Using Intimidation in Politics
By Steve Gillman
I hope this isn't taken as a guide to using intimidation,
although it could be used that way. The game is a simple one,
much like that played out in the story, "The Emperors New
Clothes," in which nobody would tell the emperor he was
in fact naked, because all had been told that his clothes were
so fine they were visible only to those good enough to see them.
But let's look at a more modern non-fiction example.
An unfortunate soldier woman was killed recently and the news
report said that she had just returned from "defending our
freedoms" in Iraq. Now, I have nothing against the men and
women of the military, but I don't think they are defending my
freedoms in Iraq. In fact, most people now agree that there was
no real threat to our freedoms from Iraq, yet many of those same
people feel the need to agree to the description of soldiers'
actions as "defending our freedoms." Why is that?
This is a game of intimidation. Collective guilt over how
soldiers have been treated at times (like during and after Vietnam)
has morphed into a sense that we can say nothing that may be
seen as negative about them. Even if they are merely pawns in
political games, and even if many joined the military for the
benefits, we are supposed to pretend that each soldier has only
the goal of protecting our freedoms in mind, and that anything
he or she does must be accomplishing that.
Of course that is silly, and you and I can say as much. But
imagine for a moment if any political candidate said, "The
soldiers are doing the wrong thing," or "they are not
protecting our freedom." Such a statement would be the end
of almost anyone's political career. Never mind that it may be
true, or that it says nothing about the character of the soldiers,
who after all have no choice in what they are sent to do once
they join the military. Such truths simply can't be said.
There is an incredible power in these games of intimidation.
In fact, even those who fought in the Vietnam War are now said
to have been defending our freedoms. It is ignored that after
it cost 50,000 American lives to lose the war, losing it didn't
cost us a single freedom. Obviously they did not "defend
our freedoms" in any logical sense. Some may have intended
that, but do intentions make actions into something other than
they are? We don't say "they won the war" just because
they intended to. We don't say about a football player that "he's
scoring touchdown after touchdown " if he's in fact failing
Does Using Intimidation Work
Are these games of intimidation harmless? Are we just being
nice to the soldiers, and telling little white lies which have
no repercussions? I don't think so. How can getting everyone
in public to agree that they are "defending our freedoms"
not have consequences. It gives the impression that there is
some value to this war. In fact, many people have the idea that
their loved ones have "died for a good cause." If it
was widely acknowledged that despite the best intentions, these
soldiers are engaged in a worthless war, a bad cause, public
support would certainly decline further.
In general, it has to have some potentially bad consequences
to hide the truth using intimidation. Another example in the
news recently was the supreme court ruling that a law mandating
the death penalty for raping children was unconstitutional. Both
presidential candidates (this is being written in the summer
of 2008) felt the need to immediately criticize the decision,
lest they appear as being "soft" on rapists.
This is again the classic game of intimidation. Chances are
good that at least one candidate (I think both) had enough wisdom
or understanding of the history of criminal law (or plain common
sense) to see the flaws in such a law. For example, the death
penalty for kidnapping (now repealed) lead to kidnappers killing
more victims, since they were less likely to be captured that
way, and faced the same penalty in either case. Even if you're
for a death penalty, you probably don't want more children killed,
nor do you want the inevitable abuse such a law invites, like
executing a young man for sleeping with his underaged girlfriend.
Of course, as public figures, politicians can't explain this
without being accused of being on the side of rapists. So they
criticize the decision and tacitly support the bad law. That's
how the game works, and it's fairly obvious how it can lead to
more bad laws and more bad decisions. But what evidence do we
have as a society or even as individuals that such large-scale
dishonesty leads to good consequences? Not much.
Now, some may think that a few more dead child rape victims
is a fair price to pay for the vengeance that society desires.
And probably many really believe that there was some serious
threat to our freedoms from Iraq. Such people may be wrong, but
they are not dishonest if they favor death penalty laws for rapists
or the honoring of soldiers for their "defense of our freedoms."
But what about the majority of us? How far will we go in denying
or hiding the truth we see, just to play along with these games
of intimidation, out of fear of how we will appear to others?
I think most politicians will go to almost any lengths to preserve
their careers, which means they will continue using intimidation
and being used by it. On the other hand, most of have much less
to lose by being honest, so perhaps it's time we stop playing