August 25, 2013

Henry Geiger - Liars And Conquerors (1987)

Henry Geiger (1908?-15 February 1989) was the editor, publisher, and chief writer of MANAS Journal which published from 1948-1988. Abraham Maslow called him “the only small ‘p’ philosopher America has produced in this century.”
Below is an excerpt from, "Liars And Conquerors" by Henry Geiger. Source: MANAS Journal, Volume XL, No. 41. October 14, 1987.
We have from a reader back East a clipping from an English newspaper—probably an edition of the Manchester Guardian—providing an extract from a talk given by an eminent American editor of a well- known newspaper in this country before an audience in a university in London. "I would like," he said, "to talk about government lying." After disposing of what he called the "little lies" which seem to be a fixed policy of government, in order to convey the "right" impression of small events, he said, " Let us talk about big lies, lies that change history."

He began by recounting what Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told the new American President, Lyndon Johnson, late in 1963, when he returned from a fact-finding trip to Vietnam, after he had said to reporters at a press conference that he was "optimistic as to the progress that had been made and could be made during the coming year" in the fight against the Vietcong. What did he tell the President? For reply the editor said:
Buried in those Pentagon papers (which so few people ever read ) lay the revelation that McNamara had told President Johnson exactly the opposite of what he had told the press and through us, the world. The Secretary of Defense returned from Vietnam "laden with gloom," according to documents in the Pentagon papers. "Vietcong progress had been great," he reported to the President, "With my best guess being that the situation has in fact been deteriorating to a far greater extent than we realize. The situation is very disturbing."
Think for a minute, the editor says, on how history could have changed if the truth had come out to the world when McNamara talked to the reporters. Or if President Johnson had taken seriously what he learned from his Secretary of Defense.

Next comes a more deliberate lie, if that is possible. The editor calls to mind an issue of Time which came out in August, 1964, reporting what was alleged to have happened at the Battle of Tonkin Gulf. He quotes from Time:
Through the darkness, from the West and South, the intruders boldly sped. There were at least six of them Russian-designed Swatow gunboats armed with 37-mm and 28-mm guns, and P-4's. At 9.52 they opened fire on the destroyers with automatic weapons, and this time from as close as 2,000 yards. The night glowed eerily with the nightmarish glare of air-dropped flares and boats' searchlights. Two of the enemy's boats went down.
The editor comments:
That's the kind of vivid detail that the news magazines have made famous. I don't mean to single out Time. On the same date Life said almost the same thing and that week's issue of Newsweek had torpedoes whipping by US ships blazing out salvo after salvo of shells. It had a PT boat bursting into flames.

There was only one trouble. There was no battle. There was not a single intruder, never mind six of them. Never mind Russian-designed Swatow gunboats armed with 37mm and 28mm guns. They never opened fire. They never sank. They never fired torpedoes. They never were.
How does the editor know this?
It has really taken 20 years for this truth to emerge. My authority is Admiral Jim Stockdale, who has written a fascinating book, In Love and War. Jim Stockdale was shot down over Vietnam a few days later and was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese for more than seven years.

But on the night in question he was in a Sabre jet fighter flying cover over the Maddox and the Turner Joy, and he scoured the seas for more than two hours; and he is as sure as man can be that they were fighting phantom blips on a radar screen.
The editor concludes:
In case the Vietnam years have blurred in your minds or even disappeared from your screens, may I remind you that this so-called Battle of Tonkin Gulf was the sole basis of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which was the entire justification for the United States' war against Vietnam. This non-event happened on August 4, 1964. dent Johnson went on television that very night to ask the country to support a Congressional resolution. The resolution went to Congress the next day. Two days later it was approved unanimously by the House and 82-2 by the Senate.

The "facts" behind this critically important resolution were quite simply wrong. Misinformation? Disinformation? Deceit? Whatever! Lies.
Dozens of righteous rhetorical questions sweep into the mind when confronted by the fact that our government consistently lies to us. We should, no doubt, stop calling it a democracy. What then shall we call it? At the risk of being monotonous, we recall that Thoreau said it had become a machinery that "a single man can bend to his will." He asked, "How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it." Thoreau said this a hundred and thirty-eight years ago, and it has been growing in accuracy ever since.

What are we called upon to do? The readers of "Civil Disobedience" who take Thoreau seriously may find an answer to this question—or rather different answers—but others will feel that we cannot live without a government, poor and unreliable as it is. They are apparently resigned to living in an order constructed on the basis of lies. And if this is the case, we must then ask, do they deserve a government other than one which makes only perfunctory gestures toward telling the truth? In short, they have the government they deserve, since they do not find it intolerable.

There are of course half-measures which some of us are able to contrive. We can compose factually supported and moving essays on the vast number of people who would not have died in war if the men who run the government had had respect for the truth. Yet we know that if people in general really cared about the truth there would have been a different sort of men running the government. But can this be proved? No. Is it then true? Yes. It is true if there is any decency and reliability in the universe.

Obviously, this is a question of where reality lies. Is it on the surface, as Galileo proclaimed, only in the physical laws of nature, revealed to us by the perceptions of the senses, or is it inward and hidden, subtly declared in moments of intuition and by the pangs of conscience? Is there only one order of truth, impressed upon us by the laws of motion, or is there a more fundamental order whose rules lie in what our forefathers named moral verity, having to do with human motives, intentions, the radius of responsibilities concerning what we conceive to be right?

Is there some strange mathematical relation between the moral world and the physical world, as the result of which, in a time scale we do not understand, moral causes are translated into physical effects, in the same way that the moral qualities of a human are eventually printed on his face, exhibiting slovenly features or ennobling expression, a slack indifference or the sign marks of dignity? Of some help in considering this question would be the book, The Face of Lincoln, compiled by James Mellon and published a few years ago by Viking Press. It contains all the photographs ever taken of Lincoln. However, it seems fair to say that those notable individuals who are convinced of the primary reality of moral law do not seem to have been persuaded of this by argument, but have thought in this way since the early years of their lives. Yet, at the same time, they have sought to elaborate their conviction by reference to the great scriptures of the past and by study of the lives and works of those in whom the same faith was manifest.

Meanwhile, those who remain indifferent to such questions, or are uncertain about them, make a vast field for talented liars to cultivate. The daily newspapers seem filled with accounts of the confusions produced by these lies, the press being apparently almost as susceptible to distortions and misconceptions as the general public, the exceptions being such few individuals as the editor we have been quoting. If this is the situation with which we are confronted, then there are only two things we are able to do. One is to become preachers of a sort, advocating the reality of the moral law. Since we know that few preachers are able to speak in ways that are acceptable to human intelligence—the difficulty being to separate their counsels from egocentric righteousness and moral conceit—we soon realize that the only influential preachers or moralists have been men of virtual genius, Plato and Thoreau being examples. Therefore, becoming second-rate moralists seems almost like becoming half-conscious liars who will add to the confusion instead of reducing it. For those with ambitions in this direction, devoted study of Plato and Thoreau, and a few others, seems the best recommendation.