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The disease of concealment: An open letter to future historians

by Patrick Lawrence
We are afflicted with what I would call the disease of silence. We are confronted with the results of decades of propaganda, and with the insidious power of language when it is cynically misused. We look, but we don't recognize it. We hear, but we don't listen. The effectiveness of propaganda is so great that most of us are not even aware of our complicity in the genocide of a people.
The disease of concealment: An open letter to future historians

By Patrick Lawrence
[This article posted on 2/23/2024 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Our US columnist Patrick Lawrence worries - rightly - whether, given the mainstream media's mendacious portrayal of the wars in Gaza and Ukraine and our current inability to truly grasp the situation, the future review of our times, the writing of history, will be able to understand and truthfully and realistically portray the situation today. In an open letter to future historians, he urges them to try to do this, even if it will not be easy. (cm)

BERKELEY, FEBRUARY 21, 2024 - I write this letter so that you who will look back on our time as professionals trained in the craft of recording history will see it in its entirety - with all that it is, without overlooking anything. We who are living now do not have the overview that I encourage you to have in order to see our present and what will then already be your past.

We live in a time of catastrophes, of cruelty in the name of justice, in a time of common depravity, of the defeat of human values, of the collapse of civilizations. But the larger significance of the events to which I refer - the condemnable aggression of Israel apartheid against the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the excessive destruction of human life in America's proxy war with Russia in Ukraine - is simply too great for most of us to process. It's as if we're sitting too close to a movie screen to see the picture properly. You have to do better than us. You must master the overview that eludes us and write the true picture into history.

Many important events are hidden from us. Often they are at least partially, and sometimes completely, erased from the records, as if they never happened. In addressing you, I want to do what little can be done to ensure that the truth about our times is properly recorded. Knowing that the histories you will write will contain some or all of what the Force has tried to erase can be a kind of redemption, a source of confidence in humanity's capacity for good.

Justice is not retroactive: the injustices we experience daily cannot be taken back or undone, just as a mother and child wantonly murdered by an Israeli sniper in Gaza cannot be brought back to life. But we can honor all these victims of injustice by writing down their stories truthfully, as you as historians can do. In this way, their suffering and death will not be entirely in vain.

Through the historical record, the record of history, of "what happened," the lies that are spreading around us as I write this letter can be exposed and, at least in the way our story is told, overcome.

Note the date of this Open Letter: The bottomlessly inhumane Israeli assault on the Palestinians in Gaza is just entering its fifth month. The proxy war in Ukraine began ten years ago this month; it erupted into open conflict two years ago this week.

You will read the official accounts of these events and the media coverage of them exactly as they are presented to us. Israel is not carrying out genocide and ethnic cleansing in Gaza, these versions of reality tell us: it is waging a "war", and this war is in "self-defense". You will read that Ukraine is a democracy, as the liberal West likes to believe, and as such it is the front line in a global confrontation between democrats and autocrats. These two conflicts are in a way defining our world in 2024.

I urge you to consider these conflicts in the wider context that today's official accounts of events deliberately ignore.

You will almost certainly have the numbers of victims and displaced persons, and I hope that these figures will be at least approximately correct when they reach your desks. I implore you to contrast these shockingly high casualty figures with the true motivations of those in Jerusalem (or Tel Aviv, Israel's legally recognized capital), Kiev and Washington who still insist that these conflicts must continue. I'm thinking of Bibi Netanyahu, Volodymyr Zelenskyi and Joe Biden.

Tell me what you discover when you look behind the official accounts and what is in the media archives. These two conflicts have little to do with the grandiose explanations you will easily find. Take a closer look. All three people mentioned, and therefore their governments, are politically vulnerable because they are perpetuating these conflicts: Israel and the US have elections coming up that could chase the Israeli prime minister and the American president out of office; Netanyahu is likely to go to jail once the attack on Isareli in Gaza is over; the president of the Kiev regime (who called off new elections that were due, ed.) is on a knife-edge as Ukraine loses its war with Russia. In short, these three supposed leaders need these conflicts for their survival.

