The First Casualty: War and the Rape of Truth
While it remains true that the first casualty of war is the truth, and that all lovers of truth must therefore abominate war as the rape of truth, there is also a sense it which war is also an apocalyptic irruption of a new and majestic truth into the world, and the means by which a false and mendacious world is decisively and definitively swept away. War is a paradox.
In the last post, I recommended Philip Knightley’s great book The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker from the Crimea to Vietnam. It is certainly at the top of my recommended reading list for students of propaganda as a fine introduction to the history and practice of the black art, along with Noam Chomsky’s Necessary Illusions. Knightley and Chomsky are, in that respect, exemplary descendents and faithful disciples of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment who value the pursuit of truth as a human being’s highest calling — and also the preservation of reason as the means to truth.
But there is also a bigger picture in which the real truth of war is eclipsed, during wartime, by the propagandistic “war against truth”, as Canadian war correspondent Paul William Roberts described his own memoir of his experience of the Iraq War. It was something that Nietzsche understood and “appreciated” about war and its nihilism — that it is often the only means by which a false and mendacious world could be swept away — a pruning, as it were, of the dead branches on the tree of life.
The history and the fact of war force us to conclude that war is often the only means to the establishment of new truth where everywhere inherited institutions, “false consciousness”, and obsolete or anachronistic ways of life and thought — dead institutions — present obstacles and hindrances to the revelation of new truth. The world before the period 1914 is not the same world as it emerged from the conflagration after 1945. At one time, war was described as “the sport of kings” and a “game of thrones”, and somewhat limited in its organisation and destructive effects. But with the Modern Era, war became “total war,” and with the Planetary Era, all war now becomes revolutionary civil war within the one body of the Earth in which virtually all life is implicated.
This paradox of war compels us also to discriminate between “fact” and “truth”. The rape of truth in wartime by propaganda is a corruption of our reason and the perversion of “the facts of the matter”. But “the truth that sets free” remains the truth of war as long as men do not know how to go about, at the right time, eliminating obsolete ways of life or thought, and anachronistic institutions that no longer serve to fulfill human aspirations.
This truth about war is what Seth also means when he writes (as I quoted earlier),
“There are probabilities quite present, and for that matter biologically practical, that would allow for a change in individual consciousness so great as literally to propel the race into another level of experience entirely. (Sess. 684).
“When, at this point now, of mankind’s development, his emerging unconscious knowledge is denied by his institutions, then it will rise up despite those institutions, and annihilate them. Cult after cult will emerge, each unrestrained by the use of reason, because reason will have denied the existence of rampant unconscious knowledge, disorganized and feeling only its own ancient force. (Sess. 687)
“If this happens, all kinds of old and new religious denominations will war, and all kinds of ideologies surface. This need not take place, for the conscious mind–having learned to focus in physical terms, is meant to expand, to accept unconscious intuitions and knowledge, and to organize these deeply creative principles into cultural patterns. (Sess. 687).
“In historic terms, as you understand them, the “progression” of religion gives you a perfect picture of the development of human consciousness, the differentiation of peoples and nations, and the growth of the ideas of the “individual.” (Sess. 687).
“You must understand that man must move beyond the concepts of one god, one self, one body, one world, as these ideas are currently understood. You are now poised upon a threshold from which the race can go many ways. Your species is in a time of change. There are potentials within the body’s mechanisms not as yet used. Developed, they can immeasurably enrich the race, and bring it to levels of spiritual and psychic and physical fulfillment. If some changes are not made, the race will not endure.” (Sess. 687).
This is truly a quite astonishing, ominous, and sobering diagnosis of our situation. But it offers much food for thought. The propagandist who engages in a war against truth or a perversion of the facts, is actually no more aware of the truth of war than anyone else. He or she is truly the “sorcerer’s apprentice” in that regard, as much as he or she pretends to be master of the situation. The truth of war will ultimately overrule their war against truth. And war will have its way until such time as human beings learn how to dispense, in a conscious and timely manner, with obsolete values, anachronistic institutions, and false ways of life and thought that no longer serve the fulfillment of the purposes of life. As Seth says, ancient forces in the psyche will rise up and destroy those institutions, as in wars and revolutions past. And merely by default and inertia, this has become the apocalyptic function of war in our time.
The incomparable Rumi knew this in his time. I’ve mentioned his poem “Green Ears” in past posts. But substitute “drought” for “war” in his poem, and you have a perfect understanding of why the truth of war will always overrule the propagandist’s war on truth. The “unfaithful” in Rumi’s poem is the propagandist of our time. He is also the Pharisee and scribe of Jesus’ time,
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
This ancient passage is, I think, ultimately the root of the present day animosity towards the propagandist who is the secular version of these same “Pharisees”.