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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Monday, November 20, 2006

the big lie

I'll try to get in a quick post before heading up for tea. It's already 4:00 p.m.

I've been a good lad, working diligently on my copywriting assignment. In the morning over coffee I keyed some notes from the book Uriel's Machine by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, authors of The Hiram Key. This is genuine research for The Mission, so I'm getting my mind back to that. Indeed, I worked fairly hard on it yesterday, Sunday. Kimmie and Robin had headed off, with emergency rain-ponchos, to watch the Santa Parade in Vancouver, leaving me to my quiet suburban devices. I dove back into my research, feeling just in the mood.

But I've wanted since last week to touch in on something else that came to me. On Saturday I had to return the library copy of Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks. I only made it to page 100; I'll have to put another hold on it and wait for the eight people in front of me to have a go first. But it was already absorbing reading as far as I got.

Ricks makes this point:

The Iraq fiasco occurred not just because the Bush administration engaged in sustained self-deception over the threat presented by Iraq and the difficulty of occupying the country, but also because of other major lapses in major American institutions, from the military establishment and the intelligence community to the media.

One thought that came to me was the recollection of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1962 during the Kennedy administration. It is now given as a textbook example of groupthink--the psychological phenomenon of a group's subtle or not so subtle tendency to smother dissent and manufacture consensus. It seems clear that this was strongly operating in the U.S. administration--as well as its legislative branch--in the runup to the war.

But another thought was a vague memory of the phrase, "the big lie." I couldn't remember quite where I'd heard it or what it referred to, so I went to Wikipedia and was intrigued to find that the phrase is due to Adolf Hitler. They have an extract there from Mein Kampf:

[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.

Ricks's book makes clear that in the runup to the war, the U.S. administration persistently and willfully overrode its own intelligence community in the matter of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The emphaticness with which they did so, arguably culminating in Colin Powell's February 2003 speech to the UN, strongly suggests a reliance on Hitler's technique. It was a big lie.

Also, on Remembrance Day I found another quote, this time from Hermann Goering:

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Again, I was struck by the resemblance to the political behavior I've seen in the last few years. Apparently, until recently anyway, it was working in the U.S.


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