Tag Archives: Ignorance

The Mirage of Washington Intelligence, by James Bovard

Washington politicians rarely know what is going on. From James Bovard at libertarianinstitute.org:

“You can send a man to Congress but you can’t make him think,” quipped comedian Milton Berle in the 1950s. To update Berle for our times: You can spend $60 billion a year on intelligence agencies but you can’t make politicians read their reports. Instead, most politicians remain incorrigibly ignorant and hopelessly craven when presidents drag America into new foreign fiascos.

Congressional docility has been paving the way to war since at least the Vietnam era. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson invoked an alleged North Vietnamese attack on a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin to ram a resolution through Congress giving LBJ unlimited authority to attack North Vietnam. LBJ had decided earlier that year to attack North Vietnam to boost his reelection campaign. The Pentagon and White House quickly recognized that the core allegations behind the Gulf of Tonkin resolution were false but exploited them to sanctify the war.

When the official story of the Gulf of Tonkin attacks begin unraveling at secret 1968 Senate hearings, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara proclaimed that it was “inconceivable that anyone even remotely familiar with our society and system of government could suspect the existence of a conspiracy” to take America to war on false pretenses. But indignation was no substitute for hard facts. Sen. Frank Church (D-ID) declared, “In a democracy you cannot expect the people, whose sons are being killed and who will be killed, to exercise their judgment if the truth is concealed from them.” The chairman of the committee, Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-AR), declared that if senators did not oppose the war at that point, “We are just a useless appendix on the governmental structure.” But other senators blocked the release of a staff report on the lies behind the Gulf of Tonkin incident that propelled a war that was killing 400 American troops a week. Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-MT) warned, “You will give people who are not interested in facts a chance to exploit them and to magnify them out of all proportion.” The same presumption has shielded every subsequent U.S. military debacle.

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The Manufacture of Decline, by Patrick Lawrence

Ignoring or suppressing the truth ultimately works against those who do it. The same is true of nations and their governments. From Patrick Lawrence at consortiumnews.com:

Americans suffer the same disabilities as the Europeans of 1919: They cannot think. They cannot speak plainly among themselves. 

“Din and Cocktails,” west side of Detroit, 2014. (ddatch54, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

We modern civilizations have learned to recognize that we are mortal like the others. We had heard tell of whole worlds vanished, of empires foundered … sunk to the inexplorable depths of the centuries with their gods and laws, their academies and their pure and applied sciences, their grammars, dictionaries, classics … their critics and the critics of their critics…. We could not count them. But these wrecks, after all, were of no concern of ours.”

That is Paul Valéry, the modernist poet, essayist and Academician, writing in April 1919. The Great War was but a few months over. Europe understood, if subliminally at that moment, that the world order of which it had been the center had shattered like glass. Or — better put — that Europe had shattered it.

“Everything came to Europe, and from Europe everything has come. Or almost everything,” Valéry wrote. “Now, the present situation permits of this capital question: Will Europe retain its leadership in all activities? Will Europe become what she is in reality: that is, a little cape of the Asiatic continent?” [Emphasis the author’s.]

Valéry was less interested in Europe’s wrecked landscapes and its blown-to-bits economy than he was in what had happened to European minds and spirits — how people thought and felt. Europe’s best brains had just wasted themselves “finding a way to remove barbed wire, baffle the submarines, or paralyze the flight of aeroplanes.”

Then, the war over, Europe no longer knew how to think. Europeans could not speak among themselves of their abruptly arrived new circumstances. People retreated into the classics of European culture and took to repeating the old verities as to the Continent’s ancient greatness. Valéry called the essay I quote “The Intellectual Crisis.” Its topic was “the disorder of our mental Europe.”

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Why the Wheels Are Coming Off, by Charles Hugh Smith

The wheels would be coming off even if America’s rulers were as smart as they think they are, but of course they’re not. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

Is that the scent of smoke? What’s that red glare? Must be nothing.

Why are the wheels coming off the American Project? Afghanistan is front and center in the news flow for obvious reasons, but since I have no expertise on that nation or America’s role there, I am stipulating these are general comments from a systemic perspective.

