The Common Good

Iraq and North Korea: The Lies We All Believe

Today, March 19, 2013, is the 10th anniversary of the “Shock and Awe” campaign that was intended to rid the world of the threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As it turned out, the threat was a lie. There was ample evidence at the time to prove that the WMDs didn’t really exist, but were manufactured in Saddam’s imagination for political gain.

Anti-aircraft rockets, Dejan Lazarevic / Shutterstock.com
Anti-aircraft rockets, Dejan Lazarevic / Shutterstock.com

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So why did we fall so easily for this lie? Answers to this question often come via an analysis of the particulars of the Iraqi situation and include discourse about oil fields, geopolitical calculations, even psychological analysis of the relationship of Father and Son Bush. These are good discussions to have. We can learn a great deal from them about our thirst for security and insatiable appetite for oil, political power, and revenge.

But there is another layer of analysis we need to include or we will be unable to see through similar lies when they come our way again. As peace journalist Bob Koehler wrote in a recent article:

“No matter how many lies are at the foundation of a given war, no matter how disastrously unnecessary and destructive — oops — it turns out to be in retrospect, the myth of war is ever-unsullied: This time the danger is really there. This time it’s crucial that we carpet bomb civilians, then send in our boys and girls to clean out the enemy insurgents. This time it’s really for democracy and the American Dream and a good night’s sleep.”

The question has particular urgency now because we arefalling hard for another liar, Kim Jong-un of North Korea. With the gullibility of a child who cannot learn from his mistakes, the United States is bolstering our missile defenses along our western shoreline, convinced that the threat of an attack by Kim’s intercontinental missiles is real. Like Saddam’s lie, Kim’s is characterized by a belief that all liars and their victims share: that violence is the singular method by which we gain respect, power, security, and peace.

The lie that no other method comes close to matching violence’s efficacy in achieving these four most desirable objectives is accepted as unequivocally true. In fact, our pursuit of these aims through violence offers a powerful confirmation to the also-rans in world domination (everyone else) that if they want American success and power (and of course, we want them to want it as a confirmation that we are as desirable as we think we are), they would do wise to observe and imitate us. And when we are imitated, our imitators speak our language. Why wouldn’t we believe them? Here’s how our shared belief in violence plays out and why we believe the lie:

  • Our stockpiles of nuclear weapons and the variety of ways we have to deliver those weapons provide us with our greatest sense of security. We cannot imagine why Kim wouldn’t want the same thing, and so we believe his lies.
     
  • We are not only No. 1 in the world, but we will not accept second place. We cannot imagine why Kim wouldn’t want the same thing, and so we believe his lies.
     
  • Having the capacity to attack anyone, anywhere within minutes is the crowning achievement of our defense shield. We cannot imagine why Kim wouldn’t want the same thing as urgently as we do, devoting the lion’s share of his country's resources to accomplish his goal, and so we believe his lies.

Because Saddam, Kim, Bush and Obama — in fact, all world leaders — and so many of us, their followers, believe in the legitimacy and efficacy of violence, we believe each other’s lies. Because the world is governed by power gained and defended violently, we are paralyzed into a lockstep of mindless imitation as we share one another’s faith in a lie. This is what Jesus meant when he identified the Satanic force among us as the Father of Lies. (John 8:44)

When we believe the First Lie, we succumb to the infinitely long chain of lies that descend from it. Faith in violence begets more violence and dulls the imagination. Is there another way to gain respect, power, security, and peace? Of course there is, but our imagination has been so dulled that we cannot see what is right in front of our faces: peace and security can only be achieved and sustained through non-violent means. Period. True.

We are faced with a choice to believe in the Father of Lies or in the Son whose passion we will soon commemorate. We will not find shock and awe at the cross, only the humility of one who suffers torture and death to dispel our faith in it.

Jesus saved the world not by inflicting violence, but by suffering it. The Father of Lies endorses violence; the Son reveals it for a lie. Can a nation choose the path of Christ and survive in this world of violence? I don’t know for sure, because I can’t think of an example of a nation that has tried. But I also cannot think of a nation that has endured. That thought could be a starting place for a healthy and redemptive exercise in doubt.

Suzanne Ross blogs at the Raven Foundation, where she uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Suzanne on Twitter @SuzanneRossRF.

Photo: Anti-aircraft rockets, Dejan Lazarevic / Shutterstock.com

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