Selective Amnesia: The Epidemic

I take great pleasure in my job as a columnist and editorial director of what could be more enjoyable than the life of a pundit, sitting around commenting on the wicked ways of the world? But sometimes, especially lately, it becomes downright depressing: every day, disaster looms, and every week the same patterns recur. It’s as if mankind has lost its collective memory, because the War Party keeps pulling the same scams – and getting away with it! A story in today’s [Thursday’s] London Telegraph is a metaphor for this ongoing process: “Scientists unlock the secrets of selective amnesia,” the headline announces – and there you have it in a nutshell. ISN’T SCIENCE WONDERFUL?

It seems that the old Freudian concept of “repression” of unwanted memories has been given a boost by two scientists at Oregon University, who have apparently reproduced the repression process under laboratory conditions. Roger Highfield, Telegraph science editor, writes: “More than a century after Freud suggested the existence of a repression mechanism that pushes unwanted memories into the unconscious, scientists now have hard evidence to explain how that mechanism works.” People who want to forget invariably succeed in forgetting – although why we needed a laboratory experiment to “prove” the obvious seems yet another indication of the absurdity of empiricism and science-worship. Be that as it may, however, in the experiment, the subjects deliberately tried to forget certain words – and were unable to recall them later, even when offered money for the correct answer. According to Highfield, “This is the clearest demonstration of a direct connection between people’s efforts to control awareness of a specific unwanted memory and their later ability to recall it.” Understanding what the article calls “selective amnesia” could help victims of child abuse, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Taking apart this mechanism and revealing how human beings can direct their attention will, perhaps, help us diagnose and deal with the effects of age and disease, including schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder. Perhaps, someday, this line of research will also reveal how “selective amnesia” plays a major part in spreading another disease: the plague of war.


As news that Albanian terrorists are sparking yet another Balkan war grabs today’s headlines, does anybody recall what got us into the last one? It was newspaper headlines charging the Serbs with “genocide”: it was CNN’s Christiane Amanpour “reporting” as fact the propaganda put out by her husband, James Rubin, then Madeleine Albright’s ephebic Igor. It was NATO’s machinery of lies acting in tandem with the Western “news” media that fueled such popular support as the War Party managed to attract. You’ll recall – that is, if you aren’t suffering from some kind of self-imposed “amnesia” – that the initial reason given for the bombing campaign was the “massacre” at Racak, in which dozens of supposedly unarmed Kosovar civilians were reportedly slaughtered by units of the Serbian military. As Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi put it in The eXile,

“Years from now, when the war in Serbia is over and the dust has settled, historians will point to January 15, 1999 as the day the American Death Star became fully operational. That was the date on which an American diplomat named William Walker brought his OSCE war crimes verification team to a tiny Kosovar village called Racak to investigate an alleged Serb massacre of ethnic Albanian peasants. After a brief review of the town’s 40-odd bullet-ridden corpses, Walker searched out the nearest television camera and essentially fired the starting gun for the war.”


Standing before the television cameras, Walker announced: “From what I saw, I do not hesitate to describe the crime as a massacre, a crime against humanity. Nor do I hesitate to accuse the government security forces of responsibility.” It was a brazen lie, of course, and the truth is now coming to light. There was no Racak “massacre” – evidence unearthed by Finnish forensic experts indicates that the bodies found at Racak, according to the forensic report, were likely killed in combat, and that the “atrocities” reported were faked. In the European media, the mythology that got us into the Kosovo war has been thoroughly debunked: a recent report on German television exposes the lies of the NATO-crats as part of a sophisticated propaganda campaign to manufacture atrocity stories and whip up the public into a warlike frenzy.


The report, first broadcast on the ARD public channel on February 8, contrasts the statements of German government officials in the period leading up to NATO intervention with OSCE reports from on the scene in Kosovo: while German “Green” foreign minister Joschka Fischer, the ex-ultra-left “revolutionary” thug, and his Social Democratic coalition partners were claiming that a “humanitarian catastrophe” was taking place, the OSCE March 1999 report cited “39 deaths in all of Kosovo – before the NATO bombers came.”


“There must never be another Auschwitz!” This was Fischer’s slogan, along with all the other formerly antiwar, anti-interventionist lefties who supported the Kosovo adventure, in Germany and internationally. Since the Serbs were supposedly the 21st century equivalent of the Nazis, it was necessary to come up with the right imagery – the key to enlisting left-liberals in the fight against Serbian “racism.” To support this thesis, the government looked for “evidence” of “concentration camps” run by the Serbs. Just as the fight against Hitler was the “good war,” so the war against Slobodan Milosevic was equally righteous – or so the argument went. The War Party soon came up with their “evidence” – allegations that a “concentration camp” had been set up in the Pristina soccer stadium. Except, as it turns out, there never was any such thing: ARD’s investigative reporters went to Pristina, and asked eyewitnesses about the alleged concentration camp. Shaban Kelmendi, a Kosovar politician whose house is right next door to the stadium, said on camera: “There was not one single prisoner or hostage held there at that time. The stadium was always used only as a landing field for helicopters.”