By the American Project I mean 1) global hegemony in both hard and soft power and 2) American Exceptionalism, the belief that America is not just uniquely strong but uniquely right in terms of holding the high moral ground.

1. If you don’t understand the problem, you can’t possibly arrive at a solution. It’s long been painfully obvious that U.S. presidents would be best served by their closest advisors being anthropologists with long in-country experience in whatever nation the U.S. is engaging.

Any anthropologist with experience in Vietnam would have dismissed the idea of an American “victory” by any means as a possibility. The same can be said of Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, American presidents don’t listen to anthropologists, they listen to advisors with no real understanding of the nation and people the U.S. is engaging. Lacking a grasp of the situation, every characterization of the “problem” will necessarily be completely misguided and the proposed “solutions” cannot but fail miserably.

Rather than seek a deep understanding the nation and its people, U.S. presidents and their advisors see everything through the distorting lens of great-power rivalries, geopolitical juggling, American prestige and power and a profoundly parochial, provincial view of other cultures and societies. The resulting ignorance of U.S. policy is stupefying.

Willful ignorance and blind ambition are fatal siblings.

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To Know You Don’t Know, by Robert Gore

We’re all ignorant; few recognize it.

Aubrey’s deployment order came a week later. A conflict had waxed and waned in Syria and Iraq for the better part of three years. It was the typical Middle Eastern fracas: hapless governments and their armies; not-so-hapless sectarian brigades with colorful names waging guerrilla war, detonating bombs, promoting mayhem; shifting alliances; endless intrigue; diabolical duplicity; rampant disinformation; appearances masking antipodal realities; and machinations by outside string pullers, money honeys, and intelligence agencies who never seemed to realize—or if they did, never acknowledged—that they were the puppets, not the puppeteers. Despite the seeming complexity, the war boiled down to the usual two issues: oil and the centuries-old question of Muhammad’s rightful heir.

Governments couldn’t resist throwing matches on the gasoline. Sunni nations—Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the rich little monarchies scattered around the Persian Gulf—as well as a variety of sectarian brigades with colorful names, launched massive and coordinated maneuvers to “restore order” (Middle Eastern–speak for replacing a government with one more to your liking) to Shiite Syria and Iraq. The Shiite governments were not without friends. Russia, Iran, and various sectarian brigades with colorful names would not let them go down without a fight. So in a very short time, the corner of the world with the highest per capita concentrations of troops, terrorism, weapons, and warfare saw exponential increases in all four.

The US government urged all parties to come to the negotiating table. No parties came to the negotiating table. The US government consulted with its European allies. A resolution was submitted at the United Nations. The war intensified. The war lobby screamed: this was World War III, and the United States was not there! It was like missing your senior prom! The Europeans screamed. Refugees were streaming to Europe. Despite welcoming gestures, the only assimilating they seemed to be doing was slurping up government benefits. It was getting expensive. Some Europeans didn’t like their new guests. Some of their new guests didn’t like the Europeans, but they did like blowing people up. Voters were getting mad. Something had to be done!

The US government ultimately did what the US government does best: came up with a catchy name (Operation Restoration of Peace, Freedom, Hope, Democracy, and Dignity in the Middle East), parked aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf, dropped bombs, and deployed thousands of troops to “advise and assist” without a clear idea of whom they would be advising and assisting. It implored the Europeans to join its efforts, to staunch the refugee flow by making war, blowing things up, and creating more refugees. Back in the States, the groups that reflexively cheered every war distributed more Support Our Troops bumper stickers.

Prime Deceit, Robert Gore, 2016

This is satire, although not obviously so. Prime Deceit is dedicated To all those grown bone weary of the bulls**t. The novel’s main shortcoming is that it isn’t satirical enough. Only brutally savage satire is within field goal range of capturing the reality of the Middle East. Almost all of the mountain of journalism and propaganda focused on or emanating from that part of the world is pure twaddle, bulls**t that bone wearied most of us long ago. You can instantly recognize those who don’t have the first clue about the Middle East by their claims to understand it, especially if they claim they’re experts.

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He Said That? 10/4/15

From Carl Sagan, American astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, (1995):

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance