compulsory reading, Iraq, oddly enough, US Politics

The Psychology Of WMDs’s Louise Witt is wondering why America is in collective denial that [someone in] the Bush administration knowingly “sexed up” the WMD charges against Saddam Hussein, as the administration is now admitting itself –

“[f]inally, on Monday, the White House admitted the president relied on inaccurate, incomplete information for that crucial passage of his State of the Union address.” [this is referring to the President’s claim that Iraq was about to aquire radioactive material from Niger]

She asks why lying is perceived as bad in some cases – and she uses the obvious Clinton impeachment example – while most people will accept it without problems in other cases. She chooses an interesting and helpful angle to analyse this question: behavioral psychology, a scientific discipline that is predominantly occupied with exploring the limits of human information processing and decision making abilities. Obviously, she can only allude to some of the insights such a perspective has to offer for the problem at hand. But these allusions are well worth reading.

Here’s a part of Ms Witt’s article I found particularly interesting –

“When Gustave Gilbert, a psychologist who interviewed the Nuremberg prisoners, talked to Hermann Goering, the former leader of the Third Reich’s Luftwaffe, Goering volunteered that it was relatively easy to persuade a populace to go to war.

As quoted in Gilbert’s book “Nuremberg Diary,” Goering said: “It is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

Gilbert disagreed with Goering’s analysis. “There is one difference,” he answered. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

But Goering held his ground: “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

Of course, such a statement has to be read as carefully as possible. It certainly does not add any truth to the recently rather popular, strange comparison of George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler.

But it does indicate that even liberal democracies could be heading in a dangerous direction. Especially when fear is calling the shots in most people’s brains.