While listening to the latest ranting of The War Party, I couldn’t help be reminded of the Meredith Willson play, The Music Man. Robert Preston played "Professor" Harold Hill when the play opened in 1957, and reprised the role in a 1962 film production with Shirley Jones as Marion Paroo, and little Ronny Howard as her younger brother Winthrop.
Hill is a confidence man who sells instruments and uniforms for boys’ bands, and wants "to go wherever the people are as green as the money." But, after learning from a fellow traveling salesman how Iowans were full of guile, he considers it a challenge, and departs the train at the next stop, River City. The play is set in 1912, before WW I, and the death of innocence.
Hill claims to be a graduate of the Conservatory of Gary, Indiana, Gold Medal Class of ’05 — except that Gary wasn’t even built until ’06. He teaches music according to the "Think System," which means: without musical notes, without sheet music, and without musical instruments. Typically, when the town folk have paid their money, and have received their uniforms and instruments, but before they realize they can’t play, he’s long gone.
Aren’t the charlatans inside the Beltway more than just a little like Hill? Their pretense at expertise is a diversion while they pick your pocket, they have no real home and no true loyalties, and they’ll sell anything for a buck. They even have their own "Think System," which they employ to sell their war without pretext, without evidence, and apropos of nothing. Nothing, that is, beside their own interests, which they hope to keep well hidden.
Now as any good swindler knows, he must create a dire need, better yet a "crisis" for which he, and only he, can provide the "solution." As Professor Hill exclaims, "I will only pass this way but once!" Observing the peaceful town, which is wary of strangers, Hill tells his partner in crime, "We’re going to have to create … a desperate need in your town for a boys’ band!" Hill quickly conjures a plan to focus the community’s natural suspicion on a newly arrived pool table.
He gathers up a crowd, and stirs their moral sensibilities with dire predictions about gambling, smoking, drinking, and wild women, facilitated by internal and external dangers that abound. And, he wraps it all up in a message of pride, patriotism, and faith:
Well either you are closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge, or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of a pool table in your community. Well, you got trouble my friend right here I say trouble right here in River City. Why sure I’m a billiard player, certainly mighty proud to say I’m always mighty proud to say it. I consider that the hours I spend with a cue in my hand are golden. Help ya cultivate horse sense, and a cool head and a keen eye. Did you every take and try to give an iron clad leave to yourself from a three-rail billiard shot? But just as I say it takes judgment, brains, and maturity to score in a balkline game, I say that any boob, can take and shove a ball in a pocket. And I call that sloth, the first big step on the road to the depths of degreda- I say first, medicinal wine from a teaspoon, then beer from a bottle! And the next thing you know your son is playin’ for money in a pinch-back suit and listening to some big out of town jasper here to tell about horse race gamblin’. Not a wholesome trottin’ race, no, but a race where they sit down right on the horse! Like to see some stuck up jockey boy sittin’ on Dan Patch?! Make your blood boil? Well I should say. Now friends, let me tell you what I mean. Ya got one, two, three, four, five, six pockets in a table. Pockets that mark the difference between a gentleman and a bum with a capital "B" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for "Pool"! And all week long your River City youth will be fritterin’ away I say your young men will be fritterin’, fritterin’ away their noon time supper time chore time too! Get the ball in the pocket, never mind getting dandelions pulled or the screen door patched or the beef steak pounded. Never mind pumping any water till your parents are caught with a cistern empty on a Saturday night and that’s trouble. Yes you got lots and lots of trouble. I’m thinking of the kids in the knickerbockers, shirt-tailed young ones, peeking in the pool hall window after school you got trouble. Folks! Right here in River City. Trouble with a capital "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for "Pool"! Now I know all you folks are the right kind of parents. I’m going to be perfectly frank. Would you like to know what kind of conversation goes on while their loafing around that hall? They’ll be tryin’ out Bevo, tryin’ out Cubeds, tryin’ out tailor mades like cigarette fiends! And bragging all about how they’re gonna cover up a tell-tale breath with Sen-Sen! One fine night, they leave the pool hall, headin’ for the dance at the armory, libertine men and scarlet women, and Ragtime — shameless music that will drag your son, your daughter to the arms of the jungle, animal instinct, mass ‘steria! Friends the idle brain is the Devil’s playground. Trouble! Right here in River City! With a capital "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for "Pool"! We surely got trouble! Right here in River City! We gotta figure a way to keep the young ones moral after school. Mothers of River City, heed that warning before it’s too late! Watch for the telltale signs of corruption. The minute your son leaves the house, does he rebuckle his knickerbockers below the knee? Is there a nicotine stain on his index finger? A dime novel hidden in the corn crib? Is he starting to memorize jokes from Cap’n Billy’s Whiz-Bang? Are certain words creeping into his conversation? Words like "swell," and "so’s your old man." If so my friends, ya got trouble! Right here in River City! With a capital "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for "Pool"! We surely got trouble! Right here in River City! Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock, and The Golden Rule!
