Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- March 13, 2003

The View from Wonderland

By Ernest Partridge
Co-Editor, "The Crisis Papers."

March 13, 2003

The founders of our republic  ... gave us the First Amendment so America would be safe for second opinions that challenge official lies. Because all of us are capable of deceiving ourselves, each of us needs a personal First Amendment operating within that would protect the quiet, fragile voice that occasionally rises uninvited to say, 'that's just not so -- that's not the truth.'... We seem to prefer a comfortable lie to the uncomfortable truth. We punish those who point out reality, and reward those who provide us with the comfort of illusion. Reality is fearsome .. but experience tells us that more fearsome yet is evading it."

Bill Moyers,

Are the people who are caught up in a mass delusion ever aware that they are living in a malignant fantasyland? Did the puritans of the Salem colony suspect that they were not hanging real “witches,” but instead were collectively engaged in a monstrous injustice? Did the “good Germans” in the thirties, ever doubt that Adolf Hitler was anything less than what the captive press said he was: the “savior of the nation and the protector of the Aryan race?” Did the “good patriots” of the fifties ever ask for proof that Senator Joe McCarthy really had a list in his hand of “known communists in the State Department?” (The number changed with each speech). How long did we persist in believing the telegenic Generals’ reassurances that “we’ve turned the corner in Viet Nam,” and that “there was a light at the end of the tunnel?”

When society has gone mad, does the “conventional belief” somehow “feel different” to those within the society? The question virtually answers itself and history confirms that when reason departs and collective insanity takes over, it all seems “perfectly sensible” from the inside. True, in all such cases, a few discerning individuals stand apart, like the child who saw no clothes on the Emperor. But such individuals are quickly marginalized as they are denounced as “traitors,” shouted into silence, exiled if they are lucky, and liquidated if they are not. After the madness has passed, statues are cast and monuments built in their name – names familiar to us all: Dietrich Bonheoffer, Klaus von Stauffenberg, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Andrei Sakharov, Joseph Welch, Edward R. Murrow, George Ball, Daniel Ellsberg, John Dean.

These heroes see what almost anyone might see – anyone who prizes his and her liberty and independence, whose wits are operational, and whose moral principles are intact. Add to this, the courage to speak out against the madness and to defend the betrayed moral principles, whatever the cost, and you have a hero.

When a society has gone collectively bonkers, this can be readily recognized by succeeding historians (no one defends the Salem witch trials today), by onlookers from outside that society (for example, in Europe and Canada where they still have a free press), and even by discerning individuals within. All these, and particularly those within, can do so by the exercise of familiar and ordinary principles of critical thinking: logic (tests of consistency and coherence), evidence, objectivity (suppression of bias), and recognition of common fallacies.

In the present crisis that has befallen our republic, there is still access to relevant information and there is an abundance of fallacy in “the official version” to be exposed, so that those of us with eyes to see, ears to hear, and the ordinary smarts to think it over, are quite able to come up with a reasonable assessment of our peril, and of our most prudent means to deal with it.

For in point of fact, the case for war against Iraq is so pathetically flimsy that it would not survive a preliminary hearing before Texas judge. Time and again, the Bushistas have come up with “evidence” against Saddam, and time and again it has been knocked down by “burly truth.” We know the particulars, but let’s review them again if only to contemplate the accumulating weight of this folly:

  • Bush and his defenders, citing a document from the International Atomic Energy Agency, continue to this day to tell us that Saddam came within six months of developing a nuclear weapon. The UN agency denies that there is, or ever was, such a document.

  • The alleged meeting in Prague of 9/11 hijack leader, Mohammed Atta and Iraqi agents, never took place. Determined attempts by US and Czech officials to obtain evidence of such a meeting has come up empty. 

  • It is claimed that the UN inspectors have discovered aluminum tubes intended for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Physicists and nuclear engineers have stated unequivocally that the tubes are totally unsuited for such purposes. Nonetheless, the charge persists.

  • In his UN “show and tell” speech, Colin Powell displayed photographs of trucks allegedly used as “mobile chemical weapons labs.” The UN inspectors have examined the trucks, and found that they are used for food shipments. No such labs have been discovered.

  • Powell also showed a photo of an “al Qaeda training camp and chemical weapons facility” in northern Iraq. What he didn’t say was that the area was under the control of the Kurds, and thus readily accessible for inspections. And sure enough, when inspected, there was no evidence of a “training camp” or a “weapons lab” (which, due to residual chemicals, would be impossible to conceal).

  • A “secret report” cited by Powell at the UN and by Tony Blair before Parliament, turned out to be a plagiarized student paper, written a decade earlier.

