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UQ Wire: I See Four Lights

Unanswered Questions: Thinking For Ourselves
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I See Four Lights

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Wednesday, 16 October, 2002

There was a period of time when 'Star Trek - The Next Generation' was the best thing going on television. Between the character development, the social themes and the awesome reality of the Kingon, Worf, one could regularly tune in and spend an immensely satisfying hour in space.

One of the best 'The Next Generation' episodes is called 'Chain of Command.' A two-part cliffhanger, the story revolves around the abduction and torture of the captain of the Enterprise, Jean-Luc Picard, at the hands of an enemy commander named Gul Madred. Madred strips Picard naked, implants a device in his body that delivers agonizing pain at the push of a button, and over the course of many days attempts to wear Picard down through a disturbingly simple process of psychological warfare. Picard is seated in a chair with four bright lights shining in his face, and Madred attempts through painful coercion to make him say that there are, in fact, five lights. Every time he refuses to say there are five lights, he is drilled with pain. In essence, Picard is expected to deny the reality described by his own eyes, and surrender the will of his mind to the definition of reality offered by his captor.

In the end, Picard's will wins through the torture. He is rescued, and as he is led from the torture chamber - bloody, shivering, but unbowed - he turns back to Madred and husks, "There...are...four...lights!" Despite the agony, the deprivation, and the commanding voice of a controlling authority who demanded that a simple truth be subjugated, Picard never appeared to release the knowledge that his eyes were right. He refused, it seemed, to allow another to define his reality, even under torture. There were four lights.

This plot line is lifted directly from George Orwell's book, '1984.' The main character, Winston, is given a demonstration of how Doublethink works; O'Brien, his torturer, holds up four fingers before Winston's face, all the while increasing his agony, until Winston is compelled to say that he sees five fingers. The diabolical aspect of this is the incredible effectiveness of the coercion. Winston, at the end of the experience, actually does see five fingers before him.

Watching television news is not torture, nor is reading a local newspaper, at least not in the physical sense. No one has implanted any devices in our flesh that twist us in agony if we refuse to believe and parrot what we see and read. Yet we are being asked, every day, to say there are five lights when, in fact, there are four.

Occasional bursts of exuberance in the stock market, based mostly on the dirt-cheap prices of stocks formerly valued through the roof, do not change the fact that lies from corporate executives of Enron, Arthur Andersen, Halliburton and a host of other companies have rotted through the underpinnings of the economy. Those occasional bursts of exuberance do not change the fact that the Bush tax cut, which was supposedly safe because the aforementioned companies would shore up the budget with tax revenues taken from their profits, fired a gut shot into the economy because of the corporate lies regarding the inflated nature of said profits. Those occasional bursts of exuberance do not replace the stock-rooted retirement dreams of millions of Americans, who had the sweat of their brows stolen by those corporate executives. Those occasional bursts of exuberance do not change the umbilical connections between Enron, Halliburton and Arthur Andersen, and the Bush administration.

The news media, however, tells us there are five lights. The business reporters on CNBC and CNN still speak of "recovery from recession," despite the fact that the Dow Jones has lost some 3,000 points in the last two years, despite the fact that the federal government has dived into deficit spending, despite the fact that there are millions and millions of newly unemployed workers from sea to shining sea. According to the reporters, everything is sunshine and roses. The people on the street, the ones with no jobs and worthless stock options, know better. This reality is not reported. Stories describing the very real links between the Bush administration and the worst of the corporate robber barons have, simply, ceased to exist.

One of the main reasons the dismal truths of business and economy in present-day America go unreported is the fact that we have us a war coming on. CNN, MSNBC and Fox have crafted various permutations of a 'SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ' graphic, coupled with suitably dramatic music. This is a boon to the media - stories of financial ruin and stock schemes that bilked investors of billions are complicated. Compared to grainy images of explosions, fluttering American flags, and stalwart American troops preparing to step into harm's way, the economic news is plain boring. People were changing the channel back in July and August because it was too painful, and because it was not sexy. Now, with the war graphics in full cry, they are back. CNN's viewership increased by 500% after September 11th, and you can bet the executives down in Atlanta noted that well. War is good for the media business.

There is a gulf between the reporting of economic realities and the truth felt by the American people. There is also a gulf between the stridently patriotic war talk proffered by the television news, and the feelings within the citizenry regarding this impending conflict. In fact, hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in cities all across the nation. Bush arrived in Boston some weeks ago and was greeted with 500 protesters at one spot, and several thousand more at another. A recent anti-war rally in Chicago drew 3,000 protesters. An anti-war rally in Central Park drew between 20,000 and 30,000 people. Protests in Australia and London have drawn hundreds of thousands more. This pattern has been repeated over and over, and will reach a peak on October 26th, when a massive anti-war rally is planned in Washington, D.C.

Again, however, there are five lights. The thousands of protesters in Boston were reported to number "a couple dozen" by the local CBS affiliate. The thousands in Chicago were reduced in the reporting to a couple hundred people. The huge rally in Central park was reported nationally not at all. Hundreds of thousands of letters, phone calls and emails sent to Congressional representatives on the eve of the Iraq resolution vote received a similar blackout treatment. C-SPAN is planning to cover the October 26th rally, but it will be wildly out of character if the national media covers the event. An American unconnected with the vigorous and growing network of anti-Iraq war activism across the country would have no idea of the vast opposition being raised against the Bush administration in this matter. As far as the news media is concerned, that opposition does not exist.

The media may report otherwise, but the American people know something has gone terribly wrong. An economy that had been so robust only two short years ago has become a wasteland. A war is about to begin in Iraq that will set a precedent for pre-emptive violence and destabilize the planet, that will enflame the Middle East and guarantee retaliatory terrorism at home, that will kill tens of thousands of civilians along with many American soldiers. The potentially dire ramifications of these two looming disasters can not be quantified. This does not appear on the nightly news, but it is there, huge and raw and terrifying, all the same.

The end of the Star Trek episode found Picard sitting with the ship's counselor. His head was bowed. He admitted, in halting voice, that just before he was rescued, he could actually see five lights. The power of the lie had overmastered him.

I see four lights.


William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is the author of two books - "War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) available now from Context Books, and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in April 2003 from Pluto Press.

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