HELLO to all you book lovers out there!
This is a book review on the very interesting topic of PROPAGANDA, entitled “Bearing False Witness” by Frank Crowson. It’s an examination of propaganda’s 8 (or so) ploys and how to detect them in our daily life. A direct source for Crowson’s book, I have discovered, is “The Art of Clear Thinking” by Rudolf Flesch, PhD., which book was first printed in 1951, giving practical techniques to use in every field from advertising to nuclear physics. No wonder it attracted Frank’s attention.
Frank Crowson, a world traveler, Army Corps of Engineers nuclear chemist, published poet and novel author, grew up in Elkridge — on Paradise Ave. to be exact, and has grown into developing those other abilities, as listed, moving up from mowing lawns on Levering Avenue as a youngster — like writing this particular book for instance.
Besides his knowledge of chemistry and its scientific applications in real life, Frank is a man of diverse talents and interests, has a sense of the ribald, not afraid to point a finger (I won’t divulge which one) directly to the reasons why it doesn’t pay to lie, and uses masterful language in his communication. He also has an astute knowledge of using the “how and when” to quote Bible passages or the Book of Common Prayer in surprising ways to underscore major chapter points.
Politicians – pay attention. The book is dedicated to
“all those stalwart Americans who still
believe that the power to govern derives
from the governed, and who abhor all
those who govern without understanding
the full meaning of the preceding clause.”
Bearing False Witness is so RICH in ideas that it is hard to pinpoint any one category about propaganda to dissect for this review. I have underlined every important point, and written marginal notes in my copy of the book to discuss with Frank. When books are important to me, they become study books. This book is important because it opens new doors of useful critical thinking about the purposeful use of words for hidden manipulations rather than surface superficialities.
The author also attributes the use of the colorful expressions of H.L. Mencken throughout the book to enliven dull passages. By this admission, is the author employing the propaganda tactic of transference? I don’t know. H.L. Mencken is not someone I usually read.
The best book review is to quote a few of the author’s own remarks:
“After many years of observing a myriad of societies
and languages, one comes to realize that all languages
suffer certain foibles of inexactitude. To insist upon a…
re-assembly of a mother tongue to meet some fancied
sociologic or political “need” is stupidly invidious. If
the superimposition of word meanings contain some
double entendre, self-deprecatory humor or are harm-
less slang, one can … view these word games with
tolerance and benign humor.”
“Only when there is an apparent effort to bifurcate
and/or disrupt a society, to undermine or to destroy
a people’s culture, should one find genuine offense
in fractured language…and sound the alarm.”
Nuts…that which immediately comes to my implanted subconscious at the word “fracture” is the “Fractured Fairy-Tales” of Bullwinkle the Moose.
“Once a message is planted in the subconscious, the
propagandist has but to flash his signal.”
“The reader is alerted to the danger of incessant iterations
of “pat phrases” or dichotomous pairings of words…to
inculcate unreasonable fears and/or kinder invidious
hatreds among a people through deliberate malapropisms
and lies, there should be a general repudiation…for they
are truly dangerous propagandists.”
“They are termites in the timber of Nation.”
I’ve often wanted to call all those Madison Avenue schemers and scamming liers, “termites.”
The Table of Contents has 13 chapters:
1. In the Beginning, There Was the Word
2. And the Word was Bad
3. From Profanity, Propaganda
4. Anatomy of Propaganda
5. Modern American Eighth
6. Limits of Detectability
7. Radon: Raid on Reality
8. “Fear Full” words
9. About “Good Words”
10. And the Word Shall Be Politically Correct
11. Laboratory of Language
12. “As the Twig Is Bent”
13. E Pluribus Unum
Crowson explores the understanding of seven devices tinkering with language, such as:
1) name calling, 2) glittering generalities, 3) transfers, 4) testimonials, 5) just plain folks, 6) card stacking, and 7) the bandwagon. I can think of adding three more: 8) feeling sorry, 9) excuses, and 10) assumptions.
“Thus the propagandist uses words and symbols
(objects or concepts) to lead rational persons into
“Science has supplanted religion as a propaganda
tool to control the ignorant…as long as Boobus
Americani remain ignorant of the basic tenets of
science. The black cassock of the holy man and
the peaked star encrusted hat of the medieval
wizard have become the white lab coat and the
rounded white safety helmet of the protectors of
“Regarding the EPA, “Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’
is evidently alive and well and holding down a
responsible government position. Thus the EPA
bureaucracy grows like some bifurcating amoeba on
“…we have professors of chemistry who publicly state:
Often it is for the public good that we must exaggerate
the effects of certain undesirable courses of action to
frighten the public into compliance.”
“We are told that these agencies are providing for
our safety. When asked why none of the projected
catastrophes ever occur, the…“holy men” simply
state that their timely alarms averted the numerous
“Why do elephants wear polka-dotted tennis
So that they can hide in the jelly bean jar.
What’s that? You’ve never seen any elephants
in the jelly bean jar? That’s because the polka-
dotted tennis shoes really do work as camouflage!”
Let me confess here and now I’m probably one of the Boobus Americani the author so wonderfully describes. BUT I’M STILL DEEP IN CRITICAL THOUGHT ABOUT THAT TOO.
NEXT WEEK on April 9, Frank Crowson will be at the EHS fundraiser at the Elkridge Furnace Inn and, among other things, will be selling this book. DO YOURSELF A FAVOR and BUY IT. IT’S A GOOD READ.