Totschweigtaktik

  New word, Totschweigtaktik
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Death by Silence in the Writers’ Combat Zone

There is a famous maxim which is sometimes attributed to the American philosopher William James, and also Mahatma Gandhi: ‘First they ignore you; then they mock you; then they attack you viciously. Finally they say, oh we knew that all along’.

Stage one – the Totschweigtaktik – means depriving someone and their work or opinion of the oxygen of attention.

In 1996, publisher Michael Duffy helped organise for a group of Aboriginal women to be bused from Adelaide to Canberra for the Parliament House launch of a book that he felt would put his new imprint, Duffy & Snellgrove, on the map. The women were from the Ngarrindjeri community and the book, by television reporter Chris Kenny, was called ‘It Would Be Nice If There Was Some Women’s Business: The Story Behind the Hindmarsh Island Affair’. Kenny, then working for Channel Ten, believed that the Hindmarsh Island Bridge controversy — a saga that had pitched a group of Aboriginal women defending alleged sacred secrets against the developers of a marina who wanted to build a bridge to a small island near the mouth of the Murray River—was centred on a fabrication. He argued the secrets didn’t exist.

Kenny says he had no ideological barrow to push. He had read everything he could, interviewed everyone he could, analysed everything he could. He believed he was right.

Given the public back and forth, it’s no wonder that both publisher and author thought it would be a breakthrough to take a small group of the dissident women to the launch where they could speak for themselves. Kenny’s father drove the bus on its 1200-kilometre journey and Duffy sent personal invitations to the launch to the ninety or so members of the press gallery.

Just two or three members of the gallery showed up.
Duffy says now, ‘It was clear we were going to be shut out by the media’. Kenny remembers, ‘There was no interest. It was very difficult to get the book reviewed’.

The tour was cancelled.

If Duffy and Kenny had been living in Vienna, they would have known exactly what they were up against: the Totschweigtaktik. The word means ‘death by silence’ and it’s an astonishingly effective tactic for killing off not just creative work but also ideas or news reports or contrary opinions that don’t fit the prevailing and fashionable mores.

Orwell suffered mightily for his 1938 book Homage to Catalonia. The left-leaning literati met its criticisms of Moscow’s role in the Spanish civil war with what Wheatcroft writes ‘used to be known in Vienna as the Totschweigtaktik, death by silence’. It means depriving someone of the oxygen of attention so their creative efforts expire like a butterfly in a bell jar. It works best in places where networks are concentrated and where bullies go mostly unchallenged, and it’s astonishingly effective. When Orwell died in 1950, Catalonia — now regarded as a classic of perspicacity — hadn’t managed to sell its first edition of 1,500.

Source: Shelley Gare – Quadrant Online

On 21 August, the following was published on Facebook:

JS: “Maybe the Federal Government has cut too deep into the ABC budget. I have seen footage on friends FB feeds of huge crowds in Sydney in front of the NSW Parliament. But after 10 minutes of searching haven’t found an ABC News report about the rally.

Even the story in ABC NSW News concerning the Abortion Bill is currently 6 hours old, and no mention of a rally”.

In reply:

JW: This video gives the reality of the demonstration against the NSW Abortion Legislation. The ABC described it as ‘over 100 people’. I have seen real estimates of up to 10,000.

Photo from JW (published on Facebook)

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