Thursday, May 5, 2011

Justified Skepticism

I got a chuckle out of this post by Dilbert-creator Scott Adams on his blog:
When I heard that Osama used his own wife as a human shield, I assumed I was hearing a CIA-concocted story. It smelled wrong because it was too movie-like. Portraying Osama as a coward was the perfect way for the CIA to put a damper on Al Qaeda recruiting. We've since learned that Osama didn't use a human shield.

When I heard that our plan was to capture Osama alive if practical, I chuckled to myself. I'm not a Navy SEAL with a hundred operations under my belt, and even I would have blown Osama's head off if I thought he had enough moisture in his body to spit in my general direction. The last thing the United States needed was a trial. Now we know Osama wasn't blazing away with a machine gun in each hand. It was more of a "reaching for something" situation. And as you know, the very best time to consider reaching for a weapon is about half an hour after your secret lair has been attacked.

When I heard that Osama's hideout was a luxurious million-dollar villa, I kept wondering why the only video footage I kept seeing was a Pakistani crack house full of garbage. Since then we have learned that a better estimate for the home's value is $250K. I assume that's mostly for the land. The original story of the million-dollar mansion was probably a CIA invention to make Osama look like a hypocrite.

When I heard that waterboarding gave our intelligence folks the information they needed to eventually connect the dots and find Osama, I thought that seemed a convenient defense for past deeds. Now it seems that there's no way to know if other methods of interrogation would have yielded the same results.

When I heard that the SEALS endured an intense 40-minute fire-fight while sustaining no casualties, I wondered why the terrorists were so bad at aiming. Today we learn that there was only one armed combatant.

You might wonder how all of these rumors got started. My guess is that the lies were concocted in advance of the mission. The original plan involved killing or capturing everyone at the site who might have been a witness. Had we done that, the CIA could have controlled the story long enough for the fake facts to become common knowledge around the world. The lies would have been entirely justified, militarily speaking, if they had the impact of making Al Qaeda look bad and the United States look good. That's exactly the sort of thing we pay the CIA to do. I hope that was the plan. If it wasn't, it should have been.

Perhaps where things went wrong is that after losing a helicopter, the SEALS couldn't evacuate all of the witnesses. Remember the famous picture of the President in the Situation Room with all of his top advisors. Imagine how busy they were right after the mission, and how many people would need to talk to how many other people to come up with one unified story of events once the original set of lies became infeasible. It would have been nearly impossible to coordinate all the stories. I imagine that one faction in the government favored going with the original fake story, perhaps because the witnesses would not be credible. Maybe another faction assumed the truth would get out, so it was better if it came from the government first.

Given the slow leak of truth, I wonder what other surprises are in store. Remember that all of the fake facts so far had a whiff of hard-to-believe and a bit too convenient. None of the revelations have been complete surprises. So what do you predict will be the next fact we learn wasn't exactly true?
There is more. Go read the full post.

I remember the summer of 1964 when I had my first realization that the government manipulates "the truth". I had been a church camp when the Gulf of Tonkin "incident" occurred. The story was mangled so when I heard it there report was that US ships were given the OK to blow up Russian ships on sight. So I wandered in a daze for a day or two thinking I would see mushroom clouds on the horizon. When I got back to civilization I read every newspaper and news magazine to find out what "really" happened.

What I discovered was that the "news" didn't make a whole lot of sense. I had missed the wave of excitement so I wasn't swept up in the "they attacked us!" hysteria. Instead, I read the accounts critically and realized there wasn't much "attack" and there was a hell of a lot of "retaliation". Over time as more "truth" came out it was utterly obvious that this was a manufactured event to justify mass bombing of North Vietnam to try and slow the advance of the Viet Cong and NVA in South Vietnam. I realized I had been lied to.

Since then, I try to be skeptical about "the news". But I find that I get swept up in the initial hysteria. And only over time do I realize the story is "bigger" than what was presented. Often that means I end up opposing government policy. I feel like a sucker because I got manipulated.

I have no answer. Democratic governments, since they rely on the consent of the governed, should be required to be honest. But sadly, they aren't and there really is no mechanism other than a free press and the rights of citizens to question their leaders that ensure that the truth ever sees the light of day. But usually that is too late to stop "official" government action which we, the taxpayers, have to pay through the nose to clean up after the fact. Tragic.

I enjoy Scott Adams' blog. I don't agree with his political philosophy -- he's a libertarian -- but I do enjoy his point of view. We agree on individual freedom, but we disagree on social policy. I see government as the glue to hold us together and ensure a fair playing field. He hates government and wants to shrink it down small enough to be drowned in a bathtub. (Oh, to be fair, he isn't that extreme a libertarian, but that is what his buddies in the movement think.) To be honest, we probably agree on a lot of things, but we disagree on others. A democratic society is one in which people respect other people's opinions and seek to find common ground so they can have an effective civil society.

What I find utterly repellant about the US these days is that fanatics have taken charge. The Republicans have no interest in compromise or cooperation. The libertarians seek no compromise. I used to laugh at Nixon's so-called "silent majority" but I sure hope there is a "silent middle ground" in the US that will wake up from its slumbers and toss out the fanatics and revive good government and traditional American can-do attitudes and revive a pragmatism independent of the political ideologies.

Canada is famous for compromise, but we tend to catch "the American disease" 3-5 years after the States so we have our own right wing nut in power and he isn't interested in compromise. In fact he wants to remove "Government of Canada" from all documents and buildings and replace it with "the Harper Government". Any day I'm expecting posters of Harper to be hung like portraits of Stalin or Saddam Hussein. Where is the good old Canadian political accommodation and finding a happy compromise? How do we free ourselves of the ideologues?

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