  • In his recent (so-called) “press conference” Bush repeatedly said that we must fight Saddam to rid the world of terrorism such as the 9/11 attacks – thus furthering the wide-spread belief that Saddam is directly involved in the destruction of the World Trade Center. The CIA, FBI and NSA have all reported to the White House that there is no evidence of such a collaboration. Still the myth is broadcast far and wide, and most Americans believe it. (More about this below).

  • In that same “scripted” news conference, Bush also told of hidden microphones that were present during interviews of Iraqi scientists. No confirming evidence of this was presented or reported by the inspectors. We have also been told by Colin Powell that even as the Iraqi missiles are being destroyed, still more are being assembled in “secret” factories. Again, no evidence is presented – not to the public, and not to the UN inspectors, whose job it is to locate and disclose such facilities.

  • Documents “proving” the shipment of uranium from Niger to Iraq have proven to be forgeries.

In short, the Bush gang’s “case for war” consists of a series of false leads, embarrassing concoctions and outright fraudulent “evidence.”

In the meantime, the UN inspectors have failed to come up with any evidence of significant production or storage of weapons of mass destruction. To this, Donald Rumsfeld has famously replied, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Even less is “absence of evidence, evidence of presence” – though some “chicken-hawks” have gone so far as to assert that the failure of the inspectors to find contraband weapons only “proves” the effectiveness of Saddam’s deception. (Still worse, we are told: “Our justification for war is to stop Saddam’s production of WMDs. You want evidence that Iraq has WMDs? Just wait till we take Iraq, then we’ll show you plenty of evidence.” The mind boggles at this circularity).

And so, with the Iraqi military decimated by the Gulf War and under constant surveillance through 1998 by the UN, and thereafter by US satellites, aircraft, and media monitors, we are about to embark upon the greatest military mismatch since the marines took Granada. And we are to launch this war with a “shock and awe” attack of 3000 cruise missiles – ever careful, of course, that we keep “collateral damage” (i.e., dead Iraqi women and children) to a minimum. After we have leveled their cities and massacred their civilians, the survivors, we are assured, will greet their “liberators” with flowers and kisses.

We must do this, we are told, because Saddam Hussein, who has attacked no one in a dozen years, “threatens us.” One is reminded of how World War II was launched on September 1, 1939, on the pretext that the Wehrmacht and the Lufftwaffe, at the time the mightiest military forces in history, were being “threatened” by the Polish biplanes and horse cavalry. 

Saddam’s alleged military “threat’ is but one morsel in the revolving menu of justifications. Others include the alleged “alliance” between Saddam and al Qaeda, for which not a scrap of evidence has been produced. Another is our altruistic desire to “bring democracy” to Iraq and the benighted Middle Eastern states.

I submit that the qualifications of the United States as a “bestower of Democracy” is a bit tainted. Iran had an operating democracy, with an elected government and Prime Minister in the fifties – a government that decided that Iran deserved a fair share of the oil revenues. Our answer (via the CIA) was to give them the Shah and his dreaded secret police, the Savak. The Chileans democratically elected Salvador Allende. But Henry Kissinger said that “we can’t allow the Chileans to elect a Marxist.” And so we “gave” them Agusto Pinochet. And so on, with Somoza in Nicaragua and Marcos in the Philippines. The most recent democracy to fall victim, of course, was that of the United States of America.  Accordingly, with a record like this, an Iraqi with even a modest awareness of recent history might be forgiven if he is a bit skeptical about the next “bestowal” of democracy by the current government of the United States. 

(Standard disclaimer: Saddam Hussein is without question an unmitigated disaster to Iraq and its people, who will be well-rid of him. Of this we can be certain. We can be much less certain that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives and the lasting enmity of hundreds of millions of Arabs and Moslems from Morocco to Indonesia is an acceptable price for this removal).

In a poll just released, 54% of the US population has expressed a willingness to go to war with Iraq, even without the sanction of the Security Council. But other polls have indicated that over two-thirds of the population believes that Iraqis were among the 9/11 hijackers, and that Saddam Hussein was involved in that attack. Hell, if I believed that, I too would be among those calling for war with Iraq. But it is a simple and demonstrable fact that there were no Iraqis among the hijackers, and as we have noted, the CIA, the FBI and the NSA have, despite exhaustive investigations, all failed to come up with any evidence of a Saddam - al Qaeda connection.

Clearly, the big lie of “Saddam-sponsored terrorism” repeated ad nauseum by both the Bush supporters and its media flacks, has taken hold of the American public. That is truly shocking. But equally shocking is the fact that the American media has made no effort to disabuse the public of this misinformation. One can only conclude from this that the media no longer regards itself, and no longer functions, as a source of facts to the public and as a forum for the open discussion of urgent public issues. Instead, it serves to promulgate false information and propaganda at the behest of the Bush regime and the corporate interests that put him in power and that dictate his agenda. 

But we knew that already, didn’t we?

