“Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
~ Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering
It has often been said that "truth is the first casualty of war."
While this cliché is undeniably true, it reveals, like most clichés, a certain world-weary cynicism that is unflattering and downright dangerous, for it betrays the blithe acceptance of something that, in my opinion, should never, ever be tolerated: Leaders who lie about wars.
The American people are not, contrary to the assertions of our postmodern professoriate, an innately warlike people. For the most part, they prefer to be left alone to raise their children, toil at their work, and worship their God in relative peace.
Unfortunately, almost from our nation’s founding, Americans have been plagued by a political elite harboring globalist and utopian pretensions, a dark coterie of decision-makers who believe that no skirmish anywhere in the world should occur without American soldiers partaking in the bloodshed. Time and again, the American people have been manipulated and cajoled — sometimes kicking and screaming — into wars that were ultimately irrelevant to our national security.
Historically, this bloody trail began with phony stories about the sinking of the USS Maine, the casus belli of our involvement in the Spanish American War. The scam was perfected by Woodrow Wilson and FDR, who campaigned on platforms opposing our entry into European wars, even while they simultaneously plotted the opposite.
Having learned nothing, the American people fell for the same trick when LBJ staged the Gulf of Tonkin incident to precipitate our involvement in Vietnam, and yet again when George W Bush fabricated WMD intelligence to justify our invasion of Iraq.
Through the years, at cocktail parties and the like, I’ve had many occasions to recite this litany of lies and infamy to members of the "establishment" (journalists, foreign policy intellectuals, or sometimes just particularly well-informed friends). They listen, respectfully and patiently — but unmoved — until my outrage is exhausted.
And then IT happens.
Sometimes IT is blunt and without shame, while at other times IT is carefully veiled with innuendos and code words. But the essence is always the same.
Inevitably, the "sophisticated insider" will hunch his shoulders ever-so-slightly and glance shiftily around the room, as if to ensure that no one else is listening. And then he’ll say something like: "Steve, what you’re saying is quaint, but it’s also unreasonable and more than a little nave. Of course people don’t want to fight wars, but what are our leaders supposed to do? We all know that some wars need to be fought. Unfortunately, the American people are selfish. They’re provincial. They are too wrapped up in their own little lives to care about what is happening in the outside world."
Then, he’ll lean forward and put a soothing hand on my shoulder. "I know it’s an ugly business, Steve, but sometimes our leaders have to tell noble lies. They do it for the greater good."
For a pregnant moment, this drivel sits there, simmering and smoking like a lump of molten sulfur from Hell.
Even now, safely removed from one of these exchanges, I can barely express my disagreement in a manner that won’t surge through the internet lines and detonate everyone’s motherboards.
Obviously, politicians tell lies, early and often. Such behavior seems to be an unfortunate but eternal vice plaguing our fallen race.
But that’s where the comparison ends.
If some small-town mayor claims that a new sewage project is vital to his community — although his real motive is to dole out contracts to campaign contributors — he is without doubt acting immorally. When a congressman swears he’ll never vote for a tax increase, and then does, he is committing a grave offense.
But the leader who uses fear-mongering and deliberate falsehoods to start a war resides on an entirely different plane of evil.
War is an utterly profound and tragic event, far different from sewage pipes and tax-hikes. When the dogs of war are unleashed, men and women are sent to fight, kill, and die. Children lose their fathers and mothers, parents bury their sons and daughters, and survivors return crippled, both physically and emotionally. As the "collateral damage" mounts, hospitals are flattened, schools are destroyed, and cities are burned to the ground.
How dare anyone defend lies of this magnitude with such casual and patronizing indifference?
Yet this morally bankrupt argument is accepted, verbatim, by the vast majority of our political and intellectual leadership.
Contrary to such elitist assertions, the American people are not ignorant cannon fodder, to be marched off at the whim of their liege-lords, nor are they calves to be fattened for the slaughter. Although our leaders often seem to forget, Americans are free citizens of a free republic.
Admittedly, the world is a dangerous place, and sometimes it is better to fight than not. But if a president becomes aware of a situation that he honestly believes might endanger our nation; he is obligated to address the people and to describe the nature and origins of the conflict. When he does so, it is his sacred duty to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
With so much at stake, there can be no room for lies, no place for exaggeration or manipulation.
Once the president makes his case, it is up to the American people to weigh the arguments and make a decision (which they can express through freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and through their elected representatives).
Without doubt, this republican system exposes us to a certain peril, for it is entirely possible that, having heard the truth from the president about a gathering threat, the American people might decline to fight (Though I consider this to be extremely unlikely. Americans have never walked away from any danger that truly threatened our nation and our constitutional form of government). Nevertheless, through some combination of cowardice, indifference, and slothfulness, the American people might someday decline to fight just such a war. As a worst-case scenario, our nation could even be overrun and our people reduced to languishing under the boot of foreign domination.
In that case, the American people will have reaped the consequences of their decision. They will have purchased their enslavement with the coin of their cowardice. (One could only hope that someday a better generation would arise, one more willing to make the sacrifices that freedom sometimes requires.)
But the avoidance of such a tragic outcome does not legitimize the use of lies, fear-mongering, and deception on the part of our leaders. There is no philosophical justification, no twisted concoction of logic, which can claim otherwise.
When men march to war, they have an absolute, sacred right to understand the exact nature of the conflict and the precise reasons for their involvement. Any leader behaving differently, any official who tells "noble lies" or, even worse, incites wars at the behest of powerful special interest groups harboring ulterior motives, is not really a member of the human family at all. He is, rather, a being of abject evil.
Such practices may have been acceptable in Hermann Goering’s Germany, but they have no place in a land that claims to be free.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.