Aug 29, 2007

Truth, a Rare Commodity

Truth is one of the ten paramitas (perfections) and the Buddha often stressed the importance of adherence to the truth. There are many stories in the commentaries about the power of a "truthful asservation." Telling a lie is really a grievous moral breach in the Buddhist world-view because it is a means of directly implanting delusion in another being's mind-stream, and delusion or ignorance can be called the ultimate root of all suffering.

The importance of this teaching is critical for many of the problems the world is facing today. We are saturated with streams of propaganda devised to befuddle our mind-streams. This is obnoxious enough if the goal is just to sell a new brand of shampoo, but it is diabolical if the goal is to promote war. Unfortunately, it is an old truism that the first casualty of war is truth. From Belgian babies on German bayonets, to Kuwaiti babies tossed out of incubators, from the explosion on the USS Maine through Tonkin Gulf to Weapons of Mass Destruction every war seems to generate its own awful atrocity lies. Before Hitler invaded Poland there was a month's long press campaign in Germany about Polish atrocities against innocent Germans in Pomerania. (Watch for stories about Iranian atrocities coming soon to a screen near you.)

A crucial part of making decisions in the present is to understand the past. That's why telling the truth about history matters. I was dismayed to hear the news this week that the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa has caved in to two years of steady pressure from conservative pressure groups and removed their factual display about the fire-bombing of Dresden (in which Canadian air-men were prominent) with something more "patriotic."

The display board which upset the patriotic element so much read;

The value and morality of the strategic bomber offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested. Bomber Command's aim was to crush civilian morale and force Germany to surrender by destroying its cities and industrial installations. Although Bomber Command and American attacks left 600,000 Germans dead, and more than five million homeless, the raids resulted in only small reductions in German war production until late in the war.
Every word a reasonable and balanced interpretation of history. Now gone. We don't know what they will replace it with. One doubts, somehow, it would be this quote from "Bomber" Harris, head of the RAF strategic bombing programme;

“That aim is the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers
and the disruption of civilised community life throughout Germany. It should
be emphasised that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and
lives; the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale; and the
breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended
and intensified bombing are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy,
they are not by-products of attempts to hit factories."
Arthur Harris, October 25, 1943
And they also didn't like the photographs of charred civilians. Can't have that, quite ruins the reputation of a nice clean bombing run to show the actual effects on the ground.

This matters of course, because strategic bombing is still used today, and the aim of demoralizing the inhabitants is still with us. Why do you think they called it "Shock and Awe?"

Shame on the War Museum for this cowardly retreat.