The Stock and Trade of the Politician?
But surely the analogy ends there.
Hill’s solution to idle hands is a trombone, while The War Party’s solution is a Tomahawk missile; and just as the Maine was a dubious pretext for war (but at least many sincerely believed it to have been attacked), our modern counterparts are still desperately scraping around for any pretext that will stick.
Above all, it would be quite a stretch to compare Harold Hill to the charmless bureaucrats of D.C. That politicians lie with ubiquity and without conscience or reservation is so obvious that it has become platitudinous, but what is remarkable is that of late they lie so very, very badly. When one considers that this is the stock and trade of politicians, one would think they would at least put forth a little effort. They expect the public to swallow explanations, as Pat Buchanan put it, "that wouldn’t satisfy a second grader. They hate us, we are told, because we are democratic and free and good, and we have low tax rates."
But perhaps we can somewhat forgive the National Greatness "conservatives" (who invariably confuse Power for Greatness) their lack of talent — they’re just beside themselves regarding their future prospects. Eyes rolling back into their heads, they have the blood fever. As President Bush, looking forward to the many joyous wars of the future, exclaimed in his New Year’s message, "This is the first war of the 21st century."
Lest there remain any negative connotations of the word "war," the warmongering wordsmiths are hard at work putting the best spin on what the less enlightened might consider unpleasant. They employ the moniker "WW IV" for their invasion of the whole of the Moslem world, retroactively renaming "The Cold War" to "WW III." This way, when bothersome alarmists ask, "What are you trying to do, start WW III?", they can disdainfully reply, "Of course not, WW III is over, and we won, as we always do." In this manner they can avoid the dreadful stigma and apocalyptic imagery associated with a WW III, while increasing the total number in the WW sequence (thereby diminishing each in the sequence). This will make it even easier for them to propose WW V (Africa), WW VI (the subcontinent), WW VII (the Orient), etc.
As terrible as The War Party is at lying, they are peerless and perhaps without precedence in the audacity and sheer volume of false witness they bear. It would be impossible to do more than scratch the surface of outright fabrications, sins of omission, hypocrisy, intellectual dishonesty, and careless speech seen daily by our purveyors of doom; and it does not help that the Manichean George W. Bush, if not the least intelligent president we’ve ever had, is certainly the least intellectual. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he seems to swallow uncritically every kernel of bogus history he’s fed as if it’s coated in castor oil.
History Is Bunk
When the student of history Henry Ford claimed that "history is bunk," he was merely expressing the obvious. But usually it takes some time for the court historians to convert history into bunk — a millennium, a century. In terms of our modern celebrators of war, it only takes a matter of years, months, or even days to corrupt the truth beyond recognition. Our modern day Memory Hole is working overtime digesting the volume of lost truth.
Before we study the pseudo-history The War Party has created for us, let it not go unsaid that our current Hitler of the Month, Saddam Hussein, is not a very nice guy. One of the sanest commentators on our current mess, the former Iraq weapons inspector Scott Ritter, told an interviewer he was reluctant to describe some of the prison conditions he witnessed for fear it would be used as war fodder. Being a smart man, and a patriot, Ritter knows that however mean Saddam Hussein may be, of itself it has exactly nothing whatsoever to do with American National Security. Turning once again to the Spanish American War as an example, the Spanish were not exactly lovers of freedom, either, and so the "legitimate" press of yesteryear used this to stir up American righteous indignation toward getting rid of the "bad people." But it seems we never run out of "bad people," who are more times than not only those whose interests are different from those of our government.
