the column this jotting refers to
New crises inevitably dim older ones. Bits of the past that a nation was half-digesting intellectually may then remain undigested for a long time, perhaps forever. The current financial crisis has pushed the moral crises caused by warcrimes committed by a part of what since World War II proudly called itself “the free world” well down the memory holes in several countries.
We should remember that the state of things resulting directly from the American government’s response to the terrorist attacks of the 11th of September 2001, led to lingering moral and intellectual crises on both sides of the Atlantic.
Probably none of the Westpoint cadets who flung their caps into the air, after listening to their president announcing his right to attack any country that he decided was an enemy, could have imagined one of the grisly outcomes of what he had said; that perhaps several among them and certainly many soldiers serving under them would kill themselves within two, three, four or five years. One calculation arrived at in 2005 indicated that some 120 veterans would did so every week at the time. Advanced medical technology allows fifteen wounded to survive against every one fatal casualty, compared to the two wounded survivors for one dead in World War II. The prospect of a life without limbs or only part of a functioning brain accounts for probably a majority of these suicides. But in a number of cases it involves physically healthy veterans who could not continue living with the thought of having been an instrument of what they knew to identify as warcrimes. They ended their lives in despair, confusion, and guilt for what in their humanity they had recognized as capital crimes against the innocent. We know this from some of their loved ones.
The moral crisis was never as harrowingly evident in Europe. But there too it has become difficult even now to contemplate the world with honesty. It meshes in an insidious way with a general loss of faith in the European promise for which the various member nations gave up their economic sovereignty. The governments of several member states have had to lie, and to lie big, to their citizens as a condition for keeping the illusion of an Atlantic Alliance alive. The British were told that their soldiers had to die in and around Basra because London could have been hit by Saddam’s rockets in 40 minutes. The Dutch were asked to believe that the United States was right in invading a sovereign country, because its leader had not heeded UN Security Council resolutions. Straightforward discussion about this had become difficult. What I remember most about living in The Netherlands in 2003 was my own sense that all intellectual oxygen had been sucked out of its public sphere.
The European situation demonstrates a grievous historical phenomenon: Not wanting to see reality becomes a habit. Lies accepted for supposedly practical reasons will gradually gain an aura of political veracity and respectability and become a kind of permanent false truth. The mainstream media have of course been a major factor in bringing this about. They have some time ago lost the ability to hold up a mirror to national consciences of the European nations and the United States. Five years after Fallujah we had Gaza, and the warcrimes in between have become so much routine that they hardly register the slightest indication they happened with the sources that bring us “the news”.
While anxiety over the possible foundering of the economic prosperity Americans have known since the fifties, and the political maneuvering caused by it, has for the moment muted all cries for a thorough accounting in the United States, some Europeans indicate that they are loath to let the past go by unexamined. The Netherlands is a small fry on the world’s political stage, and its political elite rarely gets attention, but some Dutch bureaucrat whistle-blowers and opposition politicians are fighting for the truth, now evidence has been unearthed that the government was well-informed by its own legal specialists that it could get into big trouble in a hypothetical case before an international court for joining George W. Bush and the British in Iraq.
In his latest column Jan Sampiemon gives an account of the parliamentary fight preceding a compromise offered by a prime minister who is clearly scared of the truth, and wonders whether one of the staunchest NATO members is capable of pursuing a true struggle with the past.