December 12, 2003
The Oregonian newspaper claims in an arrogant editorial, Dissent in a Time of War, March 20, 2003, that the Bush Regime's justification for war against Iraq will become "overwhelming with the inevitable discovery of the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein is hiding."
But the majority of us are not nearly so certain - since we have not seen the "smoking gun" proof which apparently the editors are privy to. We ask, if it turns out that the "inevitable" weapons are not found, will the editors be ready to publicly admit their support for the Bush war was in error?
In the nine months since Dissent in a Time of War was published, The Oregonian has been asked repeatedly by this writer (emails, "Blessed Certainty", 3/20, 5/12, 6/20, 9/28 etc., etc.) to come up with proof that the WMD are there (a far simpler proof than proving their absence) - or to admit the editorial claim of inevitability was wrong. No response has been forthcoming.
The only follow up to date is the editorial of Sunday, 9/28/03, "Looking for Saddam's Weapons," which doesn't apologize, doesn't acknowledge the WMD are not to be found, and leaves the issue in limbo with a pitiful, "No one can say for sure yet," and "it's premature to draw conclusions." This finding doesn't nearly fulfill the paper's blessed certainty last March that discovery is "inevitable". The state of limbo is about the best the paper and war supporters can hope for now. But how long does this limbo state last? One suspects the stalling will at least go on until after the November, 2004, election. (Will there be an "October surprise" in 2004 with a discovery of WMD planted by the CIA?)
Recent WMD news, "U.S. officials defend data on Iraq, arms" (Oregonian, 9/29), is a rebuttal of accusations made a week ago by leading Members of Congress (Ds and Rs) on the House Intelligence Committee. They charge that the Bush Regime served up old intelligence sexed up as current and included uncorroborated suspicions against the advice of some investigators. But last week's story on the Congressional charges being made never appeared in the Oregonian! The first we learn about it from this paper is in the 9/29 story about the rebuttal by the White House! What happened to the original story? I would much prefer to read about the charges in a separate, independent article with the full details- and not just those items the White House chooses to address in a rebuttal.
Pretty dismal journalism I would say.
Academic philosophers have a self-consciously witty example of the problems involved in proving the absence of something. Their discourse is way too dry, for sure, but it's relevant to current events, so bear with.
Imagine a cat, a very special cat whose wonderous abilities are like nothing ever known before. Imagine you are tasked to prove that there is no cat in an ordinary room. Imagine you at once empty the room of all furniture. The room being rectangular, all parts are visible from a given point. But, of course, not all at once, since cannot see in every direction at once
A claim (we're talking p-r-o-o-f here) that the room is empty of cats is rejected because one thing about the special cat is that it is very quick. So quick that whenever you sweep your eyes about the room the cat may be just beyond the edge of your peripheral vision, or right behind you!
The story can go on and on when sophomores insist. But finding out about the cat's additional power to make itself invisible usually stops the chatter.
If we stand in a vacant room and whirl around a couple of times quickly and don't see a cat, most of us want to believe that's proof there's no cat in the room. Not for David Hume, nor for the tobacco industry, and apparently not for the Bush Regime and The Oregonian when it comes to WMD in Iraq. After all, there may be the WMD equivalent of the special magical cat (or for the tobacco analogy, the invisible, mysterious, non-tobacco cause for all those cancers and heart attacks).
The Bush Regime and cooperative media will settle for a draw and leave the burden of proof on critics of the war (COWs) to prove the absence of WMD in Iraq.
Demanding such proof as a prerequisite for criticism of the war is rather like the tobacco industry demanding "real proof" that cigarettes cause cancer and heart attacks. "Real Proof" for this special interest group does not include multiple observations represented by statical probabilities. It means each and every one of us must experience a "necessary connection". This peculiar idea of cause and effect is described by the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1716-1776). He maintained that our supposed sensory perception of causality is really just our expectations based on memory and habit.
Those were highly religious days and it was seen as a pious concept that God was moment-by-moment in charge of everything and had no need of an automatic system for making things happen. God did it, all of it. Nowadays such a scientifically fundamentalist definition of causality is only credible among those with a vested interest in denial.
The WMD are not found; no evidence of them within the past ten years is found. Over a dozen bogus claims from the Bush spin doctors have been exploded one after another. The question must be asked, what would satisfy this gang of special interest skeptics as proof that there were no WMD in Iraq during the period leading up to the Bush invasion?