In the final and fourth part of his brilliant and unfortunately forgotten PBS series, “The Public Mind” (c. 1989), Bill Moyers studied “group-think,” and examined in particular, four “case studies:” The Bay of Pigs fiasco, Watergate, the Viet Nam War, and the Challenger disaster. In all these cases, a focus by the “decision makers” upon a desired objective drew them all into a chorus of concurrence (“group think”) which shut out discordant reality and blinded them to the possibility of unintended consequences and disastrous failure. When such thoughtless policies are also promulgated to the public through a subservient and uncritical media, skillful in the black arts of propaganda and public relations, the “group think” infects the public at large.

Only after the disaster, as the nation faces the grim task of rebuilding from the wreckage, do they ask, “how could this have happened?”

Consider the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. Ill-trained Cuban expatriates were landed , without air support, in a swamp on the northern shore of Cuba. The CIA assured the Kennedy team that, according to their “best intelligence,” this landing would be a catalyst to a popular uprising that would overthrow Castro. (Precisely what the chicken hawks predict will happen in Baghdad). The day after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, when the second thoughts crept in and the team looked back at the suppressed “realities,” Kennedy asked, “how could I have been so stupid?”

In an interview with Moyers, psychologist Daniel Goleman replies: Kennedy’s advisors let him “be stupid.” “They wanted it to be true. They suppressed all their doubts. They censored themselves. They did all the things that would make the operative belief seem to be true.”

Kennedy learned well from this bitter lesson. When the next, far greater emergency – the Cuban Missile crisis -- arose, he took great care to have a multitude of opinions present, and always a “devil’s advocate” to offer an answer to the question, “why not?” It was a far more painful, more unsettling, more drawn-out process that produced a much more subjectively uncertain conclusion. But such a process is far more likely to bring forth an wiser decision. As several historians have noted, by altering the mode of White House decision-making, the Bay of Pigs may have, ironically, saved the world from a thermonuclear disaster.

One can scarcely imagine George Bush undergoing such an ordeal of cognitive dissonance. He has a much simpler and more immediate mode of decision-making: his “gut.” As he told Bob Woodward: "I can only just go by my instincts ... I'm not a textbook player, I'm a gut player."

Gawd help us all!

George Bush’s “gut,” fed by the far-right ideologues that surround him, has led the American public into a kind of “alternative universe,” detached from the reality which we in fact inhabit. It is a universe in which there is no global warming and pollution has no harmful effects, a reality in which all social problems can be solved by the free market, and economic growth is best accomplished by starving social services and education, and giving still more money to the very wealthy. And, it is a universe in which one super-power can establish “hegemony” over all the nations of the earth and expropriate their resources, whereupon the peoples thereof will simply be grateful to that power for “establishing order,” bringing “democracy,” and vanquishing the ‘evil-doers.” It is a universe comprehended by “gut instinct” unconfounded by science, practical experience, or even common sense; a universe without unintended consequences, or unfortunate side-effects.

It is, of course, a fantasyland -- not remotely like the world we inhabit. And we know that Bush’s fantasy isn’t reality – or at least we can know this. 

Once we free ourselves from Bush’s fantasies, we still we have a large advantage over those who experienced the Bay of Pigs, Watergate, Viet Nam and the Challenger. They lived through their disasters. Ours, now directly before us, has not yet happened. And before it does, we can still reflect:

  • Most of us remember Viet Nam and acknowledge it was a terrible mistake.

  • We know that history refutes the American promise of “bringing democracy.”

  • We know “the Gulf of Tonkin incident” was a lie. 

  • We know that before the onset of the Gulf War, we were told lies about the incubator babies and the Iraqi troops reported to be assembling along the Saudi border.

  • Today, we can, with a modest effort, identify the lies that we are now being fed. 

  • And we can, if we wish, learn from our mistakes.

The facts are “out there” for all to see, albeit they may have to be ferreted out from the remaining free media abroad, the few surviving independent voices at home, and of course, the internet.

The facts are out there, and yet public at large does not recognize that theirs is a view from Wonderland. The Bushevik regime does not want us to wake from our dogmatic slumbers, and the captive media is all to willing to oblige them. We are the corporate media’s mushrooms: it is their task to keep us in the dark, and feed us BS.

Thus the American public is, by and large, captivated by a collective delusion, and no more aware of this than the faithful puritans of Salem, the “good Germans” who followed their leader, and the mass of loyal American citizens, determined to avenge the destroyer Maddox, “ruthlessly attacked” in the Bay of Tonkin.

We are drifting rudderless toward disaster. Time is running out. 

Can we escape from the disaster that is immediately before us? The prospects are not good. But not to attempt this escape is the worst betrayal – a betrayal of hope and a betrayal of the future.

Copyright 2003, by Ernest Partridge

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .