Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Capture That Wasn't

A month ago I wrote a post about Jonathan Kenny, The Hero Who Wasn't. He took a bullet in the heart to protect an Iraqi girl, and died instantly, according to the story. There was a minor problem with the story, however: Jonathan Kenney didn't exist. The whole story -- his entire life -- was fabricated. But that didn't keep it out of the local [Colorado] paper, and it was even carried in some regional TV news. This was "amateur propaganda", the product of a very ill young woman's imagination. And when it was debunked, it disappeared as quickly and quietly as could be hoped.

But it brought back memories of a different kind of propaganda. Most Americans probably remember the name of Jessica Lynch. Some may even remember that she was "the first American rescued in Iraq". But how many know that her "rescue" was staged? The false story received tremendous coverage in the American media, which for the most part treated it as true. The fictional tale was even made into a movie, which was shown on national TV shortly thereafter. This story was state propaganda, an officially sanctioned lie. We know this because its life-cycle was so different from that of the Jonathan Kenney story.

Once "we the people" start to absorb an officially sanctioned lie, there is no stopping the process. The more gullible among us fasten onto the official lie and run with it themselves, creating even more "amateur" propaganda. No matter how amateur, this propaganda has staying power, as demonstrated by, a celebration of Jessica Lynch which is at least twice as cheesy as the hats on the fans of the Green Bay Packers.

Cheese or double-cheese. It doesn't matter. Once we adopt an official lie, it can never go away. It becomes part of our cultural history, one more square in the crazy-quilt that makes up our national narrative. Our crazy quilt is composed of an amazing assortment -- all sorts of squares telling all sorts of true and false stories. Every square is unique, but they all have one thing in common. All these "squares" are sanctioned by and for the state, blessed by the major media and absorbed by the people. And so they stay in the quilt forever.

Look at some of these squares closely. Some of the designs are very intricate, and their craftsmanship is extremely sophisticated. This tells us something very important. When you see a state sanctioning intricate, sophisticated lies, lies created with gusto and bravado and woven into the quilt by all the major media, you are looking at a very ill state, in my estimation.

What's new about all this? Nothing. But yesterday, from WHAM-TV in Rochester, New York, there came a story of a Marine who was present when Saddam Hussein was captured. And guess what? No, really! Guess what?

Nadim Abou Rabeh, an ex-Marine Sergeant, was interviewed in Lebanon, and
was quoted in the Saudi daily al-Medina Wednesday as saying Saddam was actually captured Friday, Dec. 12, 2003, and not the day after, as announced by the U.S. Army.
As we all no doubt remember, Saddam was captured in a cave. That was so strange! A friend asked me at the time: "What do you think he was doing in that cave? Did he think he could wait it out?"

I had no idea what he was doing in that cave. It didn't make any sense to me at all, and I've made a point of keeping my eyes open for clues. Well... Umm... Let's see if it makes any more sense this way:
"[W]e found him in a modest home in a small village and not in a hole as announced," Abou Rabeh said.
So how did we see a video of Saddam Hussein being taken from a hole in the ground? Abou Rabeh explains:
"Later on, a military production team fabricated the film of Saddam's capture in a hole, which was in fact a deserted well," Abou Rabeh said.
Oh. So that's what he was doing. Waiting it out. Hanging around waiting for the camera crew to get there so the false raid could begin. Then he could be dragged from the well, filthy and humiliated, and captured on video for all the world.

This could only have one purpose: to create exceptionally powerful propaganda, combining the usual demonization with a unique brand of de-humanization, and providing an image-boost for those who like to portray themselves as superior human beings. [People who live in mansions are much better than people who live in holes in the ground. Everybody knows that, don't you?]

I rarely make predictions, but I hereby predict that the story of Nadim Abou Rabeh will go away very quickly. Even if every Marine who served in his unit on the day when Saddam Hussein was captured were to gather together on the steps of the Lincoln Monument and spend an afternoon chanting "Nadim Abou Rabeh was right; that's exactly how it happened", this story would still go away in the blink of a news cycle. Why? Because it's already been sanctioned. The square depicting Saddam's capture is already an official lie. It's part of the national quilt now and it will never be excised. Why do I think this? Let's just call it "experience".

You can read WHAM-TV's article here. It won't take very long. But you might have to hurry. Like any truth that is contradicted by an officially sanctioned falsehood, this story could disappear in a heartbeat.

Cheers to Nadim Abou Rabeh for speaking up, to WHAM-TV for running the story, and to Cheryl at the Brad Blog for mentioning this story in a comment there.