“Who remembers the Armenians?” said Adolf Hitler to dismiss claims that the World wouldn’t let him get away with his “Final Solution.” Hitler was referring to the near genocide of the Armenian people by Turks during World War I, which by 1939, the world seemed to have forgotten.
Hitler was counting on two peculiar aspects of human nature: That people are all too ready to believe, without any real evidence, even an outrageous lie, so long as it is repeated many times and as loud as possible. And that no matter the horror of the atrocity, people just forget over time.
To these, I’ll add a third, the sometimes overwhelming temptation to tune out a barrage of continuous conflict, protecting against our own discomfort by coming to some conclusion like, “They all lie (politicians),” or, “It’s just a hoax (climate change).” With these three characteristics, truth disappears.
Which brings us to some history from just 17 years ago. Joe Wilson was a career diplomat who in 1990, was called “a true American hero” by President George H.W. Bush for his actions in Iraq. In February, 2002, Wilson was sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate a claim that Iraq was buying nuclear fuel from Niger to make weapons of mass destruction.) He found no such thing, but in March, 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq, claiming, among other things, that the purchase happened.
Wilson, incensed, wrote an op-ed, “What I didn’t find in Africa,” in The New York Times. The administration retaliated by smearing Wilson and illegally outing his wife, Valerie Plame, blowing her secret cover with the CIA and jeopardizing covert operations she was involved in around the world. Ironically, Plame’s main job with the CIA was counter proliferation – preventing the spread of nuclear weapons!
Not only did the administration commit a federal crime by releasing Plame’s identity, they doubled down on their attacks, calling Plame a “glorified secretary,” who somehow used her “influence” to gain a “boondoggle/vacation” for her husband to go (unpaid!) to Niger. The constant smear attacks successfully distracted the public from the false reasons for going to war to the fictional story about Wilson and Plame.
Eventually, Scooter Libby would take the fall for the administration, being convicted of four of five counts stemming from his role in leaking a covert identity. President Bush commuted his sentence and the affair was forgotten.
But just as with Hitler, it is not a stretch to imagine Republicans saying, “Who remembers Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame? We can get away with anything. Just make the lies constant, repetitive, big and chock full of “conspiracies.” Blame the Democrats. Blame Obama. Blame Hillary. The American public will either believe us, or get so worn out by the barrage, that they will turn a blind eye to whatever we do.”
And thus “Never Trumpers” become “Always Trumpers,” ready to stand by their man no matter how many crimes he commits, no matter how destructive his actions are to democracy and the World.
And truth dies.
This is indeed the danger I see now. Truth is fragile. I know some very sincere Turks who insist that there was never a massacre of Armenians. And of course there are always Holocaust deniers who swear that there was never a genocide of Jews during World War II.
If this article gets printed, I am certain that in the comments section, there will be those who will thank me for bringing to light this incredible danger, and there will be others who condemn what I write as deluded liberal propaganda – or worse.
How do we determine what is true? How do we satisfy the paradox of finding truth that we can trust, while simultaneously knowing that truth, whether it is scientific truth, or the results of skillful analysis by intelligence agents, is not, and never can be, 100%?
Moreover, how do we deal with the paradox that it is much easier to believe a coherent lie, presented as an absolute truth, than it is to believe real truth, which has shades of gray, and is never 100%?
This is what I consider one of the central questions of our generation. I think our only answer is persistent remembering, and persistent speaking the truth. In 1953, Ray Bradbury wrote “Fahrenheit 451,” a novel about brave people memorizing books that were otherwise being burned. Hopefully, we will never fall to that extreme, but to guard against that nightmare, it is imperative that we all act now.
Michael A. Kalm, M.D., is a Utah psychiatrist, both of whose parents died from Alzheimer’s Disease. Remembering has always been extra important to him.