The Soviet Union has always been like some sort of Neverland to me; the stories of deprivation, persecution, and oppression were so horrible I frankly couldn't believe they could be true. I heard about the secret police, the propaganda, the jailings of dissidents, and the persecution of Christians, but because I hadn't seen these things with my own eyes and the respectable media didn't talk about them, I couldn't really put it on a par with my daily experience.
It was like reading about demon possession in the Bible: I've never seen it, so yeah, OK, maybe it was true then, but is it as true today? Is it more relevant to me than the baseball game I'm listening to? I could only conclude that if persecution and demon possession did indeed happen they only happened far away and to people I'd never see. I couldn't really justify spending time or effort worrying about such things.
My view of Bible translation was similar: it was a safe profession. We only worked in socially stable places, like our village in Papua New Guinea, where the nasty murders had all happened in the old days. True, on occasion the unattractive and socially marginal mysteriously disappeared, but we were assured that they were witches and the world was better off without them. We didn't see the mutilated bodies, so we forgot about the deceased in less time than it takes to tell.
This worldview carried over into real life, as it were. I remember talking with a fellow translator, a brilliant woman no one would ever confuse with a soldier, a lady of impeccable character, who had spent two summers in Sudan. Oh, how nice—Africa! The languages there have such interesting features!
But much of her conversation had to do with the time she had spent in villages when they were being bombed by the government, and I was simply unable to take in what she was saying. She might as well have told me she had been kinaped by leprechauns for all I could grasp what she was saying—though of course I nodded and smiled and certainly would never have accused her, even to myself, of telling falsehoods. Her words were simply so much mental overload.
I have a hard time believing that Muslims are as nasty as they are portrayed to be. When my son was at university, he said he was making friends with guys from Pakistan. Oh, how nice! Getting to know people from other cultures is such a good way to spread the Gospel! I had heard that Christians are second-class citizens in Muslim countries, and Christian churches in Pakistan and Indonesia get burned occasionsally, but that's there and this is here; in the USA, Muslims play by the rules, right? Didn't National Geographic's story on Beirut include a photo of two Saudis at a rooftop restaurant drinking beer (faces and other identifying features carefully shielded from the camera)? And aren't the Muslim men we meet with a few times a year at our Meetings for Better Understanding obviously human and humane? When I visited my Muslim friend's home, didn't he have going on his big screen a movie he said he'd get in trouble for viewing if he were at home in Bangladesh? Muslim nastiness is far away; it happens to other people.
And Hindus. They may burn churches in India, but here they're OK, right? You know, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and all that? A Hindu woman of my acquaintance has come to Christ in the last few years, but I have a hard time believing her when she says she really is in mortal danger from her husband and doesn't dare tell him about her conversion, even though she is amazingly consistent in her stories.
All this to say I'm having a hard time believing what I'm passing on here. In short, there's pretty good evidence that people like me who vocally oppose the wars in Southwest Asia and attempt to persuade others to join the opposition aren't going to be walking around free all that much longer. I really don't know how long it will be before I am in prison.
A little background: Whenever a government is at war, its success depends on its ability to rally the citizenry to fight. Those who do the grunting, freezing, sweating, living with permanent injuries, dying, and killing know that the men who declare today's wars stay at home, eat catered meals, sleep with their wives, and make speeches. So they need to be convinced that the alternative to suffering on the battlefield is even worse and that those who are maimed or killed in these battles are heroes. Every war is a battle between good ("us") and evil ("them"), and anyone who shows any sympathy to the enemy has to be cast as supporting evil. As Hermann Göring said on the eve of the Nuremburg trials,
Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
A man who knows what he's fighting for needs no propaganda to inspire him, and he will not be affected by negative propaganda; the situation is the reverse for the man who doesn't know what he's fighting for. So the less clear the objective of the war, as in the case of the wars the US has fought in my lifetime ("And it's one, two, three, what are we fightin' for? / Don't ask me, I don't give a damn, / Next stop is Vietnam"), the more important propaganda is. The morale of the fighting forces is crucial and must be maintained at all costs, and negative publicity of any kind damages a government's war effort even more than setbacks on the battlefield. There is, unsurprisingly, no incentive for the government to tell the truth, either to the enemy or to the domestic public: "All's fair in love and war," right? and this is doubly true when the interests of the ruling class are at stake.
We in the US tend to think of propaganda as a tool of those governments we're glad we don't live under, but it's as much a part of our history as are the wars it promoted.
After South Carolina seceded, Lincoln shut down newspapers in the North—that's the N-O-R-T-H—that argued against the war he so wanted and jailed the editors and owners. Wilson did the same to promote his war, and FDR did the same with his. Why? Because if they printed the truth (let alone lies—this is war, after all), people would not support the wars. It was that simple.
