In their efforts to attain deniability on the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran, the U.S. administration managed to achieve considerable notoriety for self-righteousness, public befuddlement about facts, forgetfulness under oath, and constant disavowals of political error and criminality, culminating in the quasi-confessional passive-voice-mode sentence, Mistakes were made.
This, of course, was a long time ago (1980s) but it serves to show how much worse things are now. Contrast it with Robert E. Lee’s statement after the battle of Gettysburg and the calamity of Pickett’s Charge:
“All this has been my fault,” Lee said. “I asked more of my men than should have been asked of them.”
Lee’s sentences have an antique ring. People just don’t say such things any more. Honest men are no longer heard. If they are heard they are vilified.
Mistakes were made. Who made them? Everybody made them and no one did, and it’s history anyway, so let’s forget about it. What difference does it make to writers of stories if public figures are denying responsibility for their own actions? So what if they are, in effect, refusing to tell their own stories accurately? Well, to make an obvious point, they create a climate in which social narratives are designed to be deliberately incoherent and misleading. Such narratives humiliate the act of storytelling. You can argue that only a coherent narrative can manage to explain public events, and you can reconstruct a story if someone says, “I made a mistake,” or “We did that.” You can’t reconstruct a story – you can’t even know what the story is – if everybody is saying, Mistakes were made.
Every story is a history, however, and when there is no comprehensible story, there is no history. The past, under these circumstances, becomes an unreadable mess. When we hear words like “deniability,” we are in the presence of narrative dysfunction, the process by which we lose track of the story of ourselves, the story that tells us who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act.
Fast-forward to 2004 and Karl Rove (a Bush aide). Rove criticised a New York Times journalist for working in the ‘reality based community’ with people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality’. He went on:
“That’s not the way the world really works any more. We’re an empire now, and we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you will study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
I’ve studied and thought about this comment of Roves quite a lot over the years since I first heard it. My first reaction was horror. How can any human being think like that? And have absolute confidence that they are right? I do not think someone in his right mind could have such a thought; Rove is clearly not a sane person and ‘…what we do’ usually means murdering lots of people – for oil, money, status… and they have also created a new language to match the new reality: ‘collateral damage’ – dead civilians; ‘humanitarian intervention’ – war on civilians and, er, mistakes were made.
Mistakes indeed. The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that 500,000 Iraqi children died due to sanctions before the 2003 invasion. After the invasion, estimates of civilian deaths range from 100,000 in the popular media to 1,200,000 in the Lancet. It is interesting too that if this discrepancy is pointed out to those who would rather not think about it, the reaction is outrage directed not at those who caused the deaths but at the providers of the information. This is due to a compliant media providing the lies, and idiots believing them.
500,000 children. Perhaps another 200,000 during the war. Does anybody stop to think what that means? I don’t think they do. Many of you have children. Imagine your child dying of starvation or of agonising disease. Imagine your child with its arm blown off, crushed to death, blown to pieces – tiny fragile bodies twisted and torn asunder. Because that’s what happened to them, innocent children, as yours are innocent. And why was it done? Who did it?. Who do you blame? Who owns up to the dead children? Are they ever mentioned?’
Er, no. Nobody takes responsibility. Mistakes were made. Actually, if you want to blame somebody, blame Clinton, Bush and Blair. Do you imagine any of them have lost one second’s sleep over the many child deaths in their name? Did they ever own up to it? Do they even remember that it happened? I doubt it. Clinton was on the election trail with his awful wife; Bush plays golf at his ranch; Blair makes money. Blair at least has the grace to look destroyed. While admitting nothing, his subconscious has caught up with him. His face has crumbled with guilt. He lives his own hell. He reminds me of Macbeth. Americans just keep going on their dreadful way.
Does anybody own up to anything? The police were still challenging the Hillsborough families right up to the last minute, adding immensely to their suffering. Appeal after appeal on a mountain of lies. It took 27 years to finally arrive at a truth that was obvious from day one. How many truths are denied and buried completely?
Would you trust a banker to tell you the truth? A policeman? A judge? A doctor? A celebrity?
Ah, mistakes were made.