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The New York Times, October 24, 1935


Haile and Twain.

Haile Selassie denies that the Italian invaders are using poison gas and dumdum bullets. This confirms a longstanding impression that the Ethiopian monarch knows what is going on in the world or else has the benefit of some very competent advice on the subject. The Emperor plainly understands the anti-Italian atrocity stories will do his cause no good. There are very definite limits to the power of propaganda, and there is always the danger of propaganda going into reverse. Dumdum bullets are of this kind.

Since it happens that Haile Selassie is fighting for his crown and his country in the centennial year of Mark Twain, perhaps a little violence is allowable in bringing these two names together. It is the English in the Boer War who were first accused of using dumdum bullets, and this is what Mark Twain in London wrote about the war to his friend the Rev. Joe Twichell in 1899:

"I talk the war with both sides - always waiting until the other man introduces the topic. Then I say, 'My head is with the British, but my heart and such rags of morals as I have are with the Boer - now we will talk unembarrassed and without prejudice.' And so we discuss and have no trouble."

All-Powerful Propaganda.

Mark Twain's remarks on the Boer War might be taken to heart by a good many of us today. The World War gave extraordinary vogue to a dehumanizing doctrine. It is the doctrine which makes propaganda an omnipotent agency in determining the actions of men, and reduces men themselves to puppets. By this theory men singly, in groups or in nations never do what they would, on the whole, prefer to do, or what, as human beings, they would be likely to do. They only do the things that they are bamboozled or dragged into doing. They are never the victims of their own passions or errors. They are always being victimized by somebody else.

That is why people may actually be heard to observe today that all this bother about the poor Ethiopians only shows the clever British propaganda is on the job again.

Emperor Haile Selassie has flatly denied that the Italian invaders are using poison gas and dumdum bullets against the Ethiopians. This confirms earlier impressions that Haile Selassie either has an extraordinary understanding of what goes on in other countries or else has the benefit of some very competent advice. The Ethiopian monarch plainly understands that anti-Italian atrocity stories will do his own cause no good. People have grown very shy of this kind of propaganda. He shows that it will do him no good to accuse the Italians of poison gas and dumdum bullets; that kind of propaganda will only alienate sympathy.

Obsolete Human Instincts.

Once upon a time among all right-thinking people there was such a thing as sympathy for the underdog, for the little fellow against the big bully, for the man practicing self-defense as against the man who snatches purses and breaks into houses. But that is all passe under the new psychology. People now feel only as they are "conditioned" to feel. They feel only what the propagandists make them feel. By this theory Mark Twain in 1899 was not pro-Boer because his heart and his rags of morals pulled him that way, but because he had read a propagandist story that the English were using dumdum bullets and believed it.

But Haile Selassie understands the thing much better. He knows that it will do him little good to accuse the Italians of dumdum bullets. He wisely addresses himself to the heart and the rags of morals in every one of us. These leap spontaneously to the side of the man who is fighting against odds of 10 to 1.

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