“Truth and falsehood are arbitrary terms… The force of an idea lies in its inspirational value. It matters very little if it is true or false.”
If you think about it, psychologically and emotionally that’s a truism. A prime example is religion; it matters not if any of it – or all of it, regardless of whatever religion – is either truth or fiction, all religions are inspirational, all speak of a promise of a better way of living that brings about happiness in this life and the next, and they inspire us to think and act accordingly. On the whole, that is a good thing, and who can argue with happiness?
War is another prime example; once attacked, or perceived to be imminently so, governments (in democracies, at least) hasten to justify to their citizens the reasons to go to war and, once involved, inspired to continue them.
Unfortunately, there are always those hucksters who know the human bent to be inspired by, and believe anything, that promises a happy end and know how to manipulate the truth and lead people down the primrose path, inspiring them to believe whatever that prophet preaches.
When WWI broke out, President Woodrow Wilson, a highly religious man with a great aversion to war, who none-the-less led this country into that war, determined to end the penchant of our government to hide from its citizens at home the horrors of war by creating the Committee on Public Information, so that the “spirit of ruthless brutality [of war would] enter into the very fibre of national life.” (A noble cause, and in no way do I fault him with his goal. As is said, war is hell, and if people are shown the horrors of it, they may be less inspired to allow their government to get involved in one, or more inspired to end involvement in one.) This committee’s creation was inspired by a presidential advisor who (all accounts I’ve researched name no name, but all agree that he – whoever “he” was) gave us the above quote.
Whether or not the person who made that statement was referring to what was expressed to the populus as the need to go to war in prior wars, or to whether or not what was told about the conflict was mostly true or false, I cannot say. Nor has it been reported how honestly the Committee on Public Information reported the brutality of WWI – was it under-reported or over-hyped – with the intent to inspire continued public support for the war, or to hasten its end?
WWII came along, 12 years later (for US involvement), and while it was a different kind of war – a war of national survival as opposed to a war of (debatable) choice (as WWI had been) – the public was constantly innudated with films of actual combat (in theaters before the movie, as tv didn’t yet exist) in the effort to show the population how successful our and the allied armies were in overcoming the Axis powers and to inspire continued suport for the war effort.
Then there was the Korean Conflict (another debatable war of choice). Tv was just becoming a household thing and, while news clips of the war were still being shown in theaters, only ocassionally were they on the nightly news programs. People were naturally curious, but for the most part detached, merely trying to get their lives back together after the hardships of WWII, a scant 6 years earlier. It was President Eisenhower who negotiated the end of that conflict 6 months into his first term. He knew the horrors of war first-hand and he recognized 2 things: there is a difference between wars of need and wars of choice, and, as he stated in his farewell address, he warned us against a new unholy alliance, the “military-industrial complex”, that would in the futire actively encourage civilian administrations to consider war as a first option over diplomacy, and which would justify a large standing military as well as corporate profit-making at the taxpayer expense.
And yet (or because of that) barely another 10 years would pass before our military involvement in another (debatably of choice) war, Viet Nam. It grew incrementally as support for the French there until they failed and the US assumed control over the war. It was inherited by President Kennedy who said he would extract the US from it by 1964. Of course, had he lived and managed that, we would have been spared the horrors of that war which were viewed by the world, with graphic combat scenes, medevac extractions of wounded, and daily killed-in-action numbers. The nightly news services aired government provided footage that showed it to us, and that inspired the public outcry to end the war.
But something changed in how war was reported begining with our involvement in the Middle East from 1987 to the present. The government learnt its lesson from Viet Nam and has clamped down on disseminating daily information. In comparison to all the 20th century wars, there has been very little public awareness, other than our military is fighting there ostensibly to destroy terrorists. No government Committee on Public Information, no regular nightly news updates of the daily horrors. Ask anyone on the street how it’s going and you’ll likely get a shrug. Because they aren’t being told and they’re too busy in their daily lives to think about it. With so little reporting of what is actually happening on the battlefield, there is little to inspire for or against the war (all the while still inspiring support for our military members.)
The same can be said about whether or not we should use a pre-emptive nuclear strike against North Korea, just because they are developing missiles capable (it is claimed) of delivering nuclear warheads to the continental US and are threatening to use them if we should attack them. (Have to remember, there was an armistice to the hostilities in Korea, and we are still technically at war with them, and both our and their leader seem inclined to start hostilities afresh if each continues to insult the other verbally.) There hasn’t been much public outcry over its even being considered by the president and his high-ranking administration figures. People are apparently too busy in daily living to give it much thought.
“Kierkegaard, in Either/Or, makes fun of the ‘busy man’ for whom busyness is a way of avoiding an honest self-reckoning. You might wake up in the night [thinking about all the things undone during your day]…or that you need to think about… the next day you have a million little things to do, and the day after that you have another million things. As long as there’s no end of little things, you never have to stop and confront the bigger questions…” (- Jonathan Franzen.)
The use of nuclear weapons as a pre-emptive option is one of those “bigger questions”.
I’ve stopped to consider that bigger question.
To me it’s the ultimate war horror. There is no happiness to be found in its aftermath.
And in my book, anyone who tries to sell the idea that it is truthfully a viable option is a huckster and false prophet.
My only hope is that people will stop their busyness for a moment, think about where we may be headed, and be inspired to do what they can – even just a quick email to their congressional representatives – and speak out against any such consideration to use a nuclear pre-emptive strike without first exhausting every diplomatic resource and a united consensus of our intelligence services telling us there is no other option, the threat is not just real but imminent.
I’m not inspired to believe it is.