One of the first stories we heard as children was the famous cherry tree sacrifice at the hands of a boyhood George Washington. “I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree.” We can wish that such candor and honesty had survived into the administration of many of his successors.
Of course it is possible to hide the truth in confused verbiage leading the hearer to believe they have the truth when that is far from the case. Consider this gem from Richard Nixon to the press: “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but what you heard was not what I meant.” Figure out how to diagram that sentence. The preceding sentence concerned the Vietnam War and we all know how truth was a philosophical casualty of that terrible time.
In the world of international intrigue, I would imagine that few indeed are the statements that cannot be construed in vastly different ways. That would be determined by both the hearer and the speaker and measured in the context of each party’s perception of truth.
Over the past weeks we have had much concern about the truth . . . who is speaking it, what will be the reaction to its delivery, and above all, is it true? Consider the very real anxiety over the North Korean situation.
Is Kim Jong un as unbalanced as he seems? Does anyone trust his assessment of anything? On our side of the fence are we, in the eyes of the world, giving a truthful rendition of our goals, our intentions, or our policies?
When the President, the White House Press Secretary, the Department of Defense, and the national security apparatus all announce that United States Navy has dispatched an aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, along with support vessels to the waters off North Korea to keep an eye on their activities, the reaction ranged from great anxiety to disbelief that we might be on the verge of a nuclear holocaust unmatched since the Cuban missile crisis in November, 1962.
Only a few days later did we find out that the Vinson armada (a press exaggeration, we would hope) was steaming in an opposite direction many thousands of miles away from the Korean peninsula. By then we had heard from North Korea that the United States would be reduced to ashes.
Nothing has been forthcoming from Washington that has clarified the situation. This did not happen because of a 3 AM tweet from the White House; it was substantiated by the aforementioned authorities. It reminds one of a poker player known to be an advocate of the bluff. Gambling with chips in a card game is one thing; doing it with nuclear weapons is clearly another. Misinformation leads to mistakes.
Where is the truth in this morass? Is there any remnant of credibility that can survive such ham-fisted diplomacy? We were told, with some good reason, that it is a mistake to tell our enemies our plans. Is it possible that broadcasting false plans is the obverse of the coin of truth?
Given the genuine concern for the rationality of the North Korean regime and the incalculable risks of bluffing with such leadership it might seem that truth has been reduced to an outmoded form of communication.
Speaking of coins, “In God We Trust” would never pass congressional muster if it were proposed today and given Ronnie Reagan’s recent promotion of the atheist/agnostic Freedom from Religion Foundation, there seems to be nothing left to do other than tighten the seat belts and hope that truth, as we used to say, will prevail.