Noble lies

by Rob Horning

6 December 2005


This New York Times article about Duke political scientist Peter Deaver was extremely disturbing. His cohort Christopher Gelpi was on NPR this morning, and he was pretty disturbing too. Why? These guys are scientists of demagoguery, who look for ways to enhance the executive’s ability to shift the national debate away from facts (those “stupid” things) and to the psychology of Americans en masse. The upshot is that Americans will support a war, regardless of the level of casualties, if they are harangued into believing we are close to victory. From the article:

In their paper, “Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq,” which is to be published soon in the journal International Security, Dr. Feaver and his colleagues wrote: “Mounting casualties did not produce a reflexive collapse in public support. The Iraq case suggests that under the right conditions, the public will continue to support military operations even when they come with a relatively high human cost.”

Hence Bush’s insulting (where was this plan before, and why was it kept from us until now?) and misleading (it offers no substance) “plan for victory” speech last week.  So Bush is more concerned with conducting a propaganda war against those who view Iraq through the lens of reality (those “cowards” who want to know what we are really accomplishing) than with the well-being of the soldiers whose lives are in his hands. And the professors who collaborate with him in this process of spinning death into “victory”—where is their sense of responsibility?

Presumably they have accepted the ethical reasoning of “the noble lie” whereby the wise rulers of a society (Plato’s Guardians, or people with “gold in their souls”) craft a bogus story for mass consumption to get the “people of bronze” to agree to a stable but unjust social structure. This has been the pattern of the Iraq war all along. The reasons for going to war were conceived not in relation to facts but in relation to shaping public opinion, because the real reasons would be too incomprehensible to us “people of bronze.” As these reasons have been debunked, new lies are crafted to try to continue to keep public opinion aloft. Meanwhile the real reasons are still largely unknown, and the soldiers dying likely have no true understanding of the reasons why they are dying. Yet Professors Feaver and Gelpi are untroubled by this. Let the soldiers die; as long as the President’s poll numbers get a boost.


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