Book Review — “Bearing False Witness”

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

          irrational actions.”


          “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



wizards wands


          “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

          imminent disasters:

                     “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!”


jellybean jar

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.   

2 thoughts on “Book Review — “Bearing False Witness”

    • Hello George – thanks for your comment, but can you tell me please exactly what specific “saying” are you describing that fits “old Elkridge”? I covered a lot of territory in this review and gave a lot of quotes and so I don’t know to which one you refer. Or, are you saying “hooey” because Frank is your cousin with whom you may not get along? I ask this because no matter WHO wrote the book, standing on its own merit, there is much truth in it and I would like to know your viewpoints to these concepts in depth.

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