This week in the War, 5–11 February 1940: Pinocchio

On 7 February 1940, the Walt Disney animated movie Pinocchio opened in theatres across the United States. The film is named for its wooden puppet hero who is promised by a fairy that he can become a real boy if, among other things, he can prove himself truthful. How lying causes his wooden nose to grow longer and longer is one of the memorable parts of the story. The saying Truth is the first casualty of war was well known at the time and perhaps not far from the minds of Americans, despite their country’s being still at peace. Isolationist senator Hiram Warren Johnson is reputed to have used the expression during World War I. He died near the end of World War II–ironically on 6 August 1945, the day that the USA dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In fact, the origin of the quote is more ancient and is usually attributed to the Greek dramatist Aeschylus (525 BC–456 BC). Using a ruse de guerre to conceal the truth was appreciated by no one more than Winston Churchill. At the Teheran conference in November 1943, he famously remarked, “In war-time, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”

Churchill’s comment inspired the title of a book by Anthony Cave Brown describing the deception and misinformation campaign undertaken by the Allies to safeguard the secrets of the D-Day invasion. See Anthony Cave Brown: Bodyguard of Lies (Quill/William Morrow, NY, 1975).

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