Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Ministry of Truth

In George Orwell’s world. The Ministry of Truth was the government’s propaganda agency, the unit whose job was to rewrite history according to the government’s wishes. We need a Ministry of Truth in Washington. Or maybe we already have one. Consider the following:

You don’t have to be an archivist to find quotations from Washington in which Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq was hailed as just the kind of leader his country needed, a trustworthy ally of the United States who could be counted on to deliver, whatever the provocations.  The Ministry of Truth is today rewriting history to delete all those quotations.

In similar vein, the United States promoted itself as the world’s leading advocate for democracy, the principle that the people of a nation should be entitled to vote for their leaders. The vote, we said, was the ultimate guarantor of the peoples’ liberties. In Egypt, Ukraine, Syria, and now Iraq, the Ministry of Truth is rewriting history along the following lines: The leaders who are elected can be thrown out when the people show, by mass protests or by polls, that they want someone else.

President Obama lashes out at rich Wall Streeters by telling them they “can keep their homes in the Hamptons.” The President could have said “in the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard,” but the Ministry of Truth wouldn’t hear of it.

A terrific Front Line report on PBS recently revealed some of the falsehoods our government tells us in the name of security. It was called “The United States of Secrets.” I thought it was one of the best pieces of investigative journalism I’ve ever seen, and it was fair, affording the NSA chiefs ample opportunities to express their positions. But the take-away was that George Orwell's fantasy was increasingly realistic.

Sunday, August 03, 2014


In 1975, Jill and I took my parents to Boston’s Colonial Theater to see John Cullum in Shenandoah.  It was a very good production of an excellent show, which ran on Broadway for over 1000 performances.  Later, I bought the original-cast LP, which has been sitting unplayed in my basement, along with many other OC LPs, for many years – until now.  A friend told me that he had transferred his LP collection to CDs, and, intrigued, I bought a similar device and have started the long transferral process.

So far, I have burned CDs of many musicals, some brilliant, some not. But Shenandoah made me sit up and take notice. Based on the 1965 movie, it was an anti-war musical about a Virginia family’s Civil War hardships, and it was in sync with the public’s distaste for Vietnam.  Here are the lyrics for one of the memorable songs, sung by Cullum:

Stand and show your colors. Let's all go to war. The Lord will surely bless us.
I've heard it all before. I've heard it all a hundred times. I've heard it all before.

They always have a holy cause to march you off to war.
Tyranny or justice, anarchy or law. We must defend our honor.
I've heard it all before. I've heard it all a hundred times. I've heard it all before.

They always have a holy cause that's worth the dyin' for.
Someone writes a slogan, raises up a flag. Someone finds an enemy to blame.
The trumpet sounds the call to arms to leave the cities and the farms.
And always the ending is the same, the same, the same, the same.

The dream has turned to ashes, the wheat has turned to straw.
And someone asks the question: "What's the dyin' for?"
The living can't remember, the dead no longer care. But next time it won't happen. 
Upon my soul I swear I've heard it all a hundred times. I've heard it all before.

Don't tell me "It's different now." I've heard it all, I've heard it all, I've heard it all before.

The music was by Gary Geld, the lyrics by Peter Udell. 

Shenandoah's Civil War story had two sides, one of which was told by the play. But there is never a shortage of people to tell the other side. These days, with the hawks urging a “more muscular” foreign policy over Ukraine, Syria, Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Israel, North Korea, Gaza, and God knows where else, we could use a play like Shenandoah today.