When the government lies
A newspaper recently revealed that the Pentagon has been spending $7 million or more to pay for patriotic displays before major league athletic games. Our government is willing to pay to make us be more patriotic. I suppose they want to inspire young people to enlist and their parents to welcome such a choice. But the payments had, of course, been secret.
This story seems silly. One small example of the government's inclination to lie to us, to conceal its actions, to try to deceive us about its goals and its plans. We are by now used to being lied to. Think of the Gulf of Tonkin incident that Pres. Johnson faked in order to get Congress to approve of escalating the Vietnam war. Think of the Iran Contra scandal when Pres. Reagan waged a secret war in Nicaragua. When the Chilean people elected a socialist President, our government instigated a military coup to impose a brutal dictatorship on Chileans for many years. Need I mention the weapons of mass destruction that got us into the Iraq war? Or take the Asian trade treaty now before Congress that was negotiated in secret. In this case the government quite openly deceived the public. We were told that what the trade policy of the United States was to be was none of our business. How much more openly contemptuous of citizens can a government be?
What else is new? You might ask. That is the way the world goes.
But when I recently read an issue of The Veteran, the paper of the Vietnam Veterans against the War, with its stories of Vietnam vets suffering gravely for many years after their return from Vietnam, I realized that government lies are much more serious and should not be passed over by us as being just one more thing that's wrong with the world.
The Vietnam war, begun secretly and expanded under false pretenses, killed 58,000 American soldiers and left larger numbers than that homeless, divorced, addicted, fighting for their life every day, many of the ridden by terrible guilt for their actions during the war. It cost the lives of 4 million Vietnamese, has left the country full of unexploded bombs and shells. Children in Vietnam continue to be born crippled and deformed by agent orange. The Iraq war, begun under false pretenses, has left that country in ruins and many of our young men and women, who survived, seriously troubled, if not the victims of suicide.
You cannot escape the profound sense of contempt for ordinary citizens that motivated the governments that began and continued these wars. As young men, the architects of the Iraq war deliberately escaped military service. But they did not hesitate to send other young men and women to their deaths in Iraq. Clearly the privileged members of our government have no respect for the citizens over whom they rule.
The ideals we proclaim and which we often want to impose forcibly on other nations – freedom, equality, democracy – are unavailable to a people not respected by its government, or to a people whose government regularly deceives it without so much as a moment’s hesitation.
We believe ourselves to be free in so far as the government does not interfere with choices we make, as long as they're not illegal. But if the government lies to you, they need not block your choices; the choices you make will always fail to some extent because they are choices in a world that does not exist. A lying government prevents you from making realistic choices appropriate to the world in which you live. Your choices are doomed to fail.
Take this one example: We are told by the powerful people who are in and out of government that in America everyone can reach the goals they set for themselves, if only they work hard enough. Hilary Clinton reiterated that recently in a message to Wellesley College alumnae. But that is of course false. Where you are born in the social hierarchy pretty much determines where you end up and that is, for most people, pretty close to where they started.
But you believe what you are told and although your parents did not finish high school and are in spite of hard work, always out of money, you set yourself a goal of becoming a shaper of American foreign policy in the State Department. You go to Community College and then to a state college and graduate, owing a, for you, serious amount of money. You apply to the State Department and get a job as a file clerk. Will you rise up to be an advisor to the Secretary of State? What do you think?
No one prevents you from working for the goals you set yourself. But you are misled about the world in which you live. You are prevented from making free choices because you are misinformed about what would be reasonable choices for you. They do not control your life by sending police to your house. They control you by misinformation. You are not free.
Clearly a world in which some can lie to others and get away with it again and again is not a world in which we are all equals. There are the people in position to lie and there are those who believe those lies and those who do not. Clearly in such a world democracy is a charade. How can you and I, to whom the government lies quite regularly, think that we control that government through our votes?
A country like ours where governments --both leaning right and leaning left--do not scruple to lie to citizens has no freedom, no equality and no democracy. Anyone who tells you different is a liar.
We live in an oligarchy where the few disrespect the many and manipulate them by lies and misinformation.