Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
By Liz Soares
In 1990, I began working with children, and was struck by a curious new phrase that had become part of the lexicon.
"I didn't do it!"
Of course, I was familiar with the line. I was a child once and remembered denial as a sometimes effective line of defense. What I found amazing was that the kids were shrieking the phrase as they were "acting out."
Take the little girl in the supermarket who maliciously rammed a cart into the dairy case. She turned to her mother and shrugged. "I didn't do it!"
Out of the mouths of babes came the first evidence of a new morality: lying with a straight face. Lying even when you're caught red-handed.
Now fabricating, altering reality and spinning the news has become such a way of life for us that I'm beginning to think we don't even care what the truth is anymore.
We've had several disturbing cases of journalists making up, rather than reporting, stories. The so-called "runaway bride" blithely told police she'd been kidnapped. Plagiarism is rampant among high school and college students.
Worst of all is the swirling funnel cloud of half-truths and worse that is the Bush administration. The "Ministry of Truth" in George Orwell's novel "1984"-- a government office which manufactured reality-- couldn't have done a better job of misleading the nation than this administration has done with the Iraq war.
May I quote myself? In a column published Nov. 2, 2002, I wrote, "I have to wonder why the president is so insistent on" invading Iraq." Was it because "Saddam tried to kill his Daddy?" Or "to protect oil interests?"
I was not, by far, the only one to question Bush's motives. But I would have appreciated having a few more of my fellow Americans showing some skepticism then.
I concluded, at the time, that many people feared that Saddam was hoarding weapons of mass destruction. But as evidence of WMD proved elusive, then nonexistent, the Bush administration began a more fevered story-telling campaign.
The invasion of Iraq was now a battle in the war on terrorism. I could not believe the turpitude it took to suddenly connect the two. But most Americans swallowed this big fish whole.
As Adolf Hitler wrote in "Mein Kampf:" "The great mass of people ... will more easily fall victim to a big lie than a small one."
Now the evidence is in. The so-called "Downing Street memo" shows British government officials considered the Bush administration's war plan in July 2002. The critical question of grounds for the invasion was discussed at this time. It had to be -- because there were none.
Winston Smith, the central character in "1984," muses about people who "could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality" because they didn't understand their role as citizens and "were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening."
When we fall into such habits, it's easy for our elected officials to smirk and say, "I didn't do it!"
Liz Soares is a free-lance writer and the author of "All for Maine: The Story of Gov. Percival P. Baxter." She welcomes e-mail at Baxter24@aol.com .
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