In our own day, the heroism of Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman were front-page news; the good treatment the former received at the hands of her captors and the needless destruction of an Iraqi hospital by her putative rescuers weren't, nor was the revelation that the latter had turned against the war and was killed by "friendly fire."
Journalists need access to the action if they are going to report what's going on. I wasn't alive for Edward R. Murrow's live reports from the European theater (an appropriate term if ever there was one) during FDR's war, but I understand they were not to be missed by patriotic Americans. If he had been asking German prisoners why they were fighting or reporting on the abuse of civilians by US troops (or the sexual immorality—the title of the movie What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? says it all), would he have had the same access to the action and the airwaves? And without access, there's nothing to report, which means no sales and no revenue.
The present solution to the access problem is that jounalists have access to spokespeople. Who needs Edward R. Murrow when you can have Norman Schwartzkopf? Reporters go to briefings, pad every sentence in the prepared remarks with some variant of "he said," and presto! they have their story. Or they can be embedded with combat units—as long as they don't report what Corporal White said about wishing he could get a piece of local ass or show the aftermath of the mortar blast that killed one "suspected insurgent" and half a dozen women and children.
Notice the establishment's complaints about Bradley Manning's release of the video of a US helicopter crew killing innocent people in what seems to be the honest (if far too hastily assumed) belief that they were terrorists. People interested in justice would speak to the issues raised by the video: How warranted was the belief that the photographer was carrying a weapon? Did the crewmen follow standard operating procedures and rules of engagement? What consequences did they face afterward? What steps is the Pentagon taking to see that such killing of innocents not happen in the future?
Instead, the talk was all about how the video would demoralize the homeland, endanger US troops, and raise anger among Iraqis: it was bad propaganda.
Well, folks, the establishment isn't taking what little opposition there is to these wars lying down. They are now following in Lincoln's steps and attacking antiwar types. I've never heard of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and anyone who reads this blog knows I have no sympathy for socialism beyond the words they use to describe their goals ("peace," "justice," "prosperity," "the common good," etc.—I would guess we don't even define those words the same way). So as I write to a somewhat conservative audience, I anticipate a response to the effect of, "I'm not going to worry if the Feds go after a bunch of pinkos or reds. Perilous times require drastic measures."
To paraphrase Martin Niemöller, today the pinkos, tomorrow (or the next day, or the next) the libertarians, and sometime down the road anyone who dares call governemnt rapine what it is. Who knows? Someday Christian churches might provide such a contrast to the evil around them that people will perceive Christians as enough of a threat that to start hauling them off to jail. Who will speak up for them then? "The prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil" (Am 5:13).
For now, though, notice how our government is misusing language here by alleging that the FRSO is providing "material support for terrorism." Those who speak against the war are providing "material support" to terrorists? Since when are words material? Material things are tangible; they're made of atoms. Since when is a word made of atoms? Yet on the basis of this verbal travesty, our rulers will criminalize and jail their opponents.
Then again, as I've just explained, the war effort depends crucially on propaganda. Our rulers can't just say, "These people are telling the truth, and if the voters see we're running a racket, we'll be in trouble." They need to respond or they'll lose their fan base. And to the degree that the war really is effective against terrorists, I suppose they can claim that the truth helps terrorists. But I would also argue that this war is an ungodly waste of life and property, and a more godly way would be more respectful of both. But "there's plenty of money to be made / by supplying the army with the tools of the trade," so such suggestions would fall on deaf ears, even if offered by someone with better credentials.
Maybe I'm such a poor writer that this blog, with this readership in single digits on a good day, will never get me in trouble. But when the Roman empire was in trouble, it didn't matter who you were or how vocal your opposition to the government's evil: you had to take the pledge of allegiance ("Caesar is lord") or die. How long before I, along with you, dear reader, have to pledge to support the troops or face draconian (Re 12:9) measures?
Some Christians in the days of the Roman empire were willing to call Caesar lord and toss in the incense, figuring that God knew their hearts and, for that matter, so did the soldiers administering the pledge: everyone knew the emperor was an ordinary, if extraordinarily powerful, mortal, and everyone was just going along to get along. But others, the ones we remember and call heroes today, thinking that their words would affect their standing before God (Mt 12:37), refused to go along with the community and paid, often with their lives.
I've lost good friends because of this blog; I suspect that for them the day I'm arrested will be a day of celebration (Jn 16:2, 20). I'm not betting the farm that my church, which prays regularly for God's protection of the unbelievers in the US military, will pray for their brother in Christ once I'm in prison; I would guess that if they do, they will be praying that I see the error of my ways and start supporting the troops.
"Let him who puts his armor on not boast like him who takes it off" (1 Kg 20:11). I don't know for sure what I'll do when it's time to either live a lie or "live" in prison or die. but it's pretty clear that the day is coming when I'll have to choose, and courage is not exactly my middle name. But if I really love the Lord, my day of crisis will be a day of celebration (2 Ti 3:8) for me, too.