A Government of Lies

By Tesich, Steve | The Nation, January 6, 1992 | Go to article overview

A Government of Lies


Tesich, Steve, The Nation


A Government Of Lies

We're all too familiar with the term "Vietnam syndrome," but little has been said recently about another, far more disturbing and insidious syndrome that spawns ever more virulent strains of social decay: the Watergate syndrome. The revelations that President Nixon and members of his Cabinet were a bunch of cheap crooks rightly sickened and disgusted the nation. But truth prevailed and a once-again proud nation proudly patted itself on the back; despite the crimes committed in the highest office in our land, our system of government worked. Democracy triumphed.

But in the wake of that triumph something totally unforeseen occurred. Either because the Watergate revelations were so wrenching and followed on the heels of the war in Vietnam, which was replete with crimes and revelations of its own, or because Nixon was so quickly pardoned, we began to shy away from the truth. We came to equate truth with bad news and we didn't want bad news anymore, no matter how true or vital to our health as a nation. We looked to our government to protect us from the truth.

The high crimes and impeachable offenses committed by Ronald Reagan and his Administration, which included our current President, in the Iran/contra scandal were far more serious and un-American than the crimes for which Nixon was kicked out of office. These latest crimes attacked the very heart and sould of our Republic. A private little government was created to pursue a private foreign policy agenda and thereby circumvent the law of the land, the Congress, the Constitution itself. This hidden layer of government, which diminishes democratic institutions to a series of front organizations, is a well-known feature of all totalitarian regimes. In all of them there is the so-called "front" government line, which means nothing, and there is the "party line," which goes on behind the scenes. The line in this case was the Republican Party line, but it was no different in its implementation and in its implications from the Communist Party line of the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union.

And yet, nothing happened. Nothing really happened. The Iran/contra scandal became the Iran/contra farce. President Reagan perceived correctly that the public really didn't want to know the truth. So he lied to us, but he didn't have to work hard at it. He sensed that we would gladly accept his loss of memory as an alibi. It had simply slipped his mind what form of government we had in our country.

When the war in the Persian Gulf began we not only accepted but embraced with patriotic fervor press censorship of it. We would see only what our government wanted us to see, and we saw nothing wrong with that. We liked it that way. Our government was looking after us.

The charade of truth took another step when the diplomatic cables of April Glaspie, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, were declassified by the State Department. The justification for the entire war rested on the premise that war was unavoidable and that our Ambassador in the firmest of tones had warned Saddam Hussein not to violate the territorial integrity of Kuwait. Our State Department assured us that this was true. Our Ambassador, testifying in front of the Senate, reaffirmed the truth of this position.

It now turns out that it was all a lie. But the fact that the Bush Administration felt safe in declassifying those cables shows it was no longer afraid of the truth because it knows that the truth will have little impact on us. The Administration's message to us was this: We've given you a glorious victory and we've given you back your self-esteem. Now here's the truth. Which do you prefer? The implications are terrifying. We are being told that we can't have both truth and self-esteem anymore. We have to choose. One excludes the other.

The implications are even more terrifying than this. We are rapidly becoming prototypes of a people that totalitarian monsters could only drool about in their dreams. …

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