We Just Don’t Know


Matthew Jacobson

We just don’t know.

On what date did a meeting occur at which the decision was made to wage war against Iraq? Who organized the meeting? Who attended the meeting? Where was it held? Read every book that you can find about the presidency of George W. Bush. You will not find the answers to these questions in any of them. Then think about the implications of the fact that you cannot find information about the meeting at which it was determined that the United States would wage war against Iraq, not even information about when and where the meeting took place.

The presidential administration from 2001-2009 is often referred to as “the Bush-Cheney administration.” Why is it so important to understand whether it was Bush or Cheney who was the de facto president of the United States from 2001-2009?

Why has there been virtually no attention paid to the cost of the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why has there been virtually no attention paid to the connection between the national debt and the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

To whom did John Poindexter report while he was leading “the Iran-Contra affair” in the 1980s?

As the Iran-Contra affair was playing out, the team in charge of the affair kept it secret from President Ronald Reagan. Keeping such a secret was an act of egregious insubordination. Why did Reagan not fire anyone for egregious insubordination when he learned that the Iran-Contra affair had occurred? Why has no observer of the Iran-Contra affair described the purposeful concealment of knowledge of the affair from Reagan as an act of egregious insubordination?

Frank Luntz is the person most responsible for the linguistic gems “big government,” “war on terror,” “family values,” and many others that have penetrated and dulled the minds of many Americans. To whom did he submit his gems? To whom did he report?

How has it happened that the term “Southern Strategy” (the Jim Crow preservation strategy sponsored by the Modern Republican Party) has virtually disappeared from the words and phrases that flow through the major American media outlets?  Why do we hear “big government,” “cut taxes,” and “war on terror” repeated again and again, but almost never “Southern Strategy”?

Who has transformed Sarah Palin, a physically attractive and intellectually formless woman, into a person who many believe should be president of the United States?

Who organized the campaign to keep the storming of the American embassy in Libya in the headlines for so long?

How has it happened that laws to restrict the right to vote of many American citizens were passed almost simultaneously in several states? Was the campaign to restrict the number of citizens who could vote a consciously organized campaign? If so, who organized it?

What is the correct meaning of the word “newsmakers”? Is the correct meaning “people who do something that causes them to be featured in the ‘news’ ”? Or is the correct meaning “people who decide what the ‘news’ will be?” What guidelines do “news” creators follow when they are creating the news?

Asking these and similar questions is the first step in penetrating the fog that has engulfed, and continues to obscure, so much information that Americans should know, but don’t know.

The famous modern philosopher Donald Rumsfeld got something right when he talked about “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns.” What are the “unknown unknowns” hidden in the dense fog of ignorance that most Americans live in, and of whose existence, amazingly enough, most Americans are unaware?

We just don’t know.

Matthew Jacobson is a lifelong student of the history of American politics.

3 thoughts on “We Just Don’t Know

  1. Well, one may as well ask for the four millionth time: Who organized the plot to assassinate JFK? Much information is deliberately withheld from the public by government, on behalf of the Ruling Class that benefits from skullduggery. “As best as we can obtain” details (“we” being ordinary citizens with dissident political views) the decision to attack Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was made by “The Iraq Group” or “Iraq Study Group,” in the early days of Cheney/Bush, prior to the attacks of 9/11/2001. The names of some of the participants (e.g. Wolfowitz) in those meetings are known, I believe. Are there Official Minutes? If so, we mere peon citizens aren’t entitled to see them, of course. As to who was really in charge from January 2001 to January 2009, I’ve never had the least doubt: the one who was hustled to a secret bunker on 9/11, leaving “the other guy” out in public.

    “Southern Strategy”? Outdated terminology. Nowadays we have “Red States” and “Blue States.” None of which is very enlightening. There are flaming reactionaries in the “Bluest” of states, and a few progressives in the “Reddest.” As for Oliver “I Ran the Contras” North and company, I’m not convinced Reagan was “kept in the dark” about that. But being brain dead as he was, I can picture the details escaping him. You want to talk about modern manufactured myths, it still astounds me that people accept the notion that Reagan was “a great president.”

    If it’s possible we can obtain more details on such affairs via investigative journalism and whistleblowers, I am all for it. But in the long run (“…we’re all dead,” observed Lord Keynes) the big themes of history will assert themselves despite all massaging and obfuscation: the US Empire is in severe decline and the world economy is a house of cards awaiting a puff of wind to bring it tumbling down. And a hundred Donald Rumsfelds spouting nonsense won’t alter that. So sayeth I, a mere peon citizen who hasn’t surrendered the ability to think independently. Which I guess makes me “a fanatical criminal,” to quote a bit of song lyrics from Supertramp.

  2. “We just don’t know.”

    Former Vice President Dick Cheney used to utter that phrase often on the Sunday morning talk shows when asked about Saddam Hussein’s supposed possession of “weapons of mass destruction” and ties to Osama Bin Laden’s gang, Al Qaeda. Deputy Dubya’s Rasputin had no concrete proof to offer in support of his accusations, of course, and so he had no recourse but to admit his own ignorance. Yet he he managed to utter the words “we just don’t know” with just the right tone of resigned certitude (while sneering into his own armpit) so as to give the impression that he actually (somehow) knew that Saddam Hussein not only possessed such weaponry and evil connections, but would use them to harm the United States at any moment if America did not attack him first. To the best of my knowledge, not one of his highly paid (and ostensibly educated) television interlocutors took out their handy copy of T. Edward Damer’s indispensable little book Attacking Faulty Reasoning: a Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments and read the following to Mr Cheney:

    “To ask others to accept your claim without any support, or to shift the burden of proof to them by suggesting that your position is true unless they can prove otherwise, is to commit the fallacy of ‘arguing from ignorance,’ for you are, in this way, making a claim based on no evidence at all. Indeed, you are basing your claim on the absence of evidence — that is, on ignorance. … In this way you fail to take responsibility for your own claims and even attempt to get your opponents to do your work for you. Moreover, since negative claims are notoriously difficult to establish, you are attempting to set yourself up for a ‘win’ by default. But in the argument game, there are no wins by default, for the merit of any position can be only as good as the argument given in support of it.”

    “We just don’t know.” Arguing from Ignorance and proud of it. So let America’s vainglorious ruling “elites” start another pointless, needless, ruinous war because they can and no one can stop them but the American people who, unfortunately, believe that Ignorance is Strength, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Defeat is Victory. Not just Argument from Ignorance, but schizophrenic Argument from Oxymoron.

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