If Yesterday’s Word Was Progressive, Today’s is Perverse

Reasonable people can disagree about the success or failure of the President’s surge strategy, the Iraq war in general and even whether or not this exercise is helping or hurting American interest domestically and abroad. It happens every day in the comment section of this blog and millions of others springing up across the internets. What reasonable people seem to get bogged down in is whether ideological rhetoric can and should be passed off as fact.

Macswain asked the question in a post yesterday “Is al Anbar a success of the surge?” A reasonable question considering it could very well be interpreted as the first quasi-diplomatic victory of this war. If that is the case, then the question is was this facilitated by the surge or simply by us succumbing to the necessity of buddying up with a group we had been fighting against for the past five years? Some discussion around this question occurred in the comment section of his post which, even though it transpired between people of greatly different ideologies, seemed based in fact and not ideologically driven rhetoric.

Great stuff, the thing that powers the web in my opinion and the reason I have stuck it out in the blogosphere.

Sadly, exchanges of this sort are becoming more and more of a rarity when politicians spend millions of dollars and countless hours of air time trying to twist peoples opinions with misinformation. In his speech before the VFW Wednesday, President Bush made some fairly outrageous statements, not the least of which was the following:

Had these erstwhile experts had their way, the very notion of inducing a democratic revolution would have died of ridicule at an early stage.

Somehow the President managed to equate the Iraq war with every major conflict in the 20th century, in this case he was speaking of post WWII Japan and quoting a man who is not so happy about the use of his quote.

“They [war supporters] keep on doing this,” said MIT professor John Dower. “They keep on hitting it and hitting it and hitting it and it’s always more and more implausible, strange and in a fantasy world. They’re desperately groping for a historical analogy, and their uses of history are really perverse.”

And Mr. Dower did not stop there.

The quote is from his book, “Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II,” which won the National Book Award and the Bancroft Prize, among other awards, in 1999.Dower was decidedly unhappy with his 15 minutes of fame. “I have always said as a historian that the use of Japan [in arguing for the likelihood of successfully bringing democracy to Iraq] is a misuse of history,” he said when notified of the Bush quote.He immediately directed me to a November 2002 New York Times op-ed where he outlined 10 reasons why “most of the factors that contributed to the success of nation-building in occupied Japan would be absent in an Iraq militarily defeated by the United States.”

In March 2003, Dower wrote an essay for Boston Review, entitled “A Warning From History: Don’t Expect Democracy in Iraq.”

And what about the specific quote Bush used – that experts on Japan were wrong about the country’s capability for democracy?

“Whoever pulled that quote out for him [Bush] is very clever,” Dower said, acknowledging that “if you listen to the experts prior to the invasion of Japan, they all said that Japan can’t become democratic.”

But there are major differences, Dower said. “I’m not being misquoted, but I’m being misrepresented.”

As a typical citizen with the benefit of being involved in the public discourse I can attest to the fact that the general mood of this country is shitty at best. We are all dissatisfied with our elected leaders but particularly with their willingness to twist their messages to affect our opinion. We used to call this propaganda, I am not sure when we decided it was simply PR but in any effect it is crap. Our elected representatives need to know that twisting words to gain a public opinion edge is not only wearing thin, but is certainly, to quote Mr. Dower, Perverse.

Others blogging this issue: Memeorandum, Think Progress and The Atlantic Online

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