Several landmark documents from English history have contributed significantly to our own Constitution bulwark of liberty. One of these documents just celebrated a birthday.
In the year 1930, the city of Tiflis (now Tbilisi) was a captive capital. The ancient city in the heart of the Caucasus, with its mountain scenery and splendid architecture, was enduring, with the rest of the Soviet Union, the onset of Stalin’s reign of terror. As elsewhere in the Soviet Union, ordinary people had become practiced in the arts of sullen self-preservation. Perhaps that was why no one offered to help the men working to extricate one of their party from an overturned car before the badly damaged vehicle burst into flames. The men wore business suits and spoke English, though few of the passersby recognized the unfamiliar tongue. The man trapped in the car, on the other hand, was a feral-faced communist “handler,” a man with considerable clout in the Soviet government.
Even in peacetime, government lies are so commonplace as to hardly be news. During wartime, however, the government fib fabricator goes into overdrive — as does the coverup machinery. Decades may pass before wartime lies are exposed, and even more time may elapse before the government admits to having deceived the public.
When Thomas Jefferson became the third President of the United States on March 4, 1801, there was but a fleeting hint of warning in his Inaugural Address about dangers to the young Republic from distant forces abroad. America would pursue “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none,” he proclaimed. But he also asked for “that guidance and support which may enable us to steer with safety the vessel in which we are all embarked amidst the conflicting elements of a troubled world.”
In 1914, when the Old World was at war, the New, unaware of the designs of its political and financial leaders, expected to stay out of the latest European upheaval. American public opinion was firmly opposed to violating in any way our neutral posture, which meant that America’s young men were still graduating from high school, going to college, and finding gainful employment. One such crop of optimistic youth was enduring a philosophy class at the University of North Carolina, an exercise in sophistry taught by the venerable but insufferable Horace Williams. Professor Williams’ class, we may imagine, was typical for the time: a couple dozen well-groomed young men and a few young women sitting at buckling wooden desks made in the previous century, trying to grasp the contradictory axioms imparted by the tweedy, subversive Williams.