Months of jail in Paris, in 1917, had reduced Mata Hari to the condition you see in the picture, above. As a further insult, she was accused to have requested a "Milk Bath" for herself. An exquisitely evil form of propaganda.
Sometimes we talk about "the problem of evil" - What's exactly evil? Why does it exist? Philosophers have discussed the subject at length, but I think there is an exquisite property of evil that makes it even more evil (if you allow me the recursive definition). Its capability of multiplying itself, to turn everything it touches into more evil.
In a post on my blog "Cassandra's Legacy," I was discussing the issue of "False Flag" operation. They are an especially nefarious kind of evil: the idea is that, in a conflict, the stronger side manages to justify an aggression by attacking itself and blaming the victims.
And here is an example of this great power that the strong have on the weak. It comes from the book by Emile Massard "Female Spies in Paris"(1922). Massard was the commander of the Paris garrison during the Great War and in his book he tells the story of the detention and of the execution of Mata Hari. As you may imagine, it is a tale full of insults and lies, signifying nothing. But, in some case, Massard manages to go beyond lies, marching straight into the territory of pure evil. At p. 63, he says that Mata Hari "had the pretense of asking for a milk bath! . . . in a moment when there was no milk for our little children! . . . "
I don't think it needs to be said that it is a lie. But, just in case you might think there could be something true in it, it was explicitly denied by the medical officer of the St. Lazare's prison, Leon Bizard, who wrote a report on Mata Hari in 1923 on the journal "Chronique Medicale". (30e année, n° 12. 1er décembre 1923 p. 355-372 - download here). It is another report full of insults and lies against Mata Hari, but it contains some grains of probable truth as they come from someone who surely knew well the prison and its characteristics. One is that the prisoners in St. Lazare lacked running water. Another that Mata Hari had asked for a bath - which seems to be a pretty reasonable request given the situation, and also a reasonable request to make to the medical officer of the place.
Then, Bizard comments: "She never had the stupid pretense - as it has been said and even written - of asking for a milk bath." Bizard also says that, "she never had the right of an everyday bath" and it is unclear if that means she could have occasional baths. In any case, when Bizard says that the false story of the milk bath was even reported in writing, he clearly refers to Emile Massard, the probable originator of the legend.
So, we have a pretty reasonable request for a bath from a woman who was locked inside a cell with no running water. And I can hardly find a more typical example of how propaganda works when this reasonable request is transformed into the evil one of asking for a milk bath "when there was no milk for our little children."
Transform the victim into aggressor: so easy and so effective. It is the great power of evil: that of multiplying itself. This is a power that goodness can't possibly match. Only saints can turn evil into good. But to turn good into evil, an idiot is more than sufficient.
The image below is from the cover a 1931 pamphlet, simply titled "Mata Hari"