Now They Tell
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 werent
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
didnt trust it to tell them the truth. Lewis was shocked that they
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 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 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
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 Husseins 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.
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 Investors
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
Powells 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 wouldnt you just know, theyre
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.
Propaganda, like dairy products,
should come with an expiration date. Its 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 isnt needed anymore and
should be discarded before it becomes too ridiculous.
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. Whats the point of bickering with them now? They lost.
Its 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