a fake quotation misattributed

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 2 13:52:21 UTC 2010

Paul Fussell's  _The Great War and Modern Memory_ explains that the once
celebrated quotation, attributed to Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1914, that the
British had a "contemptible little army" that should be exterminated
immediately, was a forgery. Fussell confidently explains that  "It is now
known that the phrase emanated...from the closets of British
propagandists....The phrase was actually devised at the War Office by Sir
Frederick Maurice and fathered upon the Kaiser" ( 16).

Fussell disdains to provide a source for this information, which is widely

This is about one-third correct. The falsity of the quotation was
publicized most influentially by Arthur Ponsonby in the well-known
_Falsehood in War-Time_ (1928), pp. 84-87.  As Ponsonby explains, however,
he did not nail the forgery. After earlier investigations had turned up no
copy of the supposed order in German Army archives, Ponsonby informs us

"General Sir F. Maurice had the German newspaper files searched for the
alleged speech or order of the Kaiser, but without success. In an article
exposing the fabrication (_Daily News_, November 6, 1925), he remarks that
G.H.Q. hit on the idea of using routine orders to issue statements which it
was believed would encourage and inspirit our men.  'Most of these took the
form of casting ridicule on the German Army....These efforts were seen to be
absurd by the men in the trenches, and were soon dropped.'"

General Maurice was thus the exposer of the hoax rather than its underhanded
perpetrator.  Also worth mentioning is that Maurice's "GHQ" was in France;
Fussell's "War Office" was in London.


"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list