"You can appreciate the usefulness of this false claim. It says something compelling about the plight of young, black males that is essentially true — their condition amounts to a calamity and something has to be done. But this particular comparison is wrong, and Obama must know it by now. Ought to be true is not the same as true. " Cohen
"After all, it ought to be true that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It ought to be true that he had ties with Osama bin Laden. It ought to be true that aluminum tubes were intended for a nuclear weapons program, and it ought to be true, really, that none of this mattered since what mattered most of all was a larger truth: Hussein had to go and the Middle East had to be urban-renewed for the sake of democracy." Cohen
Richard Cohen wrote this column for the Washington Post a couple of days ago. I have been thinking it over, amidst the hubbub of the holiday season.
The profound truth of the line in red is impressive. One of the things that I claim to have learned is that humans are prone by their very nature to believe whatever they wish to believe.
This feature of the human mind is endlessly repeated in the pages of the history of intelligence analysis. People often misinterpret or ignore the obvious conclusions that available data lead to. Instead of applying Occam’s Razor to a problem they (often collectively) believe something that satisfies their inner desires and needs. This frequently leads to disastrous results. The failure of allied military intelligence to see the possibilities for a German offensive in the Ardennes in 1944 and the earlier American failure to anticipate the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor are good examples. In the Ardennes, the command wanted to "thin" the line somewhere and convinced itself that the terrain in the Ardennes made that a good place to do that and also a good place to place inexperienced units for "seasoning." They chose to believe that in spite of the fact that the Germans had attacked across that terrain in 1940. At Pearl Harbor the command convinced itself that the Japanese would first strike at US possessions in the Far East and that this would provide "warning" and time for the Pacific Fleet to sortie from Pearl Harbor. There are many, many examples of similar behavior. I have lived through a few of them, not least the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Now Cohen is telling us to remember that there is a danger of doing the same thing in choosing a president. There is a danger of seeing what you want to see in someone, of accepting the crude image building that modern political campaigns depend on for shaping our weak minds. In the case of Obama the danger is increased by the desire we all have to feel good about ourselves, to believe that he and we are now better and purer than we were.
This danger is not limited to Obama and his campaign. It is everywhere. Take care and think sceptically. pl