The Greatest Civic Sin

Monday October 14 2002

There is a certain poem by Rudyard Kipling. I can’t quote it exactly, but the relevant two lines are something like “When they ask why they died, tell them it was because their fathers lied.”*

Kipling’s son died on his 18th birthday in World War I. I believe the bitter little poem was directed at himself, for Kipling had been an imperial enthusiast and had used his influence to get his son a commission, despite his son being underage and medically disqualified. Kipling was never the same after. The illusions about patriotism and honor and glory vanished for him, as they did for millions who died in that stupid war.

A lot of America’s sons have died because “their fathers lied.” The U.S. government lied through its teeth about the Tonkin Gulf resolution, an authorization for war based on a nonexistent attack, which Lyndon Johnson used as an excuse to pour American troops into Vietnam.

Franklin Roosevelt lied when he campaigned and promised he would never send American boys to fight in a foreign war. Long before he said it, he and Winston Churchill were plotting to get America into the war. Woodrow Wilson had campaigned on the slogan “He kept us out of the war,” and then promptly got us into the war after the J.P. Morgan interests told him all of their loans would be jeopardized if the British were defeated.

I have come to believe that the greatest civic sin is to lie to the people. It ought to be considered the unforgivable sin. It undercuts the very basis of self-government. That concept, pioneered by America’s Founding Fathers, says that the people can make the right decisions in the long run provided they are given the facts. If they are lied to, they are denied the opportunity to make the right decisions. They are, rather than choosing their destiny, being manipulated by others for hidden reasons.

That’s why I’ve become so anti-war, which is not the same thing as being a pacifist. I will support any war in the genuine defense of this country, but I have not seen an honest war in my lifetime or read of one since the War Between the States. Even World War II was based on lies. It’s true that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It is also true that the Roosevelt administration maneuvered them into a position in which they had no choice but to attack the United States. The Japanese certainly did not wish to go to war with the United States if it could have been avoided. Even the Third Reich never had any interest in conquering the world as Americans were told repeatedly during the war.

Both the “War to End All Wars” and the “War for Democracy” were based on lies. They were both wars involving a conflict of empires and would-be empires, which did not concern the United States. Peace and democracy had nothing to do with the wars.

I served in the U.S. Army, 18 months on active duty and the rest in the Army Reserve. I’m glad, though, that I wised up in time to discourage my children from joining. The all-volunteer Army, which is really a mercenary Army, was adopted to make it easier for the United States to go to war. The sons and daughters of the powerful and influential, of course, don’t volunteer. Our soldiers are mostly minorities and lower-middle-class kids. They are wonderful Americans, but they are, as far as the American elite is concerned, expendable. They can be lied to.

We have become a nation of liars. The politicians lie, journalists lie, corporate CEOs lie, and stockbrokers and other salesmen lie. Advertisers lie. Businesses lie. Preachers and priests and rabbis lie. And because of those lies, the young in our own and in other countries die or have their lives blighted by wounds, disease and poverty. As Thomas Jefferson said, if God is just, we’re in trouble.

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*The exact words are:
If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
(Kipling, ‘Common Form”, 1919)