The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.
~ H.L. Mencken
The war system’s response to Gen. McChrystal’s Rolling Stone interview is instructive. It is a reminder that every Memorial Day should begin by honoring the first victim of every war: truth. But as all wars are grounded in lies — the bloodier the war the more enormous the falsity of its foundation — truth becomes not only a casualty, but the enemy itself.
Whether McChrystal’s assessment was correct is not the point: it is the threat to the war racket of having insiders purporting to address the reality of war that so disturbs the state. Men of the general’s stature are expected to have greater access to evidence supporting their opinions, thus enhancing their credibility. The public acceptance of war is the default position that perpetuates its insanity. "Truth" is the input that "does not compute" within the logic of the war system, and the state undertakes every precaution — such as censorship, labeling documents and other discomforting facts as "top secret" — to silence any doubts that might be raised as to the validity of the propagandized campaign on behalf of death and destruction.
The annual ritual of gathering at the "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" — is there even a body within it? — is a convenient way of reinvesting popular commitments to hazy purposes. The uncertainties and contradictions that attend the "fog of war" are more easily overlooked — or ignored — when the fallen soldiers, themselves, can be enshrouded in the cloak of being "unknown." If the soldiers who die are unfamiliar to us — fungible nonbeings who, like ourselves, have been conditioned to serve the state — how can the rest of us be expected to cut our ways through the cloudiness? As long as we are prepared to insist upon the protection of our ignorance; to wave our flags when the cheerleaders so direct us; and to regard war as but the expression of some imagined sense of "human nature," this evil, institutionally-profitable racket will continue unabated. The entire mess can then be synthesized into such an incoherent hodgepodge of confusing complexity that no one can be expected to make any sense of it. As in trying to unravel the causation of recessions, depressions, and other dislocations — an effort that requires a basic understanding of economic principles that most of us have learned to dismiss as the "dismal science," whose intricacies and subtleties are best left to institutional wizards and czars — Boobus can take comfort in his ignorance of the critical events in his life.
Gen. McChrystal has discovered what so many others before him learned — from Socrates to Thomas More to Gen. Smedley Butler to Sophie Scholl to Daniel Ellsberg to Seymour Hersh to untold governmental "whistleblowers" — even, more recently to Helen Thomas — that it is dangerous to speak truth not to power, but to ordinary people. The owners of the political establishment know the truth; they are fully aware of the lies they have fabricated; the deceptions they — along with their obliging media and academic supporters — have carefully manipulated into a perception of "truth." The owners don’t want you to know what they know. Those who would dare to so inform you get labeled as "paranoid conspiracy theorists," "disgruntled former employees," "racists," or "anti-Semitic." When I am asked if I believe in "conspiracy theories" of history, I respond — in the words of the late Chris Tame — "I am not interested in conspiracy theories, but in the facts of conspiracies."
There is one voice the establishment owners have been reluctant to silence, even years after his death. Former President Eisenhower — who personified the "hero" of World War II to such a degree that both the Republican and Democratic parties wanted to nominate him — declared, in his farewell address that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex." Perhaps it was his hands-on familiarity with war — unlike so many war-loving lounge-generals who never heard a shot fired in anger — that left within him such a distaste for the system. But you and I are not to think such thoughts, nor to listen to those who do. We are to believe the great lie that our family members and friends died to protect us, rather than to profit the corporate-state interests who create and manage the institutionalized carnage.
The institutionalized order cannot tolerate any deviation from the mindset it has worked so hard to maintain. At least since the time of Gutenberg, it has been at war with any expressions that undermine the status quo. Because life is a constant process of response to changing environments, practices that inhibit such resiliency can only diminish life. This is why there is nothing so liberating as the free flow of information which, coupled with respect for the inviolability of property, allows people to engage in self-interested adaptations to their world.
As the political establishment continues to collapse, its war against the transformative nature of information becomes intensified. Efforts are currently being made by some politicians and governmental agencies to control the Internet; to give to the president a "kill switch" that would allow him to shut down, on his dictatorial whim, this decentralized and unrestrained engine of communication whenever he considers it necessary for the interests of national security. That Sen. Lieberman — the sponsor of such a bill — justifies the measure on the grounds that the Chinese government has such power, is indicative of just how strongly the established order feels threatened by free minds!
It is not that the existing power structure is concerned that "false" ideas, or "untrue" statements might be loosed upon society — it has long thrived on such practices — but that speakers and writers might step outside the permitted circle of opinion certified as "safe" by and for the guardians of our minds. It was not that Helen Thomas’s comments were objectionable — I, for one, criticized them on the grounds of the collectivist premise underlying them — but that she crossed the line about what free men and women are allowed to think about and discuss. In this, as in all other matters, I remain an anarchist: people should be free to control their own lives and property — including the content of their minds — as they find useful to their own ends.
Perhaps former President Eisenhower can once again be called upon to advise the Liebermans, the Hillary Clintons, the Sen. Jay Rockefellers, and others who have predilections for tyrannizing the minds of their neighbors: "Don’t join the book burners. Do not think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed."
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918—1938 and of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival. His latest book is Boundaries of Order.