By Michael I. Niman
Imagine a world where nothing you ever said was ever really said – where you could go back in time and unsay anything stupid, offensive or just plain untrue. Imagine a world where you would never in the future have to bear responsibility for anything you say or do today. This is the world that George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld are trying to create for themselves.
The O’Really Factor
There’s nothing new about
Bush used his State of the Union Address to lay out a foundation of carefully calibrated lies, the culmination of which have led us into an illegal aggressive war that has cost the lives of hundreds of American soldiers and about 10,000 Iraqi civilians, while injuring ten times that number, costing the American taxpayer over $100 billion dollars and saddling this nation with an unprecedented fiscal deficit..
Big Brother Was Never Wrong
George Orwell, in his classic book, “1984,” wrote about
how Big Brother gave a speech wrongly predicting that the Eurasian enemy would
launch an offensive in
It Was Never About Banned Weapons
It is now painfully clear that
But suddenly, the war, in retrospect, was no longer about weapons of mass destruction. And if you remember otherwise, you’re wrong.
Shortly after the invasion began, George W. Bush told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the fundamental question was, “Did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program?” The answer, according to Bush, was, “Absolutely.” He went on to explain, “We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.”
The problem with this contention is that it is blatantly
false. The inspectors were in
Bush’s statements flew in the face of this obvious reality. And like Orwell’s fictive Big Brother, Bush needed help scrubbing history clean of a few embarrassing little facts. Orwell created the character Winston, who “crumpled up the original message and any notes that he himself had made, and dropped them into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.” George W. Bush doesn’t have a flaming “memory hole” to incinerate the past – but he does have a compliant mass media – one that allowed this quote to fly by almost unchallenged, with papers such as The New York Times simply ignoring the issue.
The Washington Post, one of the only major papers to critically examine this false chronology, reported on July 15th, 2003, in the body of a larger story, that this statement “appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring.” They stopped well short, however, of examining the ramifications of Bush’s blatant attempt to rewrite the chronology leading up to the invasion.
This is revisionist history.
Interestingly enough, however, the charge of historical revisionism came
not from Bush’s critics, but from Bush himself, in what seems like a full
frontal charge against his ultimate enemy – reality.
On June 16th, Bush told a group of
It’s now six months later. The current Bush
administration story is that the war wasn’t about weapons of mass destruction
at all. It is, and always was, about removing the “evil” dictator Saddam
Hussein from power. Of course
Saddam’s brutality wasn’t a concern as
Rumsfeld Never Said Nothing
The “popular invasion” myth was always alive as a rhetorical subtext even before the start of the war. When PBS’ Jim Lehrer asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld if he thought the Iraqi people would welcome an invasion by US troops, Rumsfeld replied, “There is no question but that they would be welcomed.”
In retrospect, the Iraqis have been anything but welcoming. When a radio news anchor recently asked Rumsfeld about his earlier statements, Rumsfeld replied, “Never said that. Never did. You may remember it well, but you’re thinking of someone else. You can’t find anywhere me saying anything like [that].” PBS, however, maintained a transcript of Jim Lehrer’s interview online – proving Rumsfeld a liar. Rumsfeld is quoted as saying exactly what he denied saying.
Back in September of 2002, Rumsfeld testified before the
House Armed Services Committee, arguing that Saddam Hussein’s government
“has amassed large clandestine stocks of biological weapons, including anthrax
and botulism toxin and possibly smallpox. His
regime has amassed large clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons, including
VX and sarin and mustard gas.” He
repeated these charges in various forms during the months leading up to the
After the invasion, however, when weapons weren’t found,
a reporter asked Rumsfeld if perhaps he was “a little too far leaning” in
his allegations of “extensive stocks” of chemical weapons.
Rumsfeld angrily shot back, “You go back and give me something that
talks about extensive stocks… I’d be surprised if you found the word
Rumsfeld is accurate. He used the words “large” and “stockpiles” – not
the word “extensive.” Semantics
aside, however, he mislead the nation and helped hoodwink us into going to war,
no matter whether he falsely described
Bush’s “War is Over” Quote Goes to the Memory Hole
The biggest “eat-my-words” quote of this war, however,
came from George W. Bush himself on May 1st (May Day), 2003, when he
unilaterally declared the ongoing
This statement became a horrific sort of joke in the
ensuing months as both Americans and Iraqis continued to die by the score in
what was clearly an ongoing war. With
The Google Internet search engine, however, creates
snapshots of all the web pages that its crawlers scan, including the White House
site. Hence, there was an
embarrassing anomaly, with the Google cache of the site having the original
speech, and the actual White House site having the doctored “archive.”
The White House shot back with a response beyond the technological vision
of Orwell’s days. They embedded
search robot control instructions (robot.txt) into their websites to
“disallow” Google and other Internet search engines from archiving many
pages pertaining to
The problem, however, of embarrassing words disappearing
from government websites appears to be growing.
Take the case of US Agency for International Development (AID)
administrator, Andrew Natsios. During
an April, 2003 interview with ABC News’ Nightline, Natsios predicted that the
Cleansing Time Magazine
As paper libraries and archives give way to electronic data
collections, history is becoming ever more frail.
A composition instructor at the
The article, in today’s light, seems like a clear rebuff
to junior’s invasion. But
the article is gone. It’s no
longer in Time’s digital archives – as if it never existed.
Time’s post-facto editing is especially disturbing since it shakes the very foundation of library sciences. An archive is a collection of past works. By definition it must be left intact. Archive managers have no right to edit history. In this case, Time blew their chance to censor this story in 1998.
Historically, tyrants have always attacked and tried to control the historical record. With the digital era, the age of book burning might finally be over. It’s easier, more effective and less alarming simply to quietly change historical facts. In this respect, the Bush administration is following an old script, but they’re doing it with a new technology, in essence questioning the very foundation of not only truth, but reality.
This article is adapted from a 12/11/03 article which appeared in ArtVoice. Michael I. Niman’s previous columns are archived at www.mediastudy.com/articles.
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