader in the Weimar Republic. Historian Jeffrey Herf says the Nazis used the idea of the original big lie to turn sentiment against Jews and bring about the Holocaust.

Herf maintains that Joseph Goebbels and the Nazi Party actually used the big lie propaganda technique that they described – and that they used it to turn long-standing antisemitism in Europe into mass murder.[3] Herf further argues that the Nazis' big lie was their depiction of Germany as an innocent, besieged land striking back at international Jewry, which the Nazis blamed for starting World War I. Nazi propaganda repeatedly claimed that Jews held power behind the scenes in Britain, Russia, and the United States. It spread claims that the Jews had begun a war of extermination against Germany, and it used these claims to assert that Germany had a right to annihilate the Jews as self-defense.[4]

In the 21st century, the term has been applied to Donald Trump's attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election. The big lie in this instance is the false claim that the election was stolen from him through massive electoral fraud and voter fraud, and the scale of the claim's proponents eventually culminated with Trump supporters attacking the U.S. Capitol.[5][6]

Hitler's description

The source of the big lie technique is this passage, taken from Chapter 10 of James Murphy's translation of Mein Kampf (the quote is one paragraph in Murphy's translation and in the German original):

But it remained for the Jews, with their unqualified capacity for falsehood, and their fighting comrades, the Marxists, to impute responsibility for the downfall precisely to the man who alone had shown a superhuman will and energy in his effort to prevent the catastrophe which he had foreseen and to save the nation from that hour of complete overthrow and shame. By placing responsibility for the loss of the world war on the shoulders of Ludendorff they took away the weapon of moral right from the only adversary dangerous enough to be likely to succeed in bringing the betrayers of the Fatherland to Justice.

All this was inspired by the principle – which is quite true within itself – that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X[7]

The Cold War historian Zachary Jonathan Jacobson describes its use:[8]

Adolf Hitler first defined the Big Lie as a deviant tool wielded by Viennese Jews to discredit the Germans' deportment in World War I. Yet, in tragically ironic fashion, it was Hitler and his Nazi regime that actually employed the mendacious strategy. In an effort to rewrite history and blame European Jews for Germany's defeat in World War I, Hitler and his propaganda minister accused them of profiting from the war, consorting with foreign powers and "war shirking" (avoiding conscription). Jews, Hitler contended, were the weak underbelly of the Weimer state that exposed the loyal and true German population to catastrophic collapse. To sell this narrative, Joseph Goebbels insisted "all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands."

In short, Nazi fascism hinged on creating one streamlined, overarching lie ... the Nazis built an ideology on a fiction, the notion that Germany's defeat in World War I could be avenged (and reversed) by purging the German population of those purportedly responsible: the Jews.

In 1943, The New York Times contributor Edwin James asserted that Hitler's biggest lie was his revisionist claim that Germany was not defeated in war in 1918, but rather was betrayed by internal groups.[9] This stab-in-the-back myth was spread by right-wing groups, including the Nazis.[10]

Goebbels's description

Joseph Goebbels put forth a theory which has come to be more commonly associated with the expression "big lie". Goebbels wrote the following paragraph in an article dated 12 January 1941, sixteen years after Hitler first used the phrase. The article, titled "Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik" (English: "From Churchill's Lie Factory") was published in Die Zeit ohne Beispiel.

The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.[11]

The following supposed quotation of Joseph Goebbels has been repeated in numerous books and articles and on thousands of web pages, yet none of them has cited a primary source. According to the research and reasoning of Randall Bytwerk, it is an unlikely thing for Goebbels to have said.[12]

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

U.S. psychological profile of Hitler

The phrase "big lie" was also used in a report prepared during the war by the United States Office of Strategic Services in describing Hitler's psychological profile:[13]

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it. (CIA)[14]

The above quote appears in the report A Psychological Analysis of Adolf Hitler: His Life and Legend by Walter C. Langer.[14][15][16] A somewhat similar quote appears in the 1943 Analysis of the Personality of Adolph Hitler: With Predictions of His Future Behaviour and Suggestions for Dealing with Him Now and After Germany's Surrender, by Henry A. Murray:

... never to admit a fault or wrong; never to accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time; blame that enemy for everything that goes wrong; take advantage of every opportunity to raise a political whirlwind.[17]

Trump's false claim of a stolen election

"The big lie" concerning alleged massive election fraud was one of three points cited as part of "the provocation" in the indictment of Trump's second impeachment trial.
CNN fact checker Daniel Dale reported that through June 9, 2021, Trump had issued 132 written statements since leaving office, of which "a third have included lies about the election"—more than any other subject.[18]

