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November 13, 2008


Perhaps you remember the quote from 1984 at the end of Fahrenheit 911:

It's not a matter of whether the war is not real or if it is. Victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won. It is meant to be continuous...The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects. And its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia but to keep the very structure of society intact.

This is, of course, how countries often function; for instance, the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War. But I used to believe this resulted from instinctual decisions—as opposed to conscious ones—by leaders.

I'm coming to believe I was wrong about this. Check out this extremely striking quote that (as far as I can tell) is barely known. I found it in an obscure book called Harry Truman and the War Scare of 1948, and it's only been cited online a few times in teeny outlets. It's taken from a November 19, 1947 memo from Clark Clifford to Harry Truman; Clifford was Truman's White House Counsel, and he wrote this at the point at which the Cold War was just starting to heat up:

There is considerable political advantage to the Administration in its battle with the Kremlin. The worse things get, up to a fairly certain point—real danger of imminent war—the more is there a sense of crisis. In times of crisis, the American citizen tends to back up his President.

Sure, there was a downside—the risk of worldwide thermonuclear war. But I think we can all agree that's more than outweighed by somewhat higher approval ratings for the people who rule us.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at November 13, 2008 10:00 PM

The deception, lies, secrecy, are mindblowing.
The deliberate planning is breathtaking. Have American citizens EVER known and will ever know what their govt has done, is REALLY doing and planning to do?

Posted by: Rupa Shah at November 13, 2008 11:41 PM

War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense.(excerpt)-- Randolph Bourne, "War is the health of the State"

Posted by: Don Bacon at November 13, 2008 11:45 PM

Perhaps we should ask some survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima how they feel about it. Or as Truman said about the atomic bomb on the eve of its testing-

“If it explodes as I think it will I’ll certainly have a hammer on those boys.”

“Those boys” was a reference to Russia. Truman was a true humanitarian if you happen to like monsters.

Posted by: Rob Payne at November 14, 2008 12:36 AM

But I used to believe this resulted from instinctual decisions—as opposed to conscious ones—by leaders.

After the past 7 years of phony terror scares and scheduling war by the election cycle, I'm shocked that you're just now coming around to this view. You were the one who showed us that our leaders' first thought in a crisis is that "this is a golden opportunity."

Incidentally, Clifford was wrong to think he could calibrate the paranoia. McCarthy and the Republicans consciously doubled down on the insanity and really damaged Truman.

Posted by: Carl at November 14, 2008 04:36 AM

That's why it was necessary for the South Ossetia debacle. It helped to regenerate fear of Russia, gave a reason for arms dealers to sell replacement weapons to Georgia, to create new markets in all those former Soviet sectors, to keep pushing that absolutely phony missile shield thingie, which in itself generates more market sales.

Fear, fear, fear, fear. A great marketing ploy. Is my skin wrinkly? Do I need Viagra? Are the Russians going to invade?

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at November 14, 2008 09:40 AM

I used to believe this resulted from instinctual decisions—as opposed to conscious ones—by leaders.

Actually, we're animals. Remember that we evolved from apes and the like. When we see an alpha in a group ordering around a bunch of other apes, do we consider him as having a plan? No, we consider it to be instinctual. Just because they agreed beforehand to do what they were going to do anyway doesn't mean it's anything other than instinctual.

Higher intellect is planning to do something counter-intuitive, and I've never heard of a government actually doing that, though they like to claim that they do.

Posted by: Salty at November 14, 2008 10:14 AM

What if they gave a war and nobody knew?

Posted by: Monkay at November 14, 2008 12:05 PM

I am no historian but did they not do just that when they destroyed Cambodia? I had read a book by William Shawcross, "The Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and Destruction of Cambodia" which very clearly demonstrated that.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at November 14, 2008 12:38 PM

Obviously Orwell was wrong about the war; even though he says "it's not a matter of whether the war is not real or if it is", in his book the war is very real, "rocket bombs" fall from the sky and kill people. In fact, the war is not necessary, all you need is an enemy.

Posted by: abb1 at November 14, 2008 02:10 PM

abb1: Big Brother may have been shelling his own cities. (same goes for East Asia and Eurasia)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 14, 2008 02:47 PM

Yes, but it's not necessary, as episodes like Stalin's show trials and McCarthyism demonstrate. You need: 1 - an outside enemy, and 2 - spies and subversives within. I think 1984 would've worked better with just Emmanuel Goldstein and his agents and without permanent war.

Posted by: abb1 at November 14, 2008 03:14 PM

The writings of Henry Kissinger in the 50s that were so influential in leading up to the Vietnam War are fairly clear on the necessity of conscious action toward so-called "limited war".

Backing up the President was seen as so important because it adds to establishing credibility, the heart of their strategic theory. Obviously this backfires because America isn't a totalitarian state, but for whatever reason the people in power keep trying.

Posted by: Rachel at November 14, 2008 06:18 PM

tim: Looks like George and Dick missed on that DELAY thingee, a TYPICAL Bush/Cheney classic.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 14, 2008 08:08 PM