U.S Imperial Forces Pay Homage to George Orwell, As It Were

Suppose you are the publicity officer for a U.S. imperial legion in some God-forsaken hellhole, where your job is to tell the world what the forces have been doing there lately. What they’ve actually been doing, of course, is killing people, with little regard for who they are, and destroying a lot of property, with equal disregard for who owns it. Just “doing our job,” as the soldiers say.

As a rule, you describe the persons your forces have slaughtered as “militants,” “terrorists,” or “insurgents,” or you give them some other designation that renders them guilty by definition. No need to get into boring details, such as a man’s name, age, occupation, and how many surviving members of his family remain to mourn his death and suffer for want of his support. A militant is a militant is a militant; la la la. If these guys didn’t want to get killed, well, they just shouldn’t have been born in Afghanistan or Iraq or (fill in the blank).

The trouble with the standard reporting procedure is that very often your forces’ attacks leave behind the all-too-undeniable bodies and body parts of women, children, and old people. Of course, you can call them bad names, too: women are sometimes terrorists, kids can carry bombs, blah, blah, blah. But it’s a tough tale to sell. The sight of dead children, in particular, has a way of raising uncomfortable questions about what the hell you are doing in that God-forsaken hellhole and how you are going about doing it.

Recently, in one of the countless instances in which such questions had arisen, the U.S. military spokesman came up with a truly priceless turn of phrase. The military had already followed the usual procedure—first deny everything, then admit something might have happened and promise to conduct an investigation, then report the findings of your phony-baloney investigation, which almost invariably exculpates all your troops, then, when faced with incontrovertible evidence of your crimes, minimize their extent and spin the whole story so that you continue to evade responsibility for the innocent persons you’ve just slaughtered. At this late stage in the sequence, the media flack, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, explained that previous denials and minimizations were not actually wrong; rather, as the U.S. forces were compelled to face the facts more fully, their story had to change, too. As he put it, “sometimes the truth can change.”

Welcome to 1984, Mr. Whitman. You’re going to be very happy there.

It has often been opined that “military intelligence,” “military justice,” and “military music” are oxymorons. It is high time that we added to this list “military truth.”

UPDATE: Move along, nothing to see here.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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