During his political career, Donald Trump has employed what has been characterized as the propaganda technique of a firehose of falsehood.[19] To support his attempts to overturn the 2020 United States presidential election, he and his allies repeatedly and falsely claimed that there had been massive election fraud and that Trump was the true winner of the election.[10][5] U.S. Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz subsequently contested the election results in the Senate.[20] Their effort was characterized as "the big lie" by then President-elect Joe Biden: "I think the American public has a real good, clear look at who they are. They're part of the big lie, the big lie."[21] Republican senators Mitt Romney and Pat Toomey, scholars of fascism Timothy Snyder and Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Russian affairs expert Fiona Hill, and others also used the term "big lie" to refer to Trump's false claims about massive election fraud.[22] By May 2021, many Republicans had come to embrace the false narrative and use it as justification to impose new voting restrictions, while Republicans who opposed the narrative faced backlash.[23]

Dominion Voting Systems, which provided voting machines to many jurisdictions in the 2020 election, is seeking $1.3 billion in damages from Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani. In the lawsuit, Dominion alleges that "he and his allies manufactured and disseminated the 'Big Lie', which foreseeably went viral and deceived millions of people into believing that Dominion had stolen their votes and fixed the election."[24]

In early 2021, The New York Times examined Trump's promotion of "the big lie" for political purposes to subvert the 2020 election, and concluded that the lie encouraged the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.[6][25] The attack was cited in a resolution to impeach Trump for a second time.[26] During Trump's second impeachment trial, the house managers Jamie Raskin, Joe Neguse, Joaquin Castro, Stacey Plaskett and Madeleine Dean all used the phrase "the big lie" repeatedly to refer to the notion that the election was stolen, with a total of 16 mentions in the initial presentation alone. The phrase, leading up to and including the election period, formed the first section of the "provocation" part of the argument.[27][28]

In early 2021, several prominent Republicans tried to appropriate the term "the big lie", claiming that it refers to other issues.[29] Trump stated that the term refers to the "Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020".[30] Mitch McConnell and Newt Gingrich said that "the big lie" is opposition to restrictive new voter ID requirements.[29][31]

On October 7, 2021, the Senate Judiciary Committee released new testimony and a staff report.[32] They

"reveal that we were only a half-step away from a full blown constitutional crisis as President Donald Trump and his loyalists threatened a wholesale takeover of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
They also reveal how former Acting Civil Division Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark became Trump’s Big Lie Lawyer, pressuring his colleagues in DOJ to force an overturn of the 2020 election."[33]

