Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 The Boys on the Train 

July 22, 2003

I recently cited an anecdote related by C.S. Lewis, but couldn’t recall which of his books I’d read it in, and I may have gotten it slightly wrong. I ran across the story again last night in Reflections on the Psalms, so now I can quote Lewis’s own words.

He was riding a train one night during World War II in a compartment full of young English soldiers: “Their conversation made it clear that they totally disbelieved all that they had read in the papers about the wholesale cruelties of the Nazi regime. They took it for granted, without argument, that this was all lies, all propaganda put out by our own government to ‘pep up’ our troops. And the shattering thing was, that, believing this, they expressed not the slightest anger. That our rulers should falsely attribute the worst of crimes to some of their fellow-men in order to induce other men to shed their blood seemed to them a matter of course. They weren’t even particularly interested. They saw nothing wrong in it.”

I wonder how many people really believed all the things President Bush and Prime Minister Blair of Britain said about Saddam Hussein in order to “pep up” war fever. Weren’t these just the sort of charges politicians always make when they want a war?

The current flap about whether Bush was lying in his state of the Union speech seems to me somewhat overblown. He said that British intelligence had “learned” — not “suspected” or “believed,” but positively “learned” — that “Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

This turns out to be untrue. Bush says he regrets having said it, but passed the buck to his intelligence agencies. Ari Fleischer, his departing press secretary, sought to minimize its significance by noting, “The president has moved on. And, I think, frankly, much of the country has moved on as well.”

[Breaker quote: The cost of misleading the public]Well, the British public isn’t moving on. They’re steamed. Blair may be forced to resign, especially since the incident has now resulted in the apparent suicide of a top government scientist.

The American media are steamed too. So are the Democrats. They are raising sharp questions about Bush’s veracity and judgment, and about whether he exerted pressure on those intelligence agencies to twist their data to make Saddam appear even worse, and more menacing, than he really was. Were we bamboozled into another needless war?

But Fleischer is right. The country has moved on. It was never really interested in whether Saddam had all those “weapons of mass destruction,” including nukes. Nobody thought he would dare to attack this country even if he had them. So it hardly matters now that he never did have them.

Bush got his war, and he won it. That’s why much of the country still supports him and would do so even if it were proved that he lied brazenly. He’s perceived as a “strong” president. Many people simply like strong rulers. Millions of Russians still have a positive opinion of Joe Stalin for the same reason.

But let’s look for the silver lining. Much as I despised Bill Clinton, I thought he performed an invaluable service by lying so relentlessly: he increased distrust and suspicion of government. He undermined the overblown prestige of the presidency.

Bush, though less obviously mendacious, is continuing this service. Of course his enemies will accuse him of lying. What is more important is that from now on, even his friends will never be quite sure they can believe him. He has permanently devalued his own words. The next time he tries to tell us that Iran or North Korea poses a serious threat to us, even his most ardent supporters will hesitate to express agreement, for fear of sounding like his dupes or lackeys.

Even Bush may be wary of sounding like Bush. I doubt that he will want to repeat such slogans as “axis of evil,” “weapons of mass destruction,” “liberation,” and even “democracy” to justify future military action. Some people who cheered this time may be hooting next time.

He will at least need a fresh verbal arsenal of propaganda. And if Tony Blair pays the ultimate political price for going along with him, he will also need to find a new international sidekick.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of Griffin Internet Syndicate

small Griffin logo
Send this article to a friend.

Recipient’s e-mail address:
(You may have multiple e-mail addresses; separate them by spaces.)

Your e-mail address:

Enter a subject for your e-mail:

Mailarticle © 2001 by Gavin Spomer
Archive Table of Contents

Current Column

Return to the SOBRANS home page.

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive
 WebLinks | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas
Back to the home page 


SOBRANS and Joe Sobran’s columns are available by subscription. Details are available on-line; or call 800-513-5053; or write Fran Griffin.

Reprinted with permission
This page is copyright © 2003 by The Vere Company
and may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of The Vere Company.