Weapons of Mass Deception
Bill Moyers lost me during the first few minutes of his excellent PBS special, "Buying the War."
Not because it was painful to watch - blood boils at about the same temperature as water, and you could have made strong tea out of mine - but because my life became stranded at the very place where his story begins: "Four years ago this spring the Bush administration took leave of reality and plunged our country into a war so poorly planned it soon turned into a disaster."
Burdened with a logical mind, I was never able to take leave of reality. As a result, just after Sept. 11, 2001, the country left me behind.
That tragic day, George W. Bush went missing. It took days for him to show up at ground zero with a bullhorn and a determined look on his face.
Even then I recognized bad acting. I already thought that Bush was an incompetent fool. So I watched with a growing sense of horror and disbelief as my badly frightened countrymen convinced themselves that they had a real leader in the White House, one they could count on and trust to make them safe again.
It like watching was mass hypnosis. It reminded me of the time when more than 900 people at Jonestown in Guyana lined up to drink arsenic-laced Kool-Aid. But on a larger and more tragic scale.
Six years later and counting, I'm still waiting for some proof of Osama bin Laden's guilt. We never really learned who was behind the attacks, and it's made for some fancy conspiracy theories. Bush said, "It's got bin Laden written all over it." But I wouldn't trust him to look outside and tell me it's raining. And if he knew so quickly after the attacks, why he didn't know a few days earlier, so he could stop them?
Walter Isaacson, then the chairman of CNN, told Moyers, "There was a patriotic fervor and the administration used it so that if you challenged anything you were made to feel that there was something wrong with that... And there was even almost a patriotism police..."
I was afraid of the "patriotism police," too. But it didn't stop me from writing about the emperor and his lack of clothes.
Then we attacked Afghanistan, because that's where bin Laden was hiding. Out of empathy for the people of Afghanistan, I was against it. But still, I fully expected bin Laden to be caught and brought to trial. Then we would learn exactly who and what was behind the attacks on Sept. 11.
Soon we had stopped caring about bin Laden altogether. And we never took a close, hard look at Saudi Arabia, either - a country which gave us 17 of the 19 suicide hijackers.
The turning point - the day I realized logic had gone out of the window, never to return - was when I read Seymour M. Hersh's piece in The New Yorker describing the administration's plans to invade Iraq.
We had been embargoing Iraq for years. Iraqis were suffering for lack of food and medicine. Children were dying. UN weapons inspectors had been on the ground and found nothing. And as bad as Saddam Hussein was, there were other tinpot dictators around the world who threatened us more. North Korea, with its lust for nuclear weapons, came to mind. And Myanmar, whose opium trade still constitutes a major threat to our health and our economy.
But there was Congress, lining up to drink the Kool-Aid. When today's presidential candidates tell you they were "misled" back then, don't believe them. It was as clear as the noses on their craven faces.
Instead of logic, we were given a new piece of jargon: weapons of mass destruction. What weapon isn't capable of mass destruction? It became such a familiar phrase that it morphed into an acronym, WMDs. Supposedly, Saddam had them and we were supposed to be very, very afraid.
Many people around the world refused to drink the Kool-Aid. Millions took to the streets to protest the invasion of Iraq. My local newspaper, the Brattleboro Reformer, ran a "No War in Iraq" banner under its masthead for months.
The question Moyers was trying to answer - but doesn't, quite - is this: if I, a small-time columnist in a small-town newspaper, knew an Iraq war was a shuck. And if Hersh, with his flawless sources in high places knew, then why didn't the rest of the mainstream media know? What happened to logic? What happened to common sense?
Dan Rather had an explanation. "Fear is in every newsroom in the country," he told Moyers. "If you don't go along to get along, you're going to get the reputation of being a troublemaker. There's also the fear that, you know, particularly in networks, they've become huge, international conglomerates. They have big needs, legislative needs... And that puts a seed in your mind; of well, if you stick your neck out, if you take the risk of going against the grain with your reporting, is anybody going to back you up?"
Others claim that the mainstream media was too afraid of losing its "insider" status, or access to information. Or that reporters were afraid of losing their big salaries and their feelings of importance.
Instead, they lost their souls.
And so did the country. The damage America has done in the Middle East - and may continue doing, if the Bush Administration has its way - will, like slavery, hang over our heads and color our culture for centuries.
In olden Japan, seppuku was a tradition. When a leader was shamed or disgraced or screwed up really badly, he would ritually kneel, pray, maybe write a death poem, and then plunge his sword into his belly and disembowel himself. Often a loyal comrade would then step in and cut off his head.
Don't hold your breath.