Every War Is Launched on Lies. Why Always So Surprised?

My inbox is seeing a lot of a release from the anti-Bush group Move On that starts like this:

The President took the nation to war based on his assertion that Iraq posed an imminent threat to our country. Now the evidence that backed that assertion is falling apart. If the Bush administration distorted intelligence or knowingly used false data to support the call to war, it would be an unprecedented deception…

There’s nothing unprecedented about it. This sort of deception happens in every war, as I document elsewhere on sniggle.net:

How many times has a country gone to war in the midst of a frenzy whipped up by disinformation planted in the media? You might as well just ask how many times a country has gone to war. The answer’s the same.

Those of you from the U.S.A. may “Remember The Maine” — or the barbarous Huns — or the Tonkin Gulf incident — or the cocaine found in Manuel Noriega’s fridge — or the babies thrown out of incubators by barbaric Iraqi troops — or the prisoners starving in Serbian death camps — or the specific, credible threat to Air Force One on  — or Saddam Hussein’s advanced nuclear weapons program.

News Trolls

Despite having been lied to time and time again, few of us care to apply extra scrutiny to the urgings of the hawks in power — rather, most of us are willing to go along with the idea that the assertions of the president should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Which makes me suspect that people want to be fooled — or not that they want to be fooled exactly, but that they want to go to war and they’re willing to participate in being fooled in order to get one. A sort of national wink. “Saddam is aiming terrible weapons of mass destruction at our cities? Okay, I can go along with that. Go get ’im!” You give me a good excuse and I’ll give you my support.

One of my areas of study is the various ways people come to believe things that are not true. The rest of sniggle.net is largely a catalog of these ways. One thing that stands out is that deception isn’t something that one person does to another person, but is usually a mutual effort.

Professional con artists are fond of the phrase “you can’t cheat an honest man” — it captures the fact that many of the best cons rely on the mark thinking that s/he is getting away with something: For instance the famous Nigerian Scam that’s been doing the rounds in email. In that one, the victim is so busy counting the money to be made by cheating on the deal that s/he doesn’t notice that all of the money is really going in the wrong direction.

In most good deceptions, the deceiver relies on the fact that the mark isn’t all that interested in the truth — there are other, stronger motivations for belief than whether or not what is believed matches reality. By discovering these and playing to them, you can get people to behave as though up were down, losing were winning, or the World Trade Center were toppled by a bunch of Iraqis.

Which means that an official investigation into the deception (as promoted by the Move On crew) is going to be mostly of interest to historians and propagandists and isn’t likely to have much of an effect on politics. Please don’t buy in to the fantasy that “once the American People realize that they’ve been had they’ll be furious.” It just isn’t so.