A Bodyguard of Lies

January 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

Winston Churchill said, “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”  In my lifetime, the United States government has expanded greatly the concept of “wartime” to include several situations that fall short of wartime, but nevertheless were regarded as sufficient  to justify a “bodyguard of lies”.

For me, becoming old has proved to be  dis-illusioning.  It is very disorienting.  I spend more time alone than at any earlier time in my life.  The internet avails me  easy access to  virtually infinite sources of information about almost any conceivable subject or event.   This has proved to be both satisfying and discomforting.

The Usual Suspects

I have not been naive about the likelihood that much of what the government, especially the federal government, claims is related to truth on a scale of somewhere between artful choices between conflicting facts and outright lies.  During my adult lifetime, the sources of government information were guided by Harry, Ike, JFK, LBJ, Dick, Gerald, Jimmy, Ronnie, Poppy, Bill, GW and Obama.   I expected no truth from LBJ, Dick, Ronnie or GW and they did not disappoint.  The Gulf of Tonkin lie mired us in Viet Nam; Watergate and God knows what else welded “Tricky” to Dick like “Damn” to Yankee; Iran-Contra was Ronnie’s claim to the most elaborate multi-national of the giant whoppers  and GW’s fantasy about WMD’s cost a trillion dollars and over 100,000 lives – these four were, I thought,  the champions of mendacity (although, in GW’s case, his stupidity raises the possibility that he actually believed the nonsense fed him by Chaney and his cohorts).

Two Pairs of Clay Feet

I claim no dis-illusions about the above-cited four because I had no illusions about them.  Until recently I thought that, regardless of whether I agreed or disagreed with their policies, Harry and Ike seemed to have been honest about the major issues that confronted them during their presidency.   I know, of course, that Ike lied about the CIA’s U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers over Soviet territory.  His lie was quickly exposed and he apologized for it.  I don’t regard that as a major issue.  Covert operations are invariably based on deception and that is just part of the game.  I’ve read enough Ian Fleming novels to understand that.

But now I have discovered that Ike’s memorable farewell address, which included his warning about the “military industrial complex”, followed four years of vast expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal from 1,000 bombs to 20,000 bombs.  I  have learned that he directed the deployment of a significant part of that arsenal to European bases, where it directly threatened the USSR,  and changed the prot0cols for using nuclear arms to authorize generals to use them, authorizations that led some of those officers to sub-delegate that authority to lower-ranked persons.  Ike justified these measures and the accompanying huge expansion of the military budget by grossly exaggerating the size of Soviet military resources.

Ike and his communist-obsessed Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, used the threat of nuclear war to back negotiations with the communist block on three separate occasions. Ike  stated that he regarded nuclear weapons as no different from any other weapons; that they would be used where and when necessary.  In other words, far from launching efforts to outlaw nuclear war as dangerous to the survival of the human race, Ike embraced it as a tactical advantage to be used routinely to add strength to U.S. negotiating power.

The fact that such tactics would inevitably lead to a world-wide nuclear arms race and widespread nuclear proliferation apparently did not affect Ike’s policies.

As I listened and watched Oliver Stone’s TV series account of these events I recalled an aphorism repeated often by Professor Bob Montgomery long ago in a UT classroom:  “The one invariable characteristic of man is that he will always, sooner or later, play with his gadgets.”  He was profoundly convinced that all-out nuclear war would occur.  The only question was “When?”.

So, Ike’s comments about the “military industrial complex”, that I always thought were a warning lest his successors create such a monster were, instead, a confession that, like Dr. Frankenstein, he had created a monster and was confessing that he knew full well its dangerous proclivities.

This dis-illusion is based on Oliver Stone’s “Untold Histories of the United States” series.  I have not duplicated his research, but the specific numbers he cites sound credible to me.

Another of  my illusions that has been “dis’ed”regards the atomic bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I, along with millions of others, was told that, although it was horrific to kill and maim so many civilians, it was necessary to avoid a brutal land invasion of Japan.  Now I have learned that, according to research done by Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, a historian, and by other scholars, the Japanese surrendered because the Soviet Union abandoned their neutrality and announced that they would enter the war.

The Japanese had a 50 year history of conflict with Russia over Korea, Manchuria and other issues.  They had every reason to take seriously the Soviet threat of invasion.  As Ward Wilson stated in a recent op/ed in the Times, sixty-six Japanese cities had already been obliterated by incendiary carpet bombing, so the loss of the two objects of nuclear bombs would not have caused them to surrender.  “The A-bomb saved thousands of American lives” made a persuasive narrative but, now it appears that it was more a protective justification for Truman’s decision than an objective rendition of the facts.

A Tragedy and a Puzzle

Aaron Swartz, a twenty-six-year-old computer genius, killed himself recently.   At the time of his death he was depressed because he was scheduled for an April, 2013 trial based on a federal indictment charging him with multiple crimes, seeking millions of dollars worth of fines and thirty-five years in prison.

Aaron Swartz’ life was dedicated to making information freely available through the internet.  At 14, he designed and invented RSS, a way of making website content available for free distribution.  He created other applications to facilitate the free distribution of information, including the federal database of documents filed in federal courts.

His effort to make Jstor’s database freely available led to his criminal prosecution.  He went to MIT, broke into a room where wiring related to Jstor was located, attached some of it to his laptop, downloaded program files that enabled him to gain access to Jstor’s database, and proceeded to download millions of Jstor documents to a freely available internet cite.

None of Aaron Swartz’s activities, including the break-in at MIT, netted him any money.  The authors of the documents stored on Jstor’s database did not lose any money because Jstor does not compensate the authors of stored papers.  Jstor’s requirements limiting access to their database and charging for some of that access is used entirely to finance Jstor’s expenses.

After Swartz was charged, MIT chose not to pursue or request his prosecution.  In fact, in apparent response to Swartz’s activities, Jstor decided to make freely available a large portion of its database.

Despite these circumstances, the U.S. Attorney for the Massachusetts District continued its effort to send Schwartz to prison and to destroy him financially.   In other words, the U.S. DA was and is a jackass who did not appreciate the meaning of “prosecutorial discretion”.   The result was the loss of a young idealistic genius.

The sad story was reported in the Times.

Here is what is puzzling to me:  I have free access to the Jstor database through my free Houston Public Library card.  Jstor is one of the “research” options available to me and, I assume, to everyone.  So why did Aaron Schwartz feel it was necessary to do a commando raid at MIT to make Jstor documents available to everyone?  It does not require a genius or a trained hacker to gain free access to that database.  It seems like a waste of his talents.  It also seems to me an additional basis for designating the US DA a jackass for, like Javert, the relentless pursuer of Jean Valjean, driving Aaron Swartz to his untimely death.

I have nothing but admiration for Aaron Schwartz.  The whole episode is a tragic waste of a valuable life.

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