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“The Wreckage of the Consensus Revisited”

“The Wreckage of the Consensus Revisited” by Harry Binswanger (a board member of ARI). Subtitle: “New York Times Company Admits to Spreading Lies to Undermine America’s War Effort” (Capitalism Magazine May 18, 2004).

At the time Mr. Binswanger wrote this article the tip of the iceberg of U.S. torture had come into view the previous month with news about Abu Ghraib, featuring photos about which any decent man would have been sickened and outraged.

And then someone brings more photos to the Boston Globe. The Boston Globe fails to investigate their authenticity and publishes an article about them as if they were genuine, printing one of the photos along with the article. The Globe editors soon learn the photos are fake and immediately publish a retraction. After obscuring the issue by saying the printed photo was too ugly to have been printed, they write:

“... the purported abuse portrayed had not been authenticated. The Globe apologizes for publishing the photo.”

Mr. Binswanger’s begins his essay by describing the Globe fiasco. He carefully avoids mentioning the hundreds of authentic Abu Ghraib photos (the worst of which have never been shown the public for the same reason given by the Globe). Then he says the Globe’s retraction is  “lame.”

Finally he insinuates that the Globe’s owner, the New York Times Company, tried to fool the public:

“The Boston Globe is published by the New York Times Company. What consequences will befall the editors of the Globe? Probably a reprimand. And a wink.”
In other words, the editors knew the photos were fake all along and the NYT Company willing went along with the deception. How on earth does Mr. Binswanger know this? Mystic insight, wishful thinking? Mr. Binswanger’s accusation is absurd.

In all his puffed up concern over a little retracted news story the real story of Abu Ghraib – people tortured at the behest of the U.S. administration – disappears. To Mr. Binswanger the fake photos are real, the real ones are blanked out. [1]

Mr. Binswanger ends:

“Thirty-seven years ago, Ayn Rand spoke on ‘The Wreckage of the Consensus’ at the Ford Hall Forum. The talk included this passage:
“ ‘A country at war often resorts to smearing its enemy by spreading atrocity stories—a practice which a free, civilized country need not and should not resort to. A civilized country, with a free press, can let the facts speak for themselves. But what is the moral-intellectual state of a country that spreads smears and atrocity stories about itself ...?’ ”
Mr. Binswanger leaves us to conclude that America must be in a sad state to resort to faking torture photos. As for the real torture photos ... blank out.

The key word in his quote is “facts.” Rand sincerely believed that the accounts of atrocities committed by U.S. troops in Vietnam were false. The evidence at the time was hard to believe and, contrary to the situation today, leftists really were the only people paying attention to it – most not to help but to harm America.

By quoting Rand out of context Mr. Binswanger insinuates that all the prison Abu Ghraib photos are fake – or at any rate of no real consequence – and that only people who hate America worry about U.S. torture.

“The Wreckage of the Consensus” is worth revisiting though. The full article makes abundantly clear that Rand opposed the Vietnam War.

Mr. Binswanger has no kind word for the whistleblowers who brought sunshine into Abu Ghraib. Among these Army specialist Joseph Darby stands out because he was the first to protest in a formal written complaint. He later said: “I didn’t want to see any more prisoners being abused, because I knew it was wrong.” [2]  Evidently the man is not barbarian material.

About two years after “Wreckage” Mr. Binswanger came out emphatically endorsing government institutionalized torture.  See  Harry Binswanger on Torture  on this website.

Ever more gruesome photos come to light, yet Mr. Binswanger denies – not that the U.S. tortures – but that there is anything atrocious about it. In the following (from HBL, October 14, 2008) we leave off our outside quote marks in order to emphasize his derogatory quote marks.

The left has mastered the art of concretization. Every issue it pushes is reduced to perceptual concretes for the public. When they oppose a war, they parade coffins through the streets, they put bloody photos on the cover of the newsweeklies. The nightly news dwells on footage of American failures and alleged American “atrocities.”
Alleged !

You have to wonder who this creature is trying to fool. The left business is a smokescreen. He might as well call Rand a leftist because she held some views superficially in common with the left. As for perceptual concretes, concepts are – whatever else they are – integrations of concretes, and the above ones (together with the facts behind them) add up to a war benefiting an aristocracy rather than the American people. [3]

1  If the real purpose of the man who brought the fake photos to the Globe in the first place was ultimately – once they were discovered to be fakes – to undermine the affect of the authentic photos, Mr. Binswanger could not have been more eager and cooperative in going along with the ploy.

A witty remark of George Tyrrell around the 1890’s, concerning the Jesuits, illustrates Mr. Binswanger’s technique:  “Accuse them of murdering three men and a dog, and they will triumphantly produce the dog alive.”  We reply, to both the Jesuits and Mr. Binswanger:  “What difference does it make?”

An observation by George Orwell in his essay “Notes on Nationalism” of May 1945 comes to mind:  “The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

(Earlier in the essay Orwell writes:  “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. ... By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally.”)

2  “Many Knew of Abuse Before Inquiry” May 22, 2004 Seattle-Post Intelligencer, New York Times news service.

3  For a review of just some of the concretes of Abu Ghraib see  “How Abu Ghraib Was Politically Defused”  by James Bovard,  listed on the Links page of this website under  “Government Institutionalized Torture.”