Olaus Petri (1493-1552)

“Full oft hath truth had to stand aside in history”, wrote the Swedish intellectual authority and clergyman Olaus Petri in 1540. A statement that turned out to be prophetical; his main body of work was not published until 1818 when his words had lost any real urgency. By then, Scandinavia had finally commenced a lasting peace after centuries of nearly perpetual conflict. That same peace could arguably have been accomplished sooner and with less bloodshed had his words been heard. But such is never the way the cookie crumbles in the game of power.

His work was silenced and ignored because it exposed the propaganda and warmongering that emanated from the ruling classes of Sweden and Denmark against each other. The propaganda was racist and stereotypical towards its opponent subjects. As an example, the archbishop Johannes Magnus of Uppsala described the enemy as such; “The Danes haven’t even the sense to talk like ordinary folk; they cough and splutter out their words, turning and twisting them deep down in their throats, so that they can hardly get them out. Even to speak at all, they are obliged to distort and wrest their mouths, the upper lip to the right and nether lip to the left.”

However guttural and indecipherable the danish language seems to the modern Swede, the inhabitants of 15th century southern Sweden certainly felt a strong affinity for the Danes, connected as they were by thin waterways upon which commerce took place and much rather associated with Danes than with the rulers in Stockholm that were separated from them by endless swaths of taiga forest.

Nonetheless, the powerful of Denmark were not far behind in manufacturing and distributing monstrous portraits of the Swedish beasts. In one thing the intelligentsia of the two budding nation states could agree; that the other side was entirely made up of back-stabbing and immoral individuals. The established powers in Denmark and Sweden were not slow to stoke nationalistic sentiments — exalting the heroic national troops and denouncing the atrocities of the hideous opponents. The heroic narrative is the friend of successful propaganda, as it requires a balancing game between massaging of a nationalistic ego and plain old fear mongering.

Neither side had any chivalrous troops, no nation undertaking wars of aggression ever has. Killing, raping and pillaging is ever the name of the game. Unspeakable atrocities were committed by both sides over the centuries of warfare that these two nations underwent.

The end result of the propaganda war was that the common man consented to a multitude of wars, taxes and atrocities. But above all, two distinct and centrally controlled nation states were molded out of many smaller nations which for the most part had not identified as either Swedish or Danish at all. Nations that did not want central power to begin with, but were so compelled by the constant threat of violence from an external source. Propaganda also served as a superb tool to forcibly quell any internal unrest, used to silence alleged enemy sympathizer or insurgents.

The reality, as Olaus Petri saw it, was that the common Swedish man and the Danish counterpart were akin in most everything, and had nothing to gain from the nearly perpetual state of war that existed between these budding nation states. The sole benefactor of the successful propaganda was power itself, which through crisis could expand, and with increasing impunity could bleed its own subjects while wreaking havoc on the subjects of other nations.

That is not to say that men in power did not risk anything themselves. Kings of those days often followed their armies in war, and so died in battle with some frequency (and were sometimes killed by friendly fire if they were particularly obnoxious). Today we would not expect Putin to climb into a tank and head to Crimea to serve a higher cause. Nor would we ever imagine the Nobel peace price laureate Obama climbing into an F-16 to bomb some jihadists in the protection of American Freedom. Many rulers back then did things to that effect, and lost their lives or courts in the process. A redeeming quality of monarchism is that there is a single wring-able neck. But that is beside the point. Specific persons in power did not always benefit from warfare, power itself always did.

I can remember from my own Swedish public schooling the near macabre focus on the Stockholm Bloodbath where the Danish king Christian I also known as the Tyrant murdered a host of noblemen after his anointment. It instilled a great sense of anger and resentment in me. And objectively speaking it was a dastardly deed indeed. But much later have I learned about the glaring historical omission of comparable atrocities committed by Swedes, many of them in the then contested areas in the south of today’s Sweden. I went to school in the 80s and 90s, from which we can conclude that propaganda, once successfully implemented, is very hard to kill.

Full oft hath truth had to stand aside in history indeed. And the machinations of power remain the same to this very day. We need not look further than to our current western leadership. Today, the chosen target of propaganda, and the evident enemy of all that is good, is terrorism.

Terror. The word itself has become a plague to our language, a word that provides the moral base for western violence in the Middle East and Mediterranean — for more than a century now. And we must hate terror indeed to be able to close our eyes to injustice, occupation and murder on an unfathomable scale.

Westerners will testify that the narrative of terror is boring nowadays. Yet, the fear is there, and so mission is accomplished. Not one politician of note is brave enough to stop paying lip service to the need to “protect against terrorism”. (Except Ron Paul of course)

We take this shameful propaganda in stride. As testimony to the final victory of war and fear mongering; the common westerner now knows what our leaders want us to know: that our enemy is a nameless mass of zombies, out to get us. The enemy has not culture, nor standards or morals — it has only Jihad — the fearful gospel of violence. Look how uniformly evil they all are, these wretched bearded, shrouded and brown people, as they refuse to send their girls to school. If we must have war to have peace, then we must have war mustn’t we?

Just as the methods of power propaganda remain the same through the ages, so are heroes alike through history. From Jesus and onwards, through Olaus Petri and the likes of Edward Snowden. What they have in common is not necessarily their specific messages, but rather how they are treated; ignored, ridiculed, threatened and killed, or worse; forgotten.

So, for your chance to know a real hero in your life time, look for those who step out from the fold of the politically correct, and listen. Listen to the likes of Edward Snowden. Now. Not three hundred years from now.

Trust those that risk something when they speak.