The truth will set us free

By By David Servatius

By David Servatius

One of George Orwell’s most radical and empowering ideas was that “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

It’s simple and profound, and early this week I had an uncomfortable moment of clarity around this very idea as I watched on television yet another story about yet another local boy who had been killed in Iraq, and saw yet another proud and grieving mother talking about how her son had “died serving his country” and had “sacrificed to protect all of us.”

It was deeply touching and I honestly understood the mother’s need to make sense of her loss. Then I noticed that the anchor and the reporter covering the story were repeating these same “service-and-sacrifice” lines and framing them as hard facts about the story. I saw the same dynamic at play later that morning on a cable news program and again that evening on one of the network news broadcasts.

It suddenly became clear that we as Americans are truly living in an Orwellian time of deceit, where the logging industry can write and pass legislation called the Healthy Forests Initiative and the worst polluters in the world can get together and do the same with the Clear Skies Act. Where after all of the time, money and blood we’ve spent, and after everything we’ve discovered, we still will not “tell the truth” to ourselves: These amazing young men and women in our armed services, without a doubt some of the best and bravest among us, are not sacrificing their lives, limbs and minds for their country or dying to protect you and me from anything.

We cannot or will not collectively admit, at last, that the only reason these men and women are being sacrificed is to secure obscene profits for a very few people and industries; and that we are now seeing, full blown, the inevitable results of the “undue influence of the military-industrial-congressional complex” that Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about a half-century ago. There is no one who, relying on simple facts and logic at this point in time, can draw any other sensible conclusion about what is happening. Yet we keep pretending that there are other sensible conclusions to be drawn.

We do this because the reality is shocking and ugly to contemplate. There is a deep and visceral disgust that comes from understanding exactly what this means and has meant over the past four decades. It is easier not to think about it. It makes us angry to think about it. But if we continue to publicly operate under the fallacy that our kids are sacrificing in service to their nation, or somehow protecting us by killing Iraqis half a world away, we are condemning more and more of them to die with no end in sight. We are making what we are doing sound much nobler than what it is and making it much more difficult to end it than it should be.

We need one of Orwell’s simple revolutionary acts. We need someone, anyone, to just tell the truth. The words that we use as a society to describe and explain things to ourselves matter quite a bit. If we are unable or not allowed to talk about what is happening using real language to describe it, we will never come up with real solutions. That is what we are seeing now. That is why we seem to be stuck in this situation in Iraq against the explicit will of the American people.

Once we’ve found the courage to talk honestly about what our soldiers are really doing in Iraq, we can apply the same lesson in other places. This can grow. Maybe then we can stop calling it a “surge” and start calling it what it is: an “escalation.” Maybe we can start calling them “Iraqi children” instead of “collateral damage.” Maybe we can stop calling it “imperfect intelligence” and start calling it “lies.” Maybe, at some point, instead of calling it “mismanagement” and “ineptitude” and “neo-conservatism,” we can start calling it “war crimes” and “treason” and act accordingly.

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