Saturday, 14 February 2015

We Can't Handle The Truth! Democratic Compentency And Elite Opinion.

You Can't Handle The Truth! The snarling Colonel Jessup, from A Few Good Men, reiterates the long-standing conviction among political and military elites that the people cannot be trusted with all the facts. It is their contention that Democracy, if it is not to end in the ruin of the state, must be managed by its wisest and most experienced servants, through the judicious use of what the philosopher, Plato, called "Noble Lies".
IT WAS JUNE, 2008, at the University of Otago’s Foreign Policy School, that I discovered exactly how much the New Zealand political class despises democracy. The man who spelled it out was Lance Beath, one of that peculiar breed of military academics who flit between university departments, policy institutes, and those shadowy consultancies whose definitive client lists remain conveniently undisclosed.
Having delivered what I hoped was a robust defence of the people’s right to determine the foreign policy of their own country, I was keen to hear Beath’s rebuttal. It came in the form of a cautionary tale drawn from Ancient Greek history.
The story he told was of that of the Athenian politician-general, Themistocles, who was determined to protect his city from the Persian Empire. Since Athens was too small to defeat the might of the Persians on land, Themistocles knew that his city’s only hope of remaining free was to defeat them at sea. Athens needed to build a mighty navy.
Except that Athens, being a democracy, was most unlikely to voluntarily assume the financial burden which the construction of an effective battle-fleet would necessarily entail.
It was here that Beath began to warm to his task.
How did Themistocles persuade his fellow citizens to vote the Athenian Republic the taxes necessary to build a navy big enough to defeat the Persians? The answer, Beath told his audience of MFAT bureaucrats, foreign diplomats, assorted academics and ambitious students, was simple – he tricked them!
Athens had for some time been embroiled in a struggle with Aegina (a rival Greek sea-power) and Themistocles argued that only by constructing a powerful battle-fleet of 200 triremes could Athens finally put the Aeginetans in their place.
Without Themistocle’s trickery, argued Beath, the Athenians would not have been able to defeat the naval armada of the Persian Emperor, Darius, at the Battle of Salamis. Athens (and the rest of Greece) was saved, Beath snidely concluded, not by its much vaunted democracy, but by the shrewd manipulations of its political leader.
The message could not have been clearer. The people are too selfish and too stupid to recognise the true interests of the nation. It is, therefore, the duty of those wise and experienced servants of the state (among whom it is important to include the commanders of the armed forces) who find themselves labouring under the manifold disadvantages of the democratic form of government, to master the art of leading the masses, by trickery and deception, to those crucial decisions which they lack the wit to arrive at unaided.
Beath thus established, at the very beginning of the Foreign Policy School’s inquiry into what role the people should play in the setting of foreign policy, that only one answer would do: they must play the role of dupes.
Wiser heads must tell the people who to hate and who they should befriend. And if this requires the telling of lies – then so be it. They would be necessary falsehoods. What the Greek philosopher, Plato, called “Noble Lies”. The sort of political trickery resorted to by wise and benevolent rulers, not in their own interests (heaven forbid!) but in the interests of a population too ignorant to be entrusted with a more accurate account of events.
Beath’s message was indistinguishable from the one elucidated so dramatically in the movie A Few Good Men.
Defence counsel, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) demands that the witness, Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicolson) answer his questions. “You want answers?” sneers Jessup. “I think I’m entitled to”, Kaffee responds. “You want answers?”, Jessup sneers a second time, his voice rising in rage. “I want the truth!”, bellows Kaffee. And in a voice laden with scorn and derision, Jessup barks back: “You can’t handle the truth!”
Back in 2008, it was clear that Beath and his ilk still regarded New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy as a disaster: a cautionary tale of what happens when the democratic masses over-rule the wiser counsels of their betters, and begin to meddle directly in the formation of foreign policy. The latest “Noble Lie” is that, for the people’s own safety, the Government must participate in the war against Islamic State. No doubt today’s ‘wise heads’ see Prime Minister Key as New Zealand’s very own Themistocles. A political leader manipulating and tricking his ill-informed people – for their own good.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 13 February 2015.


aberfoyle said...

And none other that George Bush jr.telling the American People and their congress."this war will be one of truth and lies".And so it turned out to be.

Jamie said...

Lance Beath is just another puffed-up chicken-hawk stooge who's never worn the uniform in his life

Bloke's almost as bad as Paul Sinclair, the 'Defence Expert' Channel One rolled out back in December to bang the war drums


At least Themistocles fought at the Battle of Marathon and was somewhat qualified to advocate defence policy.

-When was the last time NZ had a General who actually fought in a battle???

Robert M said...

