June 3, 2003

by Joe Sobran

     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.

     Plain men 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 

     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 the campuses.

     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 or later.

     Wolfowitz's 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 anti-war crowd?

     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 

     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 

     Propaganda, like 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 too ridiculous.

     "The anti-war 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.

     It's always 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 retelling.


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