No Comment — August 7, 2007, 10:57 am

The Return of Comrade Ogilvy

Suddenly there sprang into his mind, ready made as it were, the image of a certain Comrade Ogilvy, who had recently died in battle, in heroic circumstances. There were occasions when Big Brother devoted his Order for the Day to commemorating some humble, rank and-file Party member whose life and death he held up as an example worthy to be followed. Today he should commemorate Comrade Ogilvy. It was true that there was no such person as Comrade Ogilvy, but a few lines of print and a couple of faked photographs would soon bring him into existence.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four ch. 1, sec. 4 (1946).

The conduct of the Bush Administration in dealing with Pat Tillman bothers me a great deal. Maybe I should just “get over it.” But I find that I can’t. We don’t know the exact circumstances of Tillman’s death. We will probably never know, and the Administration’s conduct is a major reason why we will never know. Pathologists took careful note of the close-range bullet marks and insisted on a more precise inquiry, suggesting that the death might well have been a homicide and not friendly fire. But someone intervened to shut that down. And that’s when the process of generating Comrade Ogilvy took over. There was no Comrade Ogilvy, of course, he was a construction—and in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell patiently teaches us the utility of such official lies as war propaganda. As I wrote earlier, Elias Canetti also explored this phenomenon, in greater psychological subtlety even than Orwell’s, in Masse und Macht. But the Orwellian treatment seems somehow to perfectly capture the clinical evil that drives so much of the Bush Administration’s manipulation of the public.

And an editorial in today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal hits the issue squarely on the head:

The military lied to Tillman’s family about the circumstances of his death in Afghanistan the evening of April 22, 2004. Tillman and his platoon were supposedly involved in a firefight. He was killed. The Army knew within days at most that “friendly fire” was the culprit. It told Tillman’s family that Pat died a hero, and didn’t own up to the friendly-fire evidence until five weeks later, on May 29, 2004, and even then, qualified the death as “probably” caused by friendly fire.

As The Associated Press reported in late July, a doctor who examined Tillman’s body said the evidence did not match up with the Army’s scenario of Tillman being shot by his own troops from long range, in the confusion of a battle at dusk. He had three M-16 bullet holes in his forehead, close together, suggesting a close-range shooting…

The failing system wasn’t only the Army’s truth pipeline. It was the Pentagon’s and the White House’s deceptive management of war stories. Just as the Pentagon had made up the story of the heroism of Jessica Lynch, the West Virginia soldier wounded and captured in an ambush in the early days of the Iraq war — the Pentagon said she went down firing her rifle until she ran out of ammunition; in fact, she never fired a shot — it made up a story about Tillman’s heroism until the story couldn’t stand up to the facts. Hasn’t that been the true overriding story of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Using the fallen hero as a tool to silence the critic and whip the masses into mindless subservience is an ancient practice. And a disreputable one. In the end Pat Tillman was a real person. And by concocting a myth about his death, the Administration was not trying to honor his memory—it was attempting to substitute a forgery for a very real person. It was attempting to usurp his memory for its own political agenda. Pat Tillman, we now know, was a patriot. He didn’t think much of George W. Bush or his politics. He was openly critical of the way the war had been cast and peddled. Was the Bush Administration attempting to liquidate that Pat Tillman? That’s a conclusion that hangs close over this entire affair.

Check your pulse. If you’re not outraged by this story and particularly by the conduct of the Bush Administration—including the cascading lies of its senior Pentagon team—there may be something the matter with you.

The Bush propaganda machine is serving us Comrade Ogilvy. But I’ll take the real Pat Tillman, thank you very much.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2016

Isn’t It Romantic?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trusted Traveler

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trouble with Iowa

The Queen and I

Disunified Front

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

We Don’t Have Rights, But We Are Alive

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.
Article
The Queen and I·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Buckingham Palace is a theater in need of renovation. There is something pathetic about a fiercely vacuumed throne room. The plants are tired. Plastic is nailed to walls and mirrors. The ballroom is set for a ghostly banquet. Everyone is whispering, for we are in a mad kind of church. A child weeps.”
Photograph (detail) © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
Article
We Don’t Have Rights, But We Are Alive·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If I really wanted to learn about the Islamic State, Hassan told me, I ought to speak to his friend Samir, a young gay soldier in the Syrian Army who’d been fighting jihadis intermittently for the past four years.”
Photograph (detail) by Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty

Amount by which the number of government jobs in the U.S. exceeds the number of manufacturing jobs:

5,129,000

The sound of mice being clicked may induce seizures in house cats.

In Turlock, California, nearly 3,500 samples of bull semen were stolen from the back of a truck.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today