I was pleasantly surprised this last Sunday (8 December) that one of the subjects of 60 Minutes was U.S. government propaganda. They began the segment with a recount of the various ploys used to manipulate Americans into entering war: The Maine, Gulf of Tonkin, etc. (I was wondering if 60 Minutes would have been so free with their reporting if the current administration had been Mr. Clinton’s.)
I don’t recall if catching Belgian babies on bayonets was mentioned, but I was certainly reminded of it. As 60 Minutes was exposing the lie regarding Iraqi soldiers turning over baby incubators, I was reminded that it sounded so much like the infamous WW I propaganda that there are a lot of dead journalists that should get writing credits.
It’s difficult to imagine how we got here from the days of 11 September. The encyclopedic volume of lies could not be contained by a book, much less a column. But perhaps we can review just a few of the many layers of hypocrisy and outright lies told in the last few decades, and repeated more recently as a pretext for war.
The President’s address to the UN is a perfect template of The War Party’s pseudo-history; but yes, surely our president is not aware of at least some of the false "details."
In the beginning, we are told, Saddam Hussein "gassed his own people." This mantra is repeated so often as to become a cliché. The truth is that he probably gassed Iranians during the war with Iran. But this action, known by the U.S. government, was not criticized — after all, at this time he was our "SOB." And suffer not to mention that the gassing would have been accomplished with technology given to Iraq by the United States. (There are some who believe one of the reasons for the coming invasion of Iraq is to establish a staging ground for an invasion of Iran.)
He is also accused of gassing Kurds, who can hardly be accused of being "his people." That is, the Kurds are "his people" inasmuch as the Chechens are the Russian president’s "people." The Kurds were, and still are, fighting for their freedom, and are allied with Hussein’s enemies. All this aside, experts at the U.S. Army War College dismissed these charges when they were first raised, and no bodies were ever discovered in connection with this supposed event. And again, the government of Bush I welcomed Hussein as an ally and trading partner after this theoretical confrontation with the Kurds.
Then, we are told, "Iraq invaded Kuwait without provocation." On this, there are lies stretching back a hundred years. The victors of WW I carved up the Near and Middle East like a big birthday cake (while promising Arab allies independence that was pretty slow in coming). Kuwait had always been considered part of Iraq, but Iraq has hardly been in a position to argue.
The catalyst for the invasion was Kuwait’s slant drilling of the Iraqi oil field of Rumallah. Kuwait rejected overtures for negotiation, feeling secure in its reservoir of powerful Western oil and banking friends. On meeting with Saddam Hussein and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, United States Ambassador April Glaspie gave what was interpreted as tacit approval for the invasion of Kuwait, "…we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait."
After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, economic sanctions were imposed on Iraq (to presumably force weapons reduction compliance) that accomplished what they always do, desperation and death to the weakest — the young, the old, and the sick.
Who can forget what Madeleine Albright infamously said she was reminded that over a half-million Iraqi children had died as a result of the sanctions?: "It’s worth it."
Bush II has said that "Saddam Hussein has subverted [the oil for food] program, working around the sanctions to buy missile technology and military materials. He blames the suffering of Iraq’s people on the United Nations, even as he uses his oil wealth to build lavish palaces for himself and to buy arms for his country." This is utter nonsense. As has been pointed out by the U.N., the revenues from the sale of Iraqi oil are delivered directly to Iraqi markets by the U.N. team. It is recognized by virtually every government and NGO on the planet that the U.S. government has been responsible for the annihilation of the Iraqi infrastructure. It’s the U.S. government, not Saddam Hussein, who has been effectively turning over incubators.
Military analysts John and Karl Mueller wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1999 that perhaps more people during the decade of sanctions have died "than have been slain by all so-called weapons of mass destruction throughout history."
How about a sanity check? If the over 100,000 innocent Iraqis that have died per year for ten years have done nothing to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and have done nothing to allow inspections, why are the sanctions still in place? Why is the coalition of nations that put the sanctions in place falling apart? Why have three senior UN officials resigned rather than participate in what they refer as a genocide? If sanctions haven’t affected what the Iraqis need for survival, why did a complement of the French party Front Nationale (led by Jean-Marie le Pen) travel to Iraq on a humanitarian mission, which incidentally was opposed by the U.S. government? Why does former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter claim that Iraq has no capacity to manufacture weapons of mass destruction? Why did he eventually resign in disgust and protest of these inspections? Why does former Reagan advisor Jude Wanniski believe that the sanctions wouldn’t be lifted even if the inspectors were let back in? Why do the UN’s own officials cite that vital drugs, painkillers, chlorine and equipment for infrastructure rehabilitation have been blocked or delayed over and over again? Why is the Pope against the sanctions? Why is Colin Powell against the sanctions? Why are the most vocal proponents for war in the Middle East for the sanctions, and those for peace against the sanctions?