German officials had also claimed that, on January 29, 1999, Serbian authorities carried out a “massacre” of unarmed citizens in the small town of Rugovo in southern Kosovo: the German government even released photos of the alleged atrocities, and the next day they were splashed across the front pages as newspapers screamed with the headline: “THIS IS WHY WE ARE AT WAR!” But was it? Our German reporters cite a secret report of the German defense ministry: ‘Confidential-for official use only. Twenty-four Kosovar Albanians and one Serb policeman were killed in Rugovo on January 29, 1999 during a battle.” While publicly claiming that the Serbs were committing “genocide,” the German government had access to secret reports that came much closer to the truth: prewar Kosovo was the scene of a civil war, with the Yugoslav military responding to heavily-armed rebels carrying out terrorist acts increasingly directed at civilians.


The whole rationale for war in the Balkans has long since fallen apart: but the same American news media that reported lies as fact has yet to acknowledge misleading the public, never mind correcting their error – if, indeed, it was an error instead of a deliberate policy. Here is proof positive that “selective amnesia” has reached epidemic proportions among journalists in the English-speaking world: the problem is, there doesn’t seem to be any cure.


Now that the interventionist chickens are coming home to roost – not only in “liberated” Kosovo, but in Macedonia and throughout the region – the governments of virtually all the NATO countries are publicly trying to distance themselves from the unfolding disaster. The US has just announced the withdrawal of 750 troops – from Bosnia – and this is being reported by CBS News as part of a larger plan to withdraw all or most of our troops from the Bosnian confederation. No word yet on withdrawals from Kosovo – or any additions to the 450 or so US troops in wartorn Macedonia. The effort to disguise this shift in forces as a “withdrawal” is White House spin that cleverly recognizes the stubbornly anti-interventionist sentiment of the American people – and most especially among voters who represent the GOP’s base. But how long can the Bush administration get away with straddling the Balkan fence?


The selective amnesia that afflicts our politicians, who not only forget their own campaign promises but also expect us to forget them, is mirrored by our governing elites in the media, academia, and among intellectuals in general: these people apparently have no trouble repressing all politically incorrect thoughts and memories within themselves. They are, after all, well-paid to apply the same methods to the general public: and they are very good at it. It looks like the more we understand “selective amnesia,” the more incurable it sounds. As one of those Oregon University scientists told the Telegraph:

“Amazingly, this type of forgetting is more likely to occur when people are continuously confronted with reminders of the memory they are trying to avoid. This is contrary to intuition, which says that seeing reminders a lot ought to make your memory better. When reminders are inescapable, people must learn to adapt their internal thought patterns whenever they confront the reminder if they are to have any hope of avoiding the unwanted memory.”


The more we remind them of the truth, the more they ignore it: if this is the operative principle, then no wonder I’m depressed today! After all, as editorial director of, it is my job to confront the War Party on a daily basis with the evidence exposing their lies. But it seems the more I confront them, the less chance there is going to be any admission of error (let alone guilt). We can excoriate the “mainstream” news media all we want for allowing itself to be turned into a conduit of government propaganda, but the process will continue unto eternity. Arguing with the very elites that made an immoral and incredibly destructive war possible in the first place is only valuable insofar as it exposes the truth to ordinary people. But, even then, so what? Most people did not support the Kosovo war, which is one reason why it ended so abruptly: Clinton’s poll numbers were dropping as a direct result of the escalating conflict, just as Bush’s will sink like a stone if our new President allows himself to get suckered into another Balkan intervention, this time in Macedonia. So who cares if ordinary people supported or opposed the war? It happened anyway, didn’t it?


Well, now we have a solution to that problem – a problem caused by the usurpation of the power to send troops overseas, which has historically belonged to Congress. At least, that’s what the Constitution says. Of course, that hasn’t been the case ever since Harry Truman sent American troops to Korea to fight the Commies without bothering to inform the elected representatives of the people. They are still there. In Vietnam, too, the machinations of four Presidents – Eisenhower, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Nixon – trumped congressional opposition, and got us snarled in a trap of our own making: another unwinnable land war in Asia. Today, on account of Truman’s usurpation, the President has the power to send American troops overseas at a moment’s notice: to the Balkans, the Middle East, or Timbuctu, if he so chooses – but not if congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) has his way.


