Saturday, January 10, 2004

Burning All Illusions - Framing The Straw Man
One of the most effective ways of preventing people from discovering the truth about a given issue is to make an unwelcome idea absurd through misinterpretation - and then vigorously challenge that misinterpretation. In this way, all discussions becomes a matter of rejecting or accepting the misinterpretation.


During the Vietnam war, the hawks argued for using extra force to defend South Vietnam, on the grounds that the war was winnable; whilst the doves argued against using extra force to defend South Vietnam, on the grounds that the war was unwinnable. As long as these arguments defined the parameters of government and media debate, it was extremely difficult for anyone to raise the point that the United States was not at all defending, but was actually invading and destroying South Vietnam - regardless of whether the war was winnable or not.


This device of invisibly limiting the parameters of opposition is an infinitely more effective technique of thought control than that of forcibly censoring unsuitable ideas. For here the two false poles act like magnets attracting the iron filings of debate to either side, making it extremely difficult to pass through the middle to a more adequate argument beyond - which will tend to be dismissed as 'fresh in from Neptune'....

I encountered that passage last night, after having stumbled upon the book at Barnes & Noble, and thought I'd pass it along. In my mind, this is a great piece of writing, which makes a great point about framing debate, irregardless of how one feels about the war in Vietnam, of which there is still plenty of ambiguity, and very little certainty, even now, over 30 years later.

In the Vietnam war there was no frontline; the enemy was everywhere. Not in uniform, not always armed, not always a male of fighting age. And if a whole South Vietnamese village supported the Vietcong, providing a base, logistics and intelligence to soldiers who were often their husbands and sons, then where exactly was the line drawn between civilians and enemy personnel? It was that reality that gave rise to [an] oft-quoted statement by an American officer in the field that "we had to destroy the village in order to save it." (from Time magazine)