Iraq is hardly a garden paradise, but the picture of it as a hopeless nightmare is obviously specious. In addition, until Christian and Jewish Zionists began to push for a state of Israel in the late nineteenth century, a large Jewish population lived in Iraq in relative peace. And to this day, a significant Christian population lives in secular Iraq, of which Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz is numbered.
And to add to the hypocrisy, the United States isn’t exactly forcing Israel to abide by its U.N. resolutions, namely Council Resolution 242 (calling for an immediate end to the occupation of the West Bank), which it has been flouting for thirty-five years.
Despite all the lies, other nations seem to be cautiously falling in line — they don’t want to be perceived as renegades; that is, next on the list.
Phantom Evidence for a Phantom Menace
To be honest, I’m not that worried that Iraq might have nukes or other Weapons of Mass Destruction. There are dozens of nations that have them already, and nations that want them, including Iraq, who want them for prestige and security, not to instigate their own obliteration. And regarding the nations that have them already, some of them worry me — aside from Israel, there’s one nation who has already used them, and recently announced that it is now policy that they would be used conventionally and preemptively.
The search for WMD has become quite a comic opera. Every time the U.S. government says there’s evidence, no matter to whom they try to sell it, no one is buying. I’ve heard well-meaning folk try to tell me, "Well, they may have evidence, but because of security reasons they cannot disclose it." Setting aside for a moment the extreme convenience of such a scenario, wouldn’t our government let other heads of state in on their little secrets? Of course they would. But every time our "representatives" in government go overseas to beg for alliance based on their "evidence," they have been categorically rejected out of hand — except of course for our lapdog in England and dominatrix in Israel.
And why were American inspectors (within UNSCOM) removed in 1999? It was revealed that Washington had used agents to spy on Iraq, specifically to gain intelligence that would aid in the assassination of Saddam Hussein. (Ritter claims that former weapons inspection chief Richard Butler was complicit in the spying.) The new UN team was specifically designed to reduce American influence on the inspections.
More recently, the current U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has stated that there is no evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or is trying to build them. Atomic energy experts have for years said that it’s not credible that Iraq could be secretly developing nuclear weapons because the large power grid necessary for such production would be easily seen by satellite. But the administration keeps trying.
My favorite is the "we know you have them" method. It’s rather obvious that our government doesn’t believe Hussein has any significant weapons, as they usually seem confident that they will be given the pretext for invasion they so desperately want.
I laugh every time negotiation with Saddam Hussein makes progress. I can see them in the Oval Office, pulling their hair out. Then in front of the cameras, they say, "It doesn’t matter, we’re going to invade them anyway." As if anyone believed that invasion was linked to inspection in the first place.
In case actions weren’t clear enough, an official White House statement revealed, "This is not a matter of inspections. It is about disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi regime’s compliance with all other Security Council resolutions." Hmm. I thought disarmament was the whole point of inspections?
And Powell has said it’s too late for Iraq to negotiate (are the days of good cop, bad cop, over?), and Cheney said that even a return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq will not deter an invasion.
Nevertheless, Iraq offered to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors immediately, to which the White House responded that, "We’ve made it very clear that we are not in the business of negotiating with Saddam Hussein."
What is truly remarkable is the number of times that Iraq is expected to prove a negative.
Yet even more desperate, our government stated that, "If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown." This is a new one! Darnit if they can’t find something that Iraq can’t fulfill!
The well-worn method of all professional liars is this: if you repeat something enough, it becomes true. Nothing could illustrate this principle more than the assertion that Iraq was in some way responsible for 9-11. Polls reflect that from one-half to two thirds of the American people believe this is so.
It’s not that this government is at all good at lying, it’s just the sheer volume of lies issuing forth. And, perhaps not paying attention, the average American just might be thinking, "Why else would we be invading Iraq, and why now?"