Rep. Paul has introduced a measure in the House of Representatives to “fulfill the intent of the framers of the Constitution” that Congress alone has the legal authority to send US troops into battle: the “Constitutional War Powers Resolution of 2001,” or H.J.R. 27. It is co-sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA): last session, a similar but broader bill which included limitations on domestic presidential powers garnered 40 co-sponsors. Passage of this bill would stop a president from sending armed forces into battle or imminent hostilities without an outright congressional declaration of war, unless the U.S. was directly attacked. The bill would also forbid funding unlawful war activity and facilitate lawsuits to enjoin unlawful actions. The great thing about this bill is that it is retroactive: the text of the legislation reads that the bill, if passed, would apply to “the deployment of elements of the Armed Forces before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution.”


The Bush administration is constantly telling us that they are engaging in a “wide-ranging review” of our various overseas missions and military entanglements, and that such a step is necessary if we are to devise a coherent and comprehensive strategy for the post-cold war world and come up with a defense budget that makes sense. Well, then, the passage of H.J.R. 27 should go a long way toward accelerating that process, of forcing each deployment to justify itself in terms of its actual value to US national security. Surely, then, Team Bush realizes that Rep. Paul is only going along with the program (as stated), and that the least they can do is support his efforts. [Sarcasm off]


If Team Bush is not about to jump on this particular bandwagon, perhaps they will be forced to jump out of the way before being caught under its wheels. Opposition to the Kosovo war was centered not on the Left side of the spectrum, but within the Republican camp in Congress. This reflected grassroots sentiments among GOP rank-&-file activists who never swallowed the war propaganda of the pro-Clinton liberal media in the first place. If a grassroots movement can be generated at the local level on behalf of the “Constitutional War Powers Resolution”/H.J.R. 27, it could very well snowball and force the administration into taking a public position, much as the Eisenhower administration was forced to take a position on the Bricker Amendment. The Bricker amendment to the Constitution – introduced in 1952 – which failed to pass Congress by 2 votes, would have forbidden any foreign treaty from overriding the US Constitution – preserving our national sovereignty not only against the UN (the chief manifestation of globalism at the time) but also against such future threats as NATO, NAFTA, and the International Criminal Court. Of course, Eisenhower and his gang bitterly opposed Bricker, just as the Bushies will no doubt oppose the Constitutional War Powers Resolution – and for the same reasons.


In arguing against Bricker, the Eisenhower administration averred that it would unduly restrict the power of the President to conduct foreign policy. Bricker’s supporters argued that nothing less than the sovereignty of the country was at stake, and that, in any case, the President had no such exclusive power. The latter lost, but only narrowly. On its behalf, the Bricker Amendment mobilized a long list of supporters and endorsers: not only the American Legion, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but every conservative activist organization of any consequence. All were united in a mighty crusade to save America from globalist bureaucrats – because, in their mind’s eye, they could see Carla Del Ponte, or, at least, imagine her. What is needed is a similar upsurge of support on behalf of Ron Paul’s heroic effort to restore the Constitution and rein in the War Party. The selective amnesia of our politicians, and their media amen corner, will not be cured by simply analyzing the problem: these people need shock therapy. They need to be reminded, and forcefully, that truth does matter, that law must matter, and that ordinary people take the Constitution seriously – even if in Washington they consider it a dead letter. The Bricker Amendment was the last gasp of the Old Right – the anti-globalist, anti-interventionist conservative movement of the 1940s and 1950s – before the cold war began. Now that the cold war is over, the growing movement to pass H.J.R. 27 and restore constitutional principles to American foreign policy could be the first sign of the Old Right’s return.


I started out complaining about being depressed, but by the time I reached the last paragraph I managed to talk myself out of it: this is what they call therapeutic journalism – but, since I’m not Jonah Goldberg, this column isn’t all about me. Here, at last, is a reason for my readers to be optimistic: here, finally, is an action one can take on behalf peace and liberty. Already, a spontaneous movement is rising up in support of Rep. Paul’s effort: the War and Law League (WALL), a San Francisco-based organization (with which I have no affiliation and only a perfunctory knowledge) is making waves on behalf of the Paul resolution. It isn’t only libertarians who are in the vanguard of this burgeoning movement: mainline peace activists and WALL organizers are making a concerted effort to build what is truly a grassroots phenomenon. So just don’t sit there reading this column: you have a voice. Use it. Get on the phone with your representatives in Congress, and let them know how you feel about House Joint Resolution 27, otherwise known as the Constitutional War Powers Resolution of 2001. Email them and ask why they haven’t agreed to co-sponsor such a worthy cause – and do it now. There’s but one cure for despair, and that is action.


Selective amnesia has reached epidemic proportions among the elites in government and the media: not only do they seem unable to recall the lies they told, they also can’t seem to remember what the Constitution says about the issue of war and peace. However, Dr. Paul – and, yes, he is a medical doctor – seems to have developed a powerful treatment if not the cure: a good dose of constitutional government.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].