Thirty years ago I wrote this essay. I solicit your feedback on how the same patterns used then — Secretary of State Alexander Haig‘s holding-up for the cameras of falsified photographs (which was itself a repeat of Sen. Joe McCarthy‘s use of cropped photos in the Army-McCarthy televised hearings in 1954, as shown in the great documentary, “Point of Order”), were repeated by Colin Powell in his televised testimony to the United Nations about alleged (but false) Iraqi mobile biowarfare labs, as one of the bases for sending U.S. troops into Iraq, along with the lies orchestrated by the U.S. government of infants tossed out of Kuwait’s incubators by Iraqi forces — continue to this very day.
by Mitchel Cohen
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
We take for granted that our government lies to us. The Left agrees with that, the Right does as well, and so do those attempting to straddle the ever‑narrowing fence in the middle. In fact, one of the great, unifying themes of American democracy is the belief by an overwhelming majority of our population that the government
regularly and consistently lies to us.
Depending upon whom you listen to, the reasons behind the lies vary. Sometimes it’s “for your own good”. Sometimes it’s for the sake of “National Security”. Sometimes it’s to “protect corporate investments and private interests from public scrutiny”. But whatever the reason, we all agree that the government lies to us. That’s part of what unites us as a country. It’s a cherished American tradition. We are a nation of “the lied‑to’s”.
Of course rarely will anyone admit to actually believing the lies. Oh, no, we’re much too sophisticated for that! I have yet to meet a single person who believes, for example, that President Reagan is actually trying to support an end to Apartheid in South Africa with his “constructive engagement” ruse. It’s clear that’s just a phrase to make palatable the U.S. government’s continued funding of the apartheid regime. Still, Americans have a collective appreciation for a well-constructed euphemism. My current favorite is the President’s dubbing of the MX nuclear missile “The Peacekeeper”! We chortle gleefully at the glib turns of phrase while all the while knowing, of course, that a ruse is a ruse is a ruse. We are a nation of bedtime story-lovers, and no one is better than President Reagan than spinning tall tales, often right on the spur of the moment, to tuck us in at night.
I admit that it did take me a while to imagine our so-called “founding fathers” — Tom Jefferson, George Washington, and John Adams ‑‑ let alone Benjamin Franklin, to whom President Reagan compared the contra death squads in Nicaragua ‑‑ carrying M-16s and slogging through the muck of Honduras, along its border with Nicaragua. Even more preposterous, their distribution of “how‑to‑murder” manuals, which were in fact prepared in secret by the CIA! I much prefer the bed-time story of the founding fathers’ distribution of the declaration of independence celebrating freedom from foreign domination.
When one hears first hand accounts by peasants living in Nicaragua of how the contras, funded by the U.S. government, raped their mothers while they (as kids) were forced to watch, and how the contras jabbed knives into their mothers’ vaginas and jagged upwards, flaying them open while still alive, one wonders which of our “founding fathers” President Reagan was dreaming of.
Was it true that “the contras really cut off the heads of doctors and teachers just north of Jinotega,” as the newpapers reported, and rolled them down the dirt streets like soccer balls as a lesson to the poor peasants for housing such “communist” medics who treated the sick for free and taught the illiterate to read and write? I had to find out for myself. And so in 1983 I visited that beautiful mountain town, very poor, and heard the stories. To my horror, I found that the worst things said about the contras in the U.S. barely scratched the surface! The U.S. government’s lies to the contrary, the Nicaraguan people despised the contras, even those who voted for oppositional candidates to the Sandinistas in the recent elections.