Falsehood in War-Time

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Falsehood in War-time, Containing an Assortment of Lies Circulated Throughout the Nations During the Great War, written by Arthur Ponsonby in 1928[1] lists and refutes pieces of propaganda used by the Allied Forces (Russia, France, Britain and the United States) against the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria).[2]

After the Second World War, a new edition of the book was given the updated title Falsehood in War-Time: Propaganda Lies of the First World War.

Lord Ponsonby is standing to the far right of the photo. Click on the image for further details of people in the photograph.

Arthur Ponsonby[edit]

Arthur Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Shulbrede, was born Arthur Augustus William Henry Ponsonby in 1871.[3] Lord Ponsonby attended Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford, where he joined the Diplomatic Service. In 1906, Ponsonby ran as a Liberal candidate, unsuccessfully, at the general election but was elected a Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom (MP) at a by-election in 1908. Lord Ponsonby was opposed to Britain's involvement in World War I and helped form the Union of Democratic Control (UDC). He stood as an “Independent Democrat” in the new Dunfermline Burghs constituency in the 1918 general election and was defeated, and joined the Labour Party, becoming the MP for the Brightside Division of Sheffield in the 1922 general election. He was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport after the 1929 general election. He was granted a peerage and became Leader of the House of Lords in 1930. In 1940, Lord Ponsonby resigned from the Labour Party because he was opposed to its decision to join the National Government.


Falsehood in War-time identifies the role propaganda played in World War I, in general and specific terms and lists over 20 falsehoods that were circulated during the First World War. Indicative of his worldview Ponsonby regards these falsehoods as a fundamental part of the way the war effort was created and sustained, claiming that without lies there would be “no reason and no will for war”.[4]

Some of these falsehoods contain atrocity propaganda reported on German Army troops which were reported killing and maiming of innocent civilians and captured soldiers.[5]

Another example made throughout the war was the mistranslation of the opening lines of the Deutschlandlied, base for the German national anthem: ″Deutschland über Alles auf der ganzen Welt″ (Germany above all things in the whole world). It was popularly accepted as meaning, "(Let) Germany (rule) over everywhere in the whole world," i.e. the German domination of the world. However, German grammar distinguishes between über alles i.e. above everything (for me), and über allen, meaning "above everyone else."[6] The latter misleading translation was chosen by the Allies during both World Wars for propaganda purposes.[citation needed]

Anne Morelli has summarized and systematized the contents of Ponsonby's classic in "ten commandments of propaganda":[7]

  1. We do not want war.
  2. The opposite party alone is guilty of war.
  3. The enemy is the face of the devil.
  4. We defend a noble cause, not our own interest.(Just war theory)
  5. The enemy systematically commits cruelties; our mishaps are involuntary.
  6. The enemy uses forbidden weapons.
  7. We suffer small losses, those of the enemy are enormous.
  8. Artists and intellectuals back our cause.
  9. Our cause is sacred.
  10. All who doubt our propaganda, are traitors.[8][9]

Reception and significance[edit]

Falsehood in War-Time was positively received on its release. The International Journal of Ethics calls Ponsonby’s work "an interesting study of the moral degradation involved in all wars." In addition, the World Tomorrow welcomed the book as a direct way of describing propaganda in World War One and states it is, "decidedly to the good." One of Ponsonby’s critics, The Times of London, called attention to Ponsonby’s omission of the Bryce report. However, The Times recognizes that Ponsonby’s writing "is a useful warning against undue credulity." The reception of the book in Germany was positive, where the German Foreign Ministry regarded it as the "best and most effective book... against war atrocity lies" and helped get it translated into French and German.[10]

Recent scholarship has catalogued and criticised the extensive methodological errors within Falsehood in War-Time. Dr Adrian Gregory records various instances where Ponsonby incorrectly charged the British press as manufacturing stories that actually derived from various other sources including rumours, urban myths and German propaganda. He concludes, "material from American isolationist sources, the British pacifist press and even from Germany is taken as truth, British official pronouncements and the British press are assumed to be lying. His book is not an inquiry into propaganda; it is propaganda, of the most passionate sort."[11]

Anne Morelli systematised the essentials of Ponsonby's classic in her book 'Principes élémentaires de propagande de guerre'. Morelli explains how these principles not only worked during the First World War, but were also applied in all wars after.


  1. ^ Arthur Ponsonby, Falsehood in War-Time: Containing an Assortment of Lies Circulated Throughout the Nations During the Great War (London: Garland Publishing Company, 1928)
  2. ^ [1], 1996-2004.
  3. ^ [2], 2008.
  4. ^ Ponsonby, Arthur (1928). Falsehood in War Time: Containing an Assortment of Lies Circulated Throughout the Nations During the Great War. George Allen and Unwin, London. ISBN 1162798653.
  5. ^ FALSEHOOD IN WAR-TIME: Propaganda Lies of the First World War by Arthur Ponsonby MP 1928 by George Allen and Unwin
  6. ^ Ponsonby, Arthur (1928). Falsehood in War Time: Containing an Assortment of Lies Circulated Throughout the Nations During the Great War (Chapter 11). George Allen and Unwin, London. ISBN 1162798653.
  7. ^ Morelli, Anne (2001). Principes élémentaires de propagande de guerre. Brussels: éditions Labor. p. 93. ISBN 2-8040-1565-3.
  8. ^ Archived 2010-08-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Ponsonby, Arthur (1928). Falsehood in War-time: Propaganda Lies of the First World War. Project Gutenberg Australia
  10. ^ John Horne and Alan Kramer, German Atrocities, 1914: A History of Denial (London: Yale University Press, 2001), p. 374.
  11. ^ Adrian Gregory, The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 43.

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