The Bayonet Baby Effect

Posted: 25 February 2011 in Uncategorized
The Bayonet Baby Effect
At the beginning of the WW1 (1914), the British press were reporting that Germans were tossing Belgian babies into the air and catching them with their bayonets like the Norman Lindsay described in his picture, The Bulletin (see Pictography reference).
Arthur Ponsonby (op cit.) reveals that same story and a similar one of babies having their hands cut off by Germans shortly after invading Belgium: “On September 2, 1914, The Times correspondent quotes French refugees declaring: “They cut the hands off the little boys so that there shall be no more soldiers for France.”
However, Francesco Nitti, Italian Prime Minister during WW 1, stated in his memoirs: “We heard the story of poor little Belgian children whose hands were cut off by the Huns. (…) Mr. Lloyd George [then British PM] and myself carried out on extensive investigations as to the truth of these horrible accusations, some of which, at least, were told specifically as to names and places. Every case investigated proved to be a myth.”
Philip Knightley in his monumental book, The First Casualty (p.486), describes the alleged atrocities when the Iraqi troops arrived in Kuwait City and tossed babies out of incubators to send those machines back to their country. A campaign was orchestrated by the Citizens of Free Kuwait with stories appearing in the Daily Telegraph, Reuters, L.A Times, and others, with the nexus being a young Kuwaiti woman in front of an US Congressional Causus on Human Rights describing how she lost her baby with the robbery of the incubators. Some sources said that due to the outrage of the American public, George Bush Sr. did a U-turn and started speaking more belligerently speech about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The young woman, Nayirah, was the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador in the US and such a story, as it later emerged, was just part of the Kuwaiti in exile Government propaganda.
Such stories and similar ones (eg. the “rape camps” in Kosovo or the “death camps” in Bosnia[2]) constantly appear in the press before small or major conflicts. It is very often referred to the hitlerisation or demonisation of the enemy, the “other” (see. Stuart Allan in News Culture under “Us and Them : racism in the news” p.157 for further development on this specific issue).
The role of each serious newspaper and channel is to check the veracity of such facts one way or another, whatever the atrocities. Failure to do so ends with the media’s worst enemy, loss of credibility.
Finally, such “psychological” imagery was used during the 1989 Romanian revolution and is still visible nowadays in the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia on large billboards showing a super-human Khmer Rouge soldier (on his own and at the same time) tossing and bayonetting a baby.
Conflicts in South East Asia have changed media conflict reporting and military propaganda. As we will see, freedom of reporting during war itself can bring disparate and complex situations on both sides.
  1. […] papers reporting the sinking of the Maine as an act of Spanish treachery? And then there were those Belgian babies supposedly speared on German bayonets whose grisly and entirely fictitious fate inspired us to […]

  2. […] word is going to be enough to make us all forget the inconvenient truths? Or is the frantic “Germans bayoneted Belgian babies” style of propaganda just more evidence that they know their latest bid to get us all to back war […]

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