Now They Tell Us
June 3, 2003
C.S. Lewis once overheard some
soldiers conversing during wartime. He was startled to discover that they all
casually assumed their government was lying to them. They weren’t the least bit
outraged by it; they simply took for granted that this is what governments
always do. It was putting their lives at stake, yet they didn’t trust it to tell
them the truth. Lewis was shocked that they weren’t shocked.
are pretty hard to fool. The French observer Jacques Ellul has written that
educated men are far more susceptible to propaganda than the uneducated. And
since most people now go to college, it would seem that propaganda may now be at
the height of its influence.
Why is this? We
like to think that education creates an immunity to propaganda, a rational,
skeptical outlook. In fact, it may do just the reverse. It may create in us a
disposition to settle for fancy words and high-sounding slogans instead of
results. Colleges are hotbeds of ideologies. The Baby Boomers, when they reached
college age, exemplified this perfectly. Around the world a whole generation of
Marxists sprang not from the “proletariat” or “the working classes,” but from
Marxism was what
the French call a false but clear idea — the sort of seductive
oversimplification, or intellectual panacea, that a bit of education makes
tempting. Other such ideas, full of mass appeal for the modestly
college-educated, include liberalism, feminism, Zionism, and neoconservatism.
The war on Iraq was the fruit of neoconservative propaganda. One of its
authors, the hawkish deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, has now admitted
to Vanity Fair magazine that Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of
mass destruction were only a “bureaucratic reason” for the war, a reason
everyone in the Bush administration could agree on.
Not exactly a lie, perhaps, but a sort of convenient fiction. Of course
no such weapons were used by the Iraqis during the war, and the victors have
been unable to find them. President Bush still insists they will turn up sooner
admission has caused a stir in this country, but a real uproar in England, where
Prime Minister Tony Blair may lose his job over it. The British, even those who
favored the war, are taking this issue very seriously.
The pro-war press
in America is trying to play down the phantom WMDs. As Investor’s Business
Daily puts it, “Finding banned weapons to placate the anti-war crowd
should be far, far down the list” of “unfinished tasks in Iraq.” To placate the
For months the
administration harped on WMDs as the chief reason for war on Iraq. Remember
Colin Powell’s long aria to the United Nations Security Council? That was
supposed to be the moment of truth, the dramatic moment when the hawks would lay
all their big cards on the table, though it turned out to be a farrago of
dubious sources. It has since transpired that U.S. intelligence agencies doubted
that Saddam Hussein had any WMDs to speak of.
So now we are told
that only nit-pickers of “the anti-war crowd” ever made an issue of the
forbidden weapons. And wouldn’t you just know, they’re doing it again!
The new propaganda line is that Saddam Hussein was so evil — as witness
the exhumed corpses of his many victims — that the war was justified in order to
liberate the Iraqi people from his tyranny. So it had nothing to do with
American defense and national security after all. Just as “the anti-war crowd”
was saying all along.
dairy products, should come with an expiration date. It’s usually abandoned once
it has served its purpose. The WMD story worked very well when it was needed to
whip up war fever. It provided a temporary excuse, disarmed skepticism, isolated
critics. Now it isn’t needed anymore and should be discarded before it becomes
crowd” were neither a subversive, Kremlin-funded organization nor an auxiliary
of al-Qaeda. They were merely scattered individuals who tried to keep a grip on
their common sense in the face of what they recognized to be a lot of hooey from
their own government. So they were right. What’s the point of bickering with
them now? They lost.
instructive, and often entertaining, to compare postwar propaganda with pre-war
propaganda. As the victors tell it, the reasons for war tend to get nobler and
nobler with time, and their more absurd lies often fall quietly away in the
Joe Sobran's Biography.
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