See also


  1. ^ "The Big Lie | Definition of The Big Lie by Oxford Dictionary on also meaning of The Big Lie". Lexico Dictionaries | English. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  2. ^ "Definition of Big Lie". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 13 June 2021.
  3. ^ Herf, Jeffrey (2006). The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II And the Holocaust. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 211. ISBN 9780674038592.
  4. ^ Herf, Jeffrey (2005). "The "Jewish War": Goebbels and the Antisemitic Campaigns of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry". Holocaust and Genocide Studies. 19: 51–80. doi:10.1093/hgs/dci003.
  5. ^ a b Higgins, Andrew (10 January 2021). "The Art of the Lie? The Bigger the Better – Lying as a political tool is hardly new. But a readiness, even enthusiasm, to be deceived has become a driving force in politics around the world, most recently in the United States". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 January 2021. Mr. Trump has outraged his political opponents and left even some of his longtime supporters shaking their heads at his mendacity. In embracing this big lie, however, the president has taken a path that often works – at least in countries without robustly independent legal systems and news media along with other reality checks.
  6. ^ a b Rutenberg, Jim; Becker, Jo; Lipton, Eric; Haberman, Maggie; Martin, Jonathan; Rosenberg, Matthew; Schmidt, Michael S. (31 January 2021). "77 Days: Trump's Campaign to Subvert the Election – Hours after the United States voted, the president declared the election a fraud – a lie that unleashed a movement that would shatter democratic norms and upend the peaceful transfer of power". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2021.
  7. ^ Hitler, Adolf (21 March 1939). Mein Kampf. Translated by Murphy, James. Archived from the original on 24 July 2008. Retrieved 23 August 2008 – via Project Gutenberg.
  8. ^ Jacobson, Zachary Jonathan (21 May 2018). "Many are worried about the return of the 'Big Lie.' They're worried about the wrong thing". The Washington Post.
  9. ^ James, Edwin L. (11 April 1943). "Hitler's Biggest Lie; The Fuehrer's lies are legion and colossal; his biggest is that Germany was not beaten in 1918. Hitler may be planning to use that lie again. Whatever Hitler's purpose in taking up the lie of an undefeated Germany, the record of the collapse is clear. Hitler's Biggest Lie". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  10. ^ a b Bittner, Jochen (30 November 2020). "1918 Germany Has a Warning for America – Donald Trump's "Stop the Steal" campaign recalls one of the most disastrous political lies of the 20th century". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 February 2021.
  11. ^ Goebbels, Joseph (12 January 1941). Die Zeit ohne Beispiel. Munich: Zentralverlag der NSDAP. p. 364-369. Das ist natürlich für die Betroffenen mehr als peinlich. Man soll im allgemeinen seine Führungsgeheimnisse nicht verraten, zumal man nicht weiß, ob und wann man sie noch einmal gut gebrauchen kann. Das haupt-sächlichste englische Führungsgeheimnis ist nun nicht so sehr in einer besonders hervorstechenden Intelligenz als vielmehr in einer manchmal geradezu penetrant wirkenden dummdreisten Dickfelligkeit zu finden. Die Engländer gehen nach dem Prinzip vor, wenn du lügst, dann lüge gründlich, und vor allem bleibe bei dem, was du gelogen hast! Sie bleiben also bei ihren Schwindeleien, selbst auf die Gefahr hin, sich damit lächerlich zu machen.
  12. ^ Bytwerk, Randall (2008). "False Nazi Quotations". German Propaganda Archive. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  13. ^ Langer, Walter C. (1943–1944). "A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler. His Life and Legend". Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Washington, D.C. p. 219. Archived from the original on 8 October 1999 – via Nizkor. With the collaboration of Prof. Henry A. Murr, Harvard Psychological Clinic, Dr. Ernst Kris, New School for Social Research, Dr. Bertram D. Lawin, New York Psychoanalytic Institute.
  14. ^ a b "OSS Psychological Profile of Hitler, page 46" (PDF). Retrieved 17 June 2018.
  15. ^ "A Psychological Profile of Adolf Hitler" (PDF). Retrieved 17 January 2018 – via
  16. ^ Langer, Walter (24 March 2011). A Psychological Analysis of Adolf Hitler: His Life and Legend. p. 57.
  17. ^ "Analysis of the Personality of Adolf Hitler" (PDF). p. 219. Retrieved 17 January 2018 – via
  18. ^ Dale, Daniel (12 June 2021). "Trump is doing more lying about the election than talking about any other subject". CNN. Archived from the original on 16 June 2021. Similar graphic in source attributed to Janie Boschma, CNN.
  19. ^ Multiple sources:
  20. ^ Levine, Marianne; Otterbeing, Holly; Everett, Burgess (9 January 2021). "Election gambit blows up on Hawley and Cruz". Politico. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  21. ^ Block, Melissa (16 January 2021). "Can The Forces Unleashed By Trump's Big Election Lie Be Undone?". NPR. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  22. ^ Multiple sources:
  23. ^ Woodward, Calvin (9 May 2021). "Trump's 'Big Lie' imperils Republicans who don't embrace it". Associated Press. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  24. ^ Wolfe, Jan; Heavey, Susan (25 January 2021). "Trump lawyer Giuliani faces $1.3 billion lawsuit over 'big lie' election fraud claims". Reuters. Retrieved 1 February 2021.
  25. ^ Rosenberg, Matthew; Rutenberg, Jim (1 February 2021). "Key Takeaways From Trump's Effort to Overturn the Election – A Times examination of the 77 days between election and inauguration shows how a lie the former president had been grooming for years overwhelmed the Republican Party and stoked the assault on the Capitol". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2021.
  26. ^ Naylor, Brian (11 January 2021). "Impeachment Resolution Cites Trump's 'Incitement' Of Capitol Insurrection". NPR. Archived from the original on 11 January 2021. Retrieved 11 January 2021.
  27. ^ "February 10, 2021 – Issue: Vol. 167, No. 25 – Daily Edition". Congressional Record. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  28. ^ Thrush, Glenn (10 February 2021). "Prosecutors describe Trump's 'Big Lie' of a stolen election". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  29. ^ a b Blake, Aaron (5 April 2021). "Conservatives try to commandeer 'the big lie'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  30. ^ Morgan, David (3 May 2021). "Trump 'poisoning' democracy with 'big lie' claim -key House Republican". Reuters. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  31. ^ Solender, Andrew (3 May 2021). "Trump Says He'll Appropriate 'The Big Lie' to Refer to His Election Loss". Forbes. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  32. ^ Subverting Justice: How the Former President and his Allies Pressured DOJ to Overturn the 2020 Election. (pdf, 394 p.)
  33. ^ Following 8 Month Investigation, Senate Judiciary Committee Releases Report on Donald Trump's Scheme to Pressure DOJ & Overturn the 2020 Election

Further reading

  • Baker White, John (1955). The Big Lie. London: Evans Brothers. OCLC 874233110.

External links