Finding truth behind half-truths and lies

August 30, 1998|By Paul Delaney

CONTEMPLATING events of the past several weeks and months carried me back to a couple of lines from an old blues song that went, "Don't talk me to death 'cause I ain't ready to die / If you talk too much I know you're bound to lie."

That little ditty from the 1940s has never been more appropriate than now, in the information age, as we are bombarded with more blather than ever before, particularly by politicians. We are used to hearing the following:

"If elected, I promise to "

"My client denies the allegations and looks forward to being vindicated "

"The talks were frank and fruitful "

From overstatements and exaggerations to outright untruths, Americans unfortunately have come to expect nothing more, or less, from their politicians. Consider Defense Secretary William Cohen, on television, declaring that the intent of missile strikes was not to kill Osama bin Laden, accused by the Clinton administration of being responsible for the bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But, if that were the result, he said, no one would be too sad. Others, including Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, were more upfront in saying the aim of the attacks should have been to target Mr. bin Laden.

If there is anybody out there who seriously believes that the missiles were not meant to kill the accused terrorist, I'd like to meet her or him.

Two crucial issues are joined here, lies and assassination, that touch on fundamental principles of our democracy. That we expect politicians to lie to us at all is damning enough, since we do not seem to bother to consider the deeper implications and consequences, the cynicism engendered and eventual contempt for politicians, government and democracy.

In his new book, "A Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Presidency," William Bundy takes to task the foreign policies of the Nixon-Kissinger years, which were based on lies and deception, ignoring principles, the Constitution, Congress and the people. Lies and deception are especially disturbing nowadays, wrapped in the rhetoric of the information, because they touch our impressionable children.

For example, we hear youngsters repeating terms they picked up from adults, off the screen and from our leaders; they speak of "whacking" and "taking out" human beings as though they were reciting nursery rhymes; it comes with the morning cereal.

Kids mimic killers daily in video games, and some find it almost natural to go from virtual to real -- witness Jonesboro, Ark., Springfield, Ore., Chicago, New York, and, yes, right here in Maryland, where a host of young killers appear to have emulated ideas learned from multimedia.

This lingo of the underworld that permeates the Pentagon and Capitol Hill has also seeped into the public vocabulary and, worse, the thought processes of 5- and 6-year-olds. That I find dangerous in a nation with a violent bent. We simply cannot tolerate our leaders talking about offing people. If we give up that ethical boundary, what remains? What other furies are left to be unleashed?

This nation cannot have a policy, official or unofficial, of assassination. I disagree with columnist Andy Glass, who suggested recently that the government hire the more experienced Israelis for such dirty work. To some of us, this may seem as simple as hiring migrants to do the stoop-labor that employers assure us Americans shun. But why use Israelis when there are goodfellas who may be better? We've played footsie with them before. However, that is a dangerous game and even worse foreign policy.

We as a nation should not get into the assassination business. We already have bloody hands from the past: Mossadegh, Allende, Lumumba, as well as failed attempts on Fidel Castro; and more recently, death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala. Our activity abroad has many Americans in a tizzy. Are we really VTC in a new war that is unlike any other? Is Mr. bin Laden truly a threat to our existence? Is Saddam Hussein really worse than Hitler?

Paul Delaney writes from Baltimore.

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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