This week, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on Israel to cease fire in Gaza - for the third time since it began attacking Gaza last fall. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the Biden regime's ambassador to the UN, spoke as usual, repeating the argument that a ceasefire would somehow disrupt delicate diplomatic negotiations. From this you must realize how far removed from reality our supposed leaders are. Ask yourself if this gap is as unprecedented as many of us alive now think.

It will not be difficult for you to see the connections I am drawing your attention to here. A few people who are alive now know and understand it. But they are never mentioned in what you will recognize as our official discourse. Do not neglect your responsibility to unearth what is being buried in this way today. Then the history you write will record the shocking baseness of those who shape the times you will write about as historians. These are people who obviously don't mind sacrificing the lives of innocent women, men and children to their own petty desires to remain in office: their greed for power. This is what I mean when I describe my time, our time, as a time of depravity - low and dishonest, to quote Wystan Hugh Auden's famous phrase. You must record it as such.

You can read reports and watch video footage of Israeli soldiers shooting mothers and their children - not by accident, not as "collateral damage", but deliberately. You can watch them torture captured Palestinian men, some in their teens. The Israeli troops shoot much of this footage themselves and broadcast it as if to show off their sadism.

But with very rare exceptions, you can't see any of this in the so-called mainstream or corporate media. You have to turn to independent publications to find this kind of material - material that truthfully reports the horrors the Israelis are inflicting on the 2.3 million people of Gaza.

In the absence of such publications, we are left with a completely distorted picture, as I have already mentioned: Gaza as a justified war of self-defense, civilian casualties as regrettable accidents, and so on. The same applies to Ukraine: Ukraine's armed forces are fighting bravely and will win, there are no neo-Nazis in the AFU, nobody is stealing the weapons and money that the West is sending to the Kiev regime.

Perhaps in your time it will still be said, as in ours, that the press provides "the first draft of history". This is a far cry from the reality of the mainstream media. These newspapers and broadcasters provide the first draft of what power wants to hold as truth in order to keep the truth out of the history texts you will write as historians. Be aware of this, I urge you. The independent media are at an early stage of their development. They lack the resources - trained professionals, financial resources - in relation to the responsibility that our time imposes on them. But you, as historians, must not neglect them. It is on their pages and in their digital productions that the true accounts of our time can be found.

More than one child dies when he is shot while fleeing a hospital in Gaza on the orders of the Israeli Defense Forces and this death is not honestly reported. More than one soldier dies when, young and poorly trained or over 60 and too slow, he is sent to the front in eastern Ukraine, where death is not certain but almost certain, and these circumstances are omitted from what we can read or see. Truth, the "first casualty" in all wars, dies another death. Another small part of justice dies as well.

You can write the history of our time in as much detail as you see fit for maximum accuracy. But you will find that the truth lies under a thick blanket of distorted doctrine. The mainstream press and broadcasters will be of little use to you. In fact, they are working against you. They long ago turned their backs on informing the public and protecting those they are supposed to report on from the public.

You must be aware of this: one of the most peculiar features of our time is the consolidation of a meta-reality, if I may call it that, a parallel unreality alongside reality. This is largely the work of the mainstream media, which serve the interests of empire ever more faithfully. To the extent that you as a historian rely on the media to do your research, you will need independent media to do your writing well. They will be your friends as you undertake this task.

I advise you to be careful what you read into the circumstances I have described when you come across them in your research. I have singled out our media because, as I have just noted, they construct a meta-reality that effectively obscures reality in this way. If this is a fatal inversion of the responsibility that the media bear in the public sphere, then they are not alone in this task.

What we can observe in our press and broadcasters is mirrored in the corrosion of numerous other institutions and the principles they are supposed to uphold. These include our universities, our legislatures, our courts, our local and state governments, the myriad organizations that hold our communities together. Academic freedom, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and even freedom of thought, the value of open debate, the right to privacy: suddenly they are seen as debatable.

We are living in a kind of social and intellectual chaos. You should not overlook this when you study our times. It is true that this state of affairs was already apparent long before the events of October 7 and before Russia's military intervention in Ukraine two years ago. It is one of many consequences of the contamination of public discourse by incessant misinformation and disinformation, especially since 2016, when American liberals and the media that serve them set in motion what we call "Russiagate" - a term you will surely encounter.

