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The Grand Inquisitor Revisited
June 30, 2004
By D.A. Blyler

"We shall deceive them again. That deception will be our suffering, for we shall be forced to lie." — Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brother's Karamozov

Over the past six weeks a growing weariness has appeared on the faces of the Bush Administration. Donald Rumsfeld, the one-time robust Secretary of Defense, has become a gray shell of his former self, his age of 72 years catching up with him seemingly overnight. Colin Powell, who never looked jubilant in his role of Secretary of Sate, bears now an absent look as though his mind already has leaped forward to the time when he'll pen his memoirs and wipe his conscience clean; while CIA Director George Tenet simply buckled under the enormous weight of the burden.

Only Vice President Dick Cheney, his sneering upper lip forever fixed, still exudes a steely resolve, but it is a dispassionate one and speaks more to the neo-Conservative agenda that Cheney manages than a moral sense of purpose. And it is into this lugubrious sea, without a rudder or compass, that George W. Bush has been set adrift.

Every time the President steps up to the podium these days one wonders if this is when the boom will drop and the breakdown occur. Never a talented public speaker, Bush's awkwardness now is often underpinned by an indescribable sadness, even while raising money among the Republican faithful or rallying the troops. And who can't help but feel a little sorry for the President, who, while having made a striking figure in his green flight suit on the USS Abraham Lincoln a year ago, is clearly out of his element in carrying out the will of the Cheney/Rove/Wolfowitz cabal?

Surely, the President hardly could have expected to be called upon personally to lie so often and so frequently. But with recent events in Iraq demanding press conferences, an annoying job requirement that in the past he had so religiously avoided, the weight of the deception is clearly pressing down on George W's shoulders.

Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevky wrote provocatively on this burden of conscience, though in a different context, a century ago in his masterwork The Brothers Karamozov. In a famous portion of the novel referred to as "The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor," Karamazov brother Ivan tells his brother Alyosha that the Church knowingly lies to the people and distorts Christ's teachings out of moral rectitude, out of charity to all those too weak to carry the burden of free choice; that mankind does not wish the freedom to decide for themselves what is good and evil but long forever to be told.

Speed forward one hundred years and we see the Bush administration's evangelists, a menacing cluster of born-again Christians, reinventing this argument under the auspices of the War in Iraq and the fight against terrorism.

From the Iraq/al Qaeda connection and weapons of mass destruction to the "handful" of soldiers involved in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, Bush and company have heaped lie upon lie in a methodical attempt to ease the conscience of American citizens and shore up the belief that the power they placed in their hands was the right thing to do - all the while finding an eager accomplice in the media, who are finally (as acknowledged by the New York Times) owning up to the fact that they failed in rigorously questioning the administration's arguments for an Iraq invasion and its relentless efforts to paint the war as a fight to retain America's freedoms while systematically eroding those very freedoms through an overzealous Justice Department and the little-understood Patriot Act.

Dostoyevky's Grand Inquisitor explained the tactic this way: "we shall persuade them that they will only become free when they renounce their freedom to us and submit to us." And that the public will surrender these freedoms happily in exchange for releasing them from the anxiety and responsibility of having to make moral decisions for themselves. Likewise, the Bush team persuaded the American public and sleeping media (through a cunning combination of flag-waving patriotism and dissimulation of facts) to forfeit their conscience to the government.

But, like the fictional Grand Inquisitor, they never expected the freight of lies to become so oppressive, and that freedom purchased any other way except by free choice is a hollow and short lived victory at best.


D.A. Blyler's essays have appeared at Salon.com, The Nation newspaper in Bangkok, and other international publications. He is the author of the expatriate novel Steffi's Club. You can visit his website at http://www.geocities.com/dablyler/page.html.

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