readings (15)

25 May 2012

Who was History written for? On lies, hidden truth, ‘collateral damage’ and the interests of national security…Part 2

I dislike being lied to as much as anybody – it undermines trust, is grossly disrespectful and assaults my intelligence.
On top of that, it triggers all kinds of negative emotions when I find out.

Some would argue (and I’m one of them) that lies, or the subtle bending of the truth is a necessary evil in protecting our interests and those of the one’s we love – responsible lying!

Nevertheless, as an occasional truth-bender myself, I know that the flexibility, or bendability of the truth is determined by context, situation, the importance of the people involved…etc, etc.

Imagine you include or omit important information in or from your CV and you get the job as a result. Later, in line for promotion to a relatively important and responsible position, your credentials are reviewed and your CV checked out and low and behold, it comes to light that you’d lied.
In this situation, the consequences would be far greater than they’d have been if you’d told the truth in the first place – honesty is the best policy.
Likewise, if your recruitment officers had bothered to check your credentials at selection stage, the consequences back then would have been far less serious than now as your position in the company is of much higher value.

In general though, nobody likes being lied to and this dislike doesn’t just depend on the size, seriousness or consequences of the lie.
In basic terms, a lie is an abuse of trust and once that trust is lost, it is rarely if ever won back.
A lie is also a sign of a lack of respect.

So back to what I said about responsible lying - the subtle bending of the truth being a necessary evil in protecting our interests and those of the one’s we love.

What if even after it was discovered that you’d lied in your CV, it still turns out that you were and still very much are the best person for the job?
What if you were so good at your job that the company had made unprecedented advances in all things positive?
Would it be acceptable by virtue of the fact that the trust network was severed that you should be fired, or at best, be overlooked for promotion?

Why shouldn’t certain people at government and VIP level lie for the same reasons?

And if you think about it, how often do people embellish a tale to make it sound more palatable, digestible, acceptable, enjoyable, etc?

All the time!

So, if the truth is bent occasionally and stories are embellished, interpreted and re-told and the truth lies not in what’s actually happened, but in what’s told and passed on in the interests of the common good, where’s the harm?

Now, let’s take history and the following examples:

During a certain military campaign in the early 90’s, a phrase was used to describe the killing of civilians in attacks on military targets. The term used was ‘collateral damage’ which describes a certain view of events in a mildly acceptable way to the people back home who were not there.
Was this a lie, a bending of the truth, or an embellishment in the story telling sense?
Possibly all three, but is it any more or any less acceptable for the reasons mentioned above?

Furthermore, as there is no evidence to the contrary unless one checks it out, who are we to argue?
Besides, in this instance, surely the people who manufactured the tale know best. Surely they know that if people were given the gory details of the real act or event their very lives would be put in jeopardy – not least from any feelings of repulsion and moral outrage.
Surely they know that the acts would incite revolution, government overthrow and general mayhem.
I mean, we are not intelligent enough to digest the truth – we can’t handle it, right?
It’s not a new phenomenon either as the following report of a speech made on 19 June 1920 by British Army Lieutenant-Colonel Gerald Smyth to the ranks of the Listowel Royal Irish Constabulary in Ireland shows.

...If a police barracks is burned or if the barracks already occupied is not suitable, then the best house in the locality is to be commandeered, the occupants thrown into the gutter. Let them die there—the more the merrier. Should the order ("Hands Up") not be immediately obeyed, shoot and shoot with effect. If the persons approaching (a patrol) carry their hands in their pockets, or are in any way suspicious-looking, shoot them down. You may make mistakes occasionally and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped, and you are bound to get the right parties some time. The more you shoot, the better I will like you, and I assure you no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man.
In light of what this example shows what the term ‘collateral damage’ aims to cover up, is it any more or less acceptable to hear the truth?

I recently heard a report on the news that certain data was withheld from the public by a certain well-known and ‘trusted’ government in the interests of ‘national security’

HA! Ha! Hahahahahaha…

At least it’s comforting to know that our friendly-faced-in-the-newspapers-come-election-time-public-representatives have our best interests at heart.

Was I surprised?

No, I wasn’t and isn’t that telling?


  1. A very interesting post JD as usual, very thought provoking and of course quiet controversial. :)

    I myself am honest to the point of harming myself, so that I could be considered overly honest, but still I have found myself bending the trust quiet a few times. It starts with simple thing like e.g. I didn't forget to call on your birthday I just was at a company retreat and had no cell signal.

    An error most people make, no matter if it is everyday Joe, politicians or whatever is to decide for people what they can handle or not, as you have stated JD. Politicians tell us all the time things like "national security" etc. But the question should be: Who are they to decide for us what we can handle?

    There are a lot of people who consider not knowing a blessing and then there is people like me who are curious beyond their own good. :)

    So yes, sometimes bending the truth is a neccessary evil for all of us, but what we shouldn't forget is the attitude of the person across from us. Does this person want to know and doesn't he? Because that is when we can show this person respect and care. It is only then that we do what is best for this person and not what is best for us. So do I tell him I forgot his birthday and does he prefer the kind lie?

    That is the question!

  2. Interesting typo I made "trust" for "thruth", no you can go all freudian on me! :)

  3. Hi Maria,
    Thanks a lot for your interesting and knowledgeable comment : )
    I agree with what you say...and knowing whether the person wants to know or not is the difficult part, but as you rightly say, who are they to say what we can or can't handle?
    Put another way, what is in whose interests?