Anticipating the absence of a smoking gun, within weeks of 9-11 the proponents of bombing Baghdad immediately declared that the absence of a clear link did not matter: we were waging a "war on terror."
They keep parading the same tissue-thin "evidence" over and over and over: that hijacker Mohamed Atta met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer. Subsequent investigations revealed that this Iraqi regularly met with a man in Prague that looks very much like Atta, a man who is apparently a used car dealer. You would think government agents would be able to recognize one of their own.
But even if Atta had met with this agent — can one imagine invading a nation on this ridiculous pretext?
No luck with anthrax? The answer is always the same: "We’re going to invade anyway."
Because they can’t make up their minds if the stated reason they’re attacking is because Saddam Hussein is evil or for national security, they decide to cover both, but only by pure assertion.
The Biggest Lie of All
Just as the Pentagon was attacked because it lies at the heart of the political capital of the U.S. (and arguably the world), the WTC was attacked because it lies at the heart of the financial capital of the U.S. (and arguably the world), and from which foreign wars have been financed ever since the creation of the Federal Reserve System. They don’t call it The Empire State for nothing. And, it certainly isn’t lost on Mideast terrorists that NYC is the home to many Jewish people, many of whom they perceive as having strong political, financial, and intellectual connections to American foreign policymakers.
I believe the argument can be made that the people of other nations, especially when they consider their own tyrannies, understand the difference between the American State and the American People. I have seen poll after poll that suggests that Arab intellectuals and ordinary folk alike offer the same answer: it’s United States policy, not the American people.
Even if one tends to distrust polls, does this not ring true?
Is this cognitive dissonance? Hardly. Observing their own States, the more intelligent of them have no difficulty in perceiving the State’s interest, or at assigning fault. Sometimes I believe there’s better understanding elsewhere than here. There are too many here that still live under the delusion that we live according to some form of representative government.
Both elements of the answer offered point to the desire for a better life. They hate the intrusiveness and oftentimes barbarity of the American State, but look up to the enviable Western engines of progress.
The biggest lie of all, and one that I suspect even George Bush doesn’t believe, is this: al Qaeda did not attack the people of the United States of America. Those brave and civilized souls who perished and survived in Manhattan and elsewhere were not the target of terrorism.
They were simply "collateral damage." The real target was the American [sic] Gothic plutocracy that abuses them. Please forgive the poor terrorist buggers for not understanding all the subtleties of the term "collateral damage" — the definition is, after all, a work in progress. We’re so fortunate not to have religious fanatics in the United States.
And religious fanatics they were. But most of the Arab world has not been radicalized — yet. The United States government is resented, while "America" is admired as symbol of freedom and material progress.
Most folks are just trying to get by, and want to be left the hell alone.
When the question gets asked, "Why do they hate us?", it might be good to remember who the "they" are and who the "we" are. "They" are fanatics, not the rest of the Moslem world, and "us" is the government of the United States.
I only hope that America wises up before we experience another terrorist catastrophe, after which American public perception will be fixed and dilated. There will be no more reasoning, I fear; not until after much bloodshed.
Salvation for River City?
As charming as "Professor" Harold Hill is, there’s a definite pathos about him — on some level, he actually believes in the "system." In a moment of sincere reflection, he says, "Oh, I always believe there’s a band," but he’s buried himself so deeply in the role, he doesn’t know how, and really doesn’t want, to do anything else.
Except Hill has met has match in the perfect love of Marion Paroo, who was wise to him from the beginning, but saw something redeemable in the man. Near the end of the play, the brokenhearted little Winthrop, the fatherless boy who has idolized Hill, discovers he’s a fraud, and asks, "Can you lead a band?" He answers, "No." Winthrop pursues, "Are you a big liar?" He answers, "Yes." "Are you a dirty rotten crook?" "Yes!"
But, he tells Winthrop that he can’t bring himself to leave, and explains, "Well, for the first time in my life, I got my foot caught in the door," and he is moved to stop trying to separate the good people of River City from their money, and the good Marion from her virtue; and only then do "Seventy-six Trombones" play their glorious tribute to goodness and honesty.
Only in the movies.
Brian Dunaway [send him mail] is a chemical engineer and a native Texan.