But please recognize that Gaza and Ukraine have accelerated the civilizational collapse I mentioned at the beginning of my letter to you. I don't think that term is too strong. You must at least examine its validity with great care. This is the feature of our time that is most difficult for us, the living, to recognize. We are too close to the phenomenon I am describing - too much "in" the present to see the present in its entirety.

I now come to what I most want you to recognize and hold on to. To explain this, I would like to mention an opinion poll published this week by the Quincy Institute, a foreign policy research organization in Washington. A poll conducted a few weeks ago in conjunction with Harris Poll found that 70 percent of Americans want the Biden administration to force Ukraine to negotiate with Russia as a matter of urgency. The numbers vary, but the same is true for Israel and the Gaza crisis: a sizable share of Americans want the Biden administration to force Israel to negotiate a cease-fire. This is the kind of poll that's worth twisting and turning to find out what it can tell you.

Again, the White House has shown itself increasingly indifferent to public opinion in the conduct of American foreign policy over many years. Congress authorizes policy in the same way. Israel and, less dramatically, Ukraine have exacerbated this aberration. These crises have left Americans more or less powerless against those who purport to lead us. Realistically, we no longer have any institutional recourse. That is the harsh reality we now face. We are no longer so much governed as ruled. My term for this - perhaps you will find it useful - is "imperial distance".

The Gaza crisis has brought these circumstances into the public eye. And since the Biden regime's unqualified support of the Zionist state has directly challenged the conscience of Americans, it has demanded the highest degree of imperial detachment between the rulers and the ruled.

As is typical of historians, you will probably find it harder to grapple with the psychological character of our times than with external events. Nevertheless, I appeal to you to stay tuned, because this is an important feature of our reality. Israel disgraced itself, the Jewish heritage and Judaism as a whole a long time ago. The Gaza crisis, with its daily atrocities and our enforced acquiescence to these crimes, has led humanity, or at least that part of it that is considered "the West", into a state of humiliation. Israel has dragged us down so that its humiliations are also ours. It has stripped us of our moral foundation, just as it lost its own long ago.

You must not neglect these things, even if most of us who are alive now cannot see what Israel's behavior in Gaza has done to us.

We are afflicted with what I would call the disease of silence. We are confronted with the results of decades of propaganda, and with the insidious power of language when it is cynically misused. We look, but we don't recognize it. We hear, but we don't listen. The effectiveness of propaganda is so great that most of us are not even aware of our complicity in the genocide of a people. For the sake of a tenured professorship or a peaceful dinner party, we remain silent and thus succumb to this disease. By placing our petty self-interest above integrity and responsibility, most of us are little different from the Bidens and Netanyahus in their obsessive pursuit of personal power.

From where we are, there is no turning back, as I'm sure you can read in your history. This is true for apartheid Israel, for America and for the West as a whole. The wheel of history has turned - abruptly and, it seems to some of us, irrevocably. It has done so before, to make it obvious to you. When a radical Serb assassinated the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, one world ended and another began. Is our present moment comparable?

It seems so, but you will know better than we do. We can only look with uncertainty at what you will look back on and what you will see as an outcome recorded in facts. We can hope that what ends now will open up the opportunity to move on differently. You will know if a change has been achieved.

In various professions - journalism and historiography, among others - there are few in any age who "keep the faith", as we say. Many of you, I expect, will write "orthodox" histories of the period that will find their place in university libraries, win awards, and be taught in graduate courses. Be that as it may, I commend this Open Letter to the rest of you, the few just mentioned, to suggest what you need to write down and where you need to look for it as you write early 21st century histories that are true and worthy of humanity's record of itself.

This is how the torches are passed and the good in us is defended against the evil.
... there must still be children among this rubble, so keep searching ... (Both pictures Al Jazeera)
... and ten Israeli female soldiers are proud of what they have achieved and take a selfie (Photo Tsafrir Abayov from February 19, 2024, published in the Washington Post.)

Will we be able to understand all this in 20 or 30 years? (cm)
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