Still Written by Winners

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Each side in a political dispute settles on its own version of history. Each may see an event from the same media eyes, but what they remember will be determined by what they believe. I was reminded of that recently while listening to a local conservative on talk radio.

This was on the day after a man was shot at the Miami airport. The man had run down the aisle of an airplane shouting that he had a bomb. Sky marshals had yelled at him to get down, and when he reached into his bag instead, they had shot and killed him. Afterward it was found he had no bomb. The talk- show host-related this story in a way that was sounding more and more familiar. The man was a perceived threat who turned out not to be an actual threat, but who was nonetheless dealt with through lethal preemptive force.

Well, the host said, wasn’t it exactly the same as with Saddam Hussein? Saddam had been a perceived threat. Bush took him down. Like the bomb in the bag, Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction turned out not to be real, but Bush thought they were real, and acted. He was doing his job.

My problem was history. The radio host said that in 2002 and 2003 Saddam Hussein was acting as if.he had nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, and that “the whole world believed” he had them. I didn’t remember it that way. I remembered Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice. saying he had WMDs, and Saddam saying he didn’t have them, and inviting inspectors to come and look for them. I remembered the inspector who went in, Hans Blix, saying he had looked and couldn’t find any weapons of mass destruction, and ask- ing Bush for time to look some more. And I remembered the previous inspector, Scott Ritter, saying that he had supervised the destruction of the chemical-weapons plants, and saying (in 2001) that he didn’t believe Iraq had these weapons.

We remember different things. The talk-show host remembered that in the winter of 2002-2003 everyone thought Saddam Hussein had WMDs. I remembered the claim that he had them, the war party being challenged about that claim, and the war party falling back on the safer but weaker argument that Iraq had not accounted for the destruction of its WMDs. I remember the “accounted-for” argument immediately confusing weapons with paperwork about weapons, opening up the intriguing possibility that the United States would·go to war over errors in accounting.

The talk-show host could not have had a discussion about it – at least not the sort of brief and to-the-point one in which he specializes. He and I didn’t agree on a set of common facts. And there was nothing unusual in this. It happens all the time.

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