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Jewish World Review Feb. 26, 2002 / 14 Adar, 5762

Chris Matthews

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Big Brother revisited? -- WASN'T this "Ministry of Truth" and "War is Peace" stuff was supposed to arrive 20 years ago?

George Orwell predicted a government stamping lies as truth and fighting a war so endless as to assume the monotony of peace. Writing against the early Cold War backdrop, he predicted this grim world to arrive in 1984.

Well, worse late than never. The Orwellian fears of post-World War II are taking form in early 21st-century Washington.

The prophesied "Ministry of Truth" is the Pentagon's new Office of Strategic Influence. "The Pentagon is developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations as part of a new effort to influence public sentiment and policymakers in both friendly and unfriendly countries, military officials said," The New York Times reported this week.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the Pentagon is merely doing in 2002 what countries did in past wars: fool the enemy. The World War II allies protected the Normandy Invasion using a feint toward Calais instead of its actual location, the Cotentin peninsula. If that fooled the Germans, it also saved lots of American, British and Canadian lives. We've got to be just as sneaky, Rumsfeld argues, in fighting the terrorists and terror-backing countries today.

Is this the extent of the lies the Pentagon will tell? Tactical stuff about operations that puts the bin Laden crowd off the trail? If so, who could complain?

But if the new Pentagon operation goes further and pumps out big, "strategic" lies, a mission its name clearly implies, we are crossing a line that used to separate the good guys -- us -- from the bad guys like Josef Goebbels.

If this new Office of Strategic Influence plans to broadcast lies "with a global reach," to use an anti-terrorist standard of measure, lets kill this thing before it gets going. How can we possibly win the hearts and minds of the Islamic and Arab world with an American propaganda mill already labeled as such by the American media?

That other feature of "1984," the notion of endless war, is more troubling.

President Bush makes the case daily for a new kind of open-ended conflict. First, it was Al Qaeda we were after. Then, it was the government in Afghanistan that protected Al Qaeda.

Next, it was the groups associated with Al Qaeda. Then, it was the list of governments that allow such groups to reside in their country. Then, it was the "Axis of Evil" that makes weapons and may or may not be working with terrorist groups.

Where do we stop? How many countries are we talking about here?

Remember how we looked longingly for Lyndon Johnson's "light at the end of the tunnel" in Vietnam? The current president from Texas is talking about going into a lot more tunnels and never even mentions the notion of any light at the end of them.

The "Ministry of Truth" is a gruesome enough prospect. But, what about the dull and throbbing reality that, as long as we are on this earth, the United States military will be fighting someone somewhere? To borrow a favorite Orwellian phrase we are now bent on being "down and out" in Baghdad, Tehran and Pyongyang and each and every one of the world's other "evil" capitals for the rest of our lives. We ain't ever coming home.

Note: Winston Smith, the hero of "1984," works at the Ministry of Truth. His job is to "rewrite and alter" newspaper stories to conform to government purposes. Sounds like the excellent work somebody's got in mind for the Pentagon.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of "Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think". and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Comment by clicking here.

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