The actual reality of nuclear deterrence is that the armed forces of the UK and Australia and many Nato members simply became shadow forces, that looked powerful but usually only had a limited range of specialised capabilities and systems and weapons that often didnt work. Real capability was often little better than coastguard level unless tactical and strategic nuclear weapons were available.
The Australian Collins subs and the similar Canadian 2400 subs are interesting examples of shadow capabilities built mainly for industrial and employment reasons in depressed areas and really only effective as silent intelligence gatherers and training force. It is rumoured that Kim Beazley told the Labour Cabinet that approved the Collins submarines, ' don't worry they will never work' their just an industrial strategy. The notorious Santa Monica based Rand Corporation report into the Collins submarines reveals a shambles unimaginable even to me and a similar fiasco can be expected in the next round of Aussie sub construction. The purpose of the UK and Aus defence forces might just as well have been to disarm their own population.
Nuclear Power hardly seems a great success outside China and France which are more than somewhat undemocratic states ( France after De Gaulles National Socialist Facism) which have the authoritarian systems better able to recruit and screeen staff that are competent.
The real truth is by 1984 Muldoon in fifteen years of socialist dictatorship had really destroyed NZ armed forces anyway, no relevant updating of the frigates or in a real sense the Orions had occured and the Army with WW@2 5.5 inch guns and Scorpion light tanks with a 3 inch gun and a propensity to throw their tracks, really amounted to nothin g but an internal security force. To the Americans the NZ Army didn even exist to them the NZ forces were 4 frigates and 6 Orions. Interestingly all NZs major armaments were essentially attack systems only useful as nuclear armed. The Canberras and Skyhawks were nothing but low level nuclear attrition bombers, in the USN, the Skyhawks were used in an exclusively nuclear armed strike role until 1966, when converted to ground attack 500 were shot down over VIetnam and probably 50 in the Falkland war and 60 in the June War. Both the Skyhawks in 1971 and Orions in 1966 arrived in NZ wired to trigger nuclear weapons. The point of the older British frigates in the 1980s were that they were nuclear capable and their helicopters also carried missiles ours didnt.

Loz said...

Robert M: Muldoon was famous for scaremongering about “Reds under the bed” and began his 9 year term of office (not 15 years) with sophisticated advertising attacking Labour’s superannuation scheme as leading to communism. To suggest “Piggy” Muldoon was loathed by the entity of the left in New Zealand would be a completely fair assessment.

May I ask how you come to define a man who based his career on attacking socialism was actually a socialist himself?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Perhaps Muldoon was the equivalent of a "self hating Jew"?
:-). I remember going to see him talk at Auckland University years ago – give him credit he fronted up to a crowd of people who basically hated him. All I could think of was – Christ I thought he was about 6 foot 6 tall, and he's about 5 foot nothing :-). (He looked a lot bigger on television. I think it was something to do with the size of his head)

Davo Stevens said...

"Small man Syndrome" Surgeon?

Curious to note that Rob's Govt was more Socialist than Helen's was.

pat said...

Muldoons Government may have been more Socialist than Clarks but not in the context of the time....and it would also be pertinent to remember this was a time when policy was formed by and large by Parliament and not international corporates, the top tax rate was 60% and IRD had the resources to audit AND Muldoon was of those generations that had come through the depression and the war(s)...If a generation or 2 are bombarded with propaganda through the MSM and there is no equal debate then is it really any surprise that the world and consequently NZ have moved to the right?...the question is would be wise to remember however that the pendulum swings both ways, provided of course, that we dont run out of time.

Robert M said...

Loz, Muldoon was Minister of Finance from 1967 to 1972, before his later infamous 3 terms as PM. As Minister of Finance in the late 1960s Muldoon was already the central figure in defence allocation rather than the Minister Thompson or PM Holyoake.
In that period NZ signed up for a fourth frigate, HMS Canterbury built as part of a 7 ship deal with the UK and Chile for modular Leanders to keep the Scottish shipyard Yarrow open. The 2 Chilean Leanders were released to Pinochet on the day in 1974 that Heath resigned and Wilson took over, in a very dodgy deal. THe Chilean Leanders were far the best equipped like the ships built by the UK for Iran and Libya as Part of the Healy Kissinger policy of equipping client states for 3rd world policing. Muldoon was conned by the airforce into buying 14 new Skyhawks the last standard Skyhawks built, which were no better than the Canberra B8 and were fitted for the RNZAF to the 1962 nuclear strike specifications with a gun sight inferior to the Vampires.The later M class 1971-79 Skyhawks built for the Marines, and Israel and later transferred to Argentina have better motors and electronic fitts.
But in terms of the nuclear ship access, there are three areas of concern.
(1) CVN nuclear strike carriers.
(2) 50 Virginia, Seawolf and LA class nuclear powered hunter killer
(3) The USN cruiser and destroyer fleet now largely rebuilt with SM2 and SM3 standard missile firing to intercept satellites and ICBMs and therefore a violation of the ABM treaties.
In a way all USN warships are now strategic rather than nuclear capable.

pat said...

this has reminded me of something that throws into relief my previous post...around 1982 there was a report that Watties, at the time one of the largest companys in NZ, (NZ owned?) had paid no tax that year due i think to losses carried the time I recall myself and many being disgusted that those of us earning minimal sums (around 6k pa) had paid more tax than this wealthy organisation...the reporting was questioning this lack of tax and there was no attributing PAYE payments as company paid tax as there is today and hard questions were that to what occurs (or dosnt) today to such organisations and their affairs and it is plain to see how the conversation has been hijacked .