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Myth-making through repetition

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For some reason, we’re back to having a debate over whether it was immoral to drop the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  (I know the anniversary dates are what prompt the annual hand-wringing session.  I just don’t get why we’re still wringing our hands over it.) 

This prompted re-discovery and re-posting of the 30-year-old essay by Paul Fussell called “Thank God for the Atom Bomb.”  For many people, this essay remains the definitive last word on the subject.  I saw it popped up over at Ace’s place, and part of the ensuing conversation that stuck with me was the ritual recitation of Hiroshima mythology: the bombs were dropped without warning, the Japanese were going to surrender anyway, we could have just waited the Empire out.  The first of those non-facts is absolutely and demonstrably untrue – hundreds of thousands of warning leaflets were dropped over Hiroshima warning of its impending destruction, several days in advance.  The latter are simply laughable to anyone who actually studies the final days of World War II.  There was no indication of Japanese surrender plans, and they were killing thousands of people – both troops and civilians – every single day.

But mythology triumphs over facts through repetition.  Falsehoods become something “everyone knows,” or at least ideas everyone is willing to entertain.  And once folly avoids getting laughed out of the room, it tends to make itself comfortable for a long stay.

This all reminds me of the current fad for Trayvon mythology.  There are people who continue to assiduously push falsehoods and edited versions of the story, to construct useful narratives at variance with the facts and law of the case.  Trayvon Martin’s parents have been circulating emails asserting their son was stalked, hunted down, and murdered by George Zimmerman.  I remain fascinated by how often Trayvon groupies assert he went to the store to buy Skittles and iced tea.  That’s not true – it is factually, demonstrably inaccurate – and it seems like a small detail, but the energy pumped into obscuring it demonstrates that the myth-makers understand its importance. 

The truth matters.  Philosophies built upon mythology are as corrupt as computer programs pumped full of false data.

 


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