George Orwell said that political language is “designed to make lies sound
truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure
wind.” There’s been enough pure wind flying around of late that more people than
ever assume that what we are told as truth has been twisted to suit the teller.
The truth, what’s left of it by the time it squeezes free, is easily overlooked
if not altogether lost in the crowd of half truths and bald lies trotted out daily
to the public. It is hardly surprising so many people end up shrugging their shoulders
and concluding: ‘It doesn’t really matter what the truth is – the whole thing’s
a bloody conspiracy anyway.
One curious conspiracy-truth blowing around the Gulf these days proposes that
all along and even now, Saddam Hussein has been a loyal CIA plant. His mission?
To crack the door for America’s foot in the Middle East. This is mild as conspiracy
theories go, far less audacious than Gore Vidal’s recent assertion that a “Bush
Junta” knowingly allowed September 11 to happen in order to provide an extreme
context in which to inflict its extreme vision thing on America and the world.
Truth has had the bottom knocked out from under it so many times that we accept
very little at face value, or are quick to believe what we want to believe. Even
the basic identity of the perpetrators of September 11 is still up for grabs,
particularly in the Muslim world, where one routinely hears otherwise discerning
individuals say, “It couldn’t have been a Muslim,” or repeat the popular but weak
argument that Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were singled out when there was not
“a shred of evidence” against them. If Al Qaeda was not behind the September 11
attacks, then who was? The CIA for starters, the Bush Junta as an entree, the
Illuminati for dessert. But the staple culprits are still the Israelis, as evidenced
by the three or four (or was it fourteen?) thousand Jews who slyly called in sick
to the World Trade Center the day it went down.
As for the true motive behind America’s latest hankering for war, one may choose
from: A) Oil; B) Imperialist ambition; C) Outright arrogance; D) Downright ignorance;
E) A passion to spread Democracy; F) A passion to spread a smokescreen over domestic
troubles; G) To generate revenue; H) To Make the World a Better Place; I) To trigger
Armageddon (Oh Rapture!) J) To free the Iraqi people (who we have nothing against);
K) To remind everybody that “one man isn’t all that important”, (so long as his
name’s not Saddam Hussein); L) To please a cabal of hawks; M) Because Inaction
Is Not An Option; N) Because it’s winter, invasion season in the Gulf; O) To take
further comfort in the impression that we are Doing Something; P) To Finish the
Job; Q) Because we can’t back out now; R) It’s what Jesus would have done; S)
Because Saddam allegedly tried to assassinate a US president; T) Because he Used
Gas Against His Own People; U) Because he’s been Stiffing The World; V) Because
he chairs an Axis of Evil; W) Because if you insist on carrying a hammer, everything
looks like a nail; X) Just ‘Cuz; Y) To show Europe who’s boss; Z) Oh… and Weapons
of Mass Destruction.
Is it one of the above? All of the Above? None of the Above? Six of the Above?
Take your pick. On its way down to meet the public, the plain truth is shaved
into an array of possibilities that leaves people wondering what, why and who
to believe. Little wonder so many opt to jump on whatever slant suits their personal
agenda, or simply say to hell with it. What to believe? – Nothing. Who? – Nobody.
Why? – Precisely.
Sometimes it seems tempting to leave it at that. But Orwell was being practical
and precise, not cynical, when he termed politics “a mass of lies, evasions, folly,
hatred, and schizophrenia.” He believed it was a public duty to notice the dirt
and get the hands dirty – not merely hold the nose or turn it up, and walk away.
The least we can do is test what we hear and (much harder) what we say for Lies
& Evasions (Is it honest? Is it free from the smell of rat?), Folly (Is it wise?),
Hate (Is its concern for the common good?), and Schizophrenia (Is it sane?).
It is still unclear what to make of the push for war with Iraq. To many Americans
and to much of the world, what is being done feels bewildering and disconcerting
– how it is being done even more so. The administration’s style has consistently
seemed cocksure and dismissive in its hot pursuit of interests it terms national.
It seems to take something like pride in its capacity to snub or ignore anyone
not convinced that these interests are honest, wise, constructive, or sane. For
all the discussion and debate on Iraq, the war drums have not missed a beat. The
message the world frequently receives, whether inadvertent or intended, is: “We
do as we please, we don’t care what you think, and we’re pleased to announce that
there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.”
In his dismay at the passage of the Fugitive Slave Bill, Ralph Waldo Emerson
wrote: “There are always texts and thoughts and arguments. But it is the genius
of the man which decides whether he will stand for might or right.” People around
the world are watching as Washington champs at the bit to get troops across the
Iraqi border. Pure wind takes on the appearance of solidity – there has been no
end of texts and thoughts and arguments. Perhaps the plain truth will squeeze
free one day. Meanwhile, the world watches, waiting to see if the genius of America
is essentially about might or about right.
John Liechty teaches in Muscat, Oman. E-mail: email@example.com