Thomas Sowell

The carnage of the First World War was a shock from which a whole generation never recovered. Millions of soldiers on both sides were killed. A whole continent was devastated and millions of civilians were starving amid the ruins. Surely it was a humane and noble desire to want to avoid a repetition of that.

So when Geoffrey Dawson, editor of The Times of London, decided to filter the news, in the interest of peace, that was understandable.

Rather than print news that could rekindle animosities among nations that had fought in the First World War, Dawson filtered dispatches from his own foreign correspondents in Germany to remove negative reports of what the Nazis were doing.

Some of The Times' correspondents complained at the deletions and rewriting of what they had written, and some resigned in protest. They apparently understood that their role was to report the facts as they saw them, not cater to some hope or agenda.

We now know in retrospect that The Times' use of its great influence to promote the interests of peace had the opposite effect.

It downplayed the dangers of Hitler, thus contributing to Britain's belated awakening to those dangers, and its vacillating responses -- factors which emboldened Hitler to launch the Second World War.

It was not just that Dawson guessed wrong. More fundamentally, he misunderstood a journalist's role and the betrayal involved when he went beyond that role, even for a noble cause.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate