“Among other common lies, we have the silent lie — The deception which one conveys by simply keeping still and concealing the truth. Many obstinate truth-mongers indulge in this dissipation, imagining that if they speak no lie, they lie not at all.” —Mark Twain (1835-1910)
In “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu reminds us that “all warfare is based on deception.” As an ROTC cadet at Catawba College in North Carolina, my military instructors often provided examples of how commanders utilized deception to gain an advantage over the enemy. In fact, “here’s to the confusion of our enemies” is a toast often heard at military celebrations. One of the most successful and complicated military deceptions in our history was Operation Fortitude, the code name given to one of World War II’s most significant misinformation campaigns. The ruse involved perhaps one of the greatest generals of the 20th century, Lt. Gen. George Patton. He was placed in command of the First U.S. Army Group, which consisted of a skeleton staff, countless dummy tanks, planes and landing craft positioned around England to confuse the Germans on where the D-Day landings would take place. The deception was extraordinarily complex and included fake military radio traffic, the use of double agents to send false information and controlled information leaks through diplomatic channels. The Allied effort was designed to convince the Germans they were facing two Army groups and that the invasion would hit Pas-de-Calais rather than Normandy. It is impossible to know for sure what impact Operation Fortitude had on the successful D-Day invasion, although most historians believe it resulted in significant German confusion that likely benefited the Allied invasion effort. In short, deception or lying is an accepted weapon of war.
It is no secret to consumers of this column that I have been dismayed at the disinformation and disregard for truth that has permeated the recent presidential election and the current administration’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The facts regarding the election in this country are clear and not subtle. As I am writing this, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have certified their election results, indicating that former Vice President Joe Biden won the election with 306 electoral votes (51.4% popular vote) to President Donald Trump’s 232 (46.9% popular vote). Interestingly, Biden has won with the same electoral margin that Trump won in 2016 against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which Trump claimed as a landslide victory. Biden enjoyed over 7 million more American votes than Trump. These are the immutable facts of the election.
A joint statement from the independent Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (GCC) and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Executive Committee states: “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.”1 This has not impressed Trump in the least. He continues to maintain the election was stolen and the democratic vote was fraudulent. The Trump campaign has attempted to legitimize this narrative through the courts filing 38 legal challenges to the election results—all have failed. After four years of the Trump presidential experience, his behavior regarding the election is hardly surprising; moreover, it was predicted.
More concerning to me is the recently written support of 105 House Republicans for the lawsuit brought by the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to the U.S. Supreme Court. He alleges the state governments of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Michigan unlawfully changed their voting laws, resulting in election irregularities and skewed results. The U.S. Constitution Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 is not ambiguous regarding who is responsible for administering our elections, stating, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing(sic) Senators.” (The nation’s highest court refused to hear the case.)
Why Texas government leaders feel they have anything to say regarding another state’s conduct of an election, after the fact, is well beyond my understanding. Then again, I am just a simple federal physician and retired colonel who has devoted a career to protecting and defending the ideas of our democracy as set down in the Constitution. Perhaps I am the chump here.
I am not so naïve to not understand the political realities of those so desperate not to lose their political power that supporting this political farce might seem politically justified. Trump’s influence over a large portion of our electorate is undeniable. It is as powerful as it is baffling to someone like myself. I foolishly learned from my parents and passed the idea along to my children that truth matters, and honorable people were truthful in all things.
In a warped twist of karma, the GOP may suffer from their embrace of “alternative facts” in the contested senatorial runoff elections in Georgia that will determine the Senate’s leadership. Many Republican voters do not see the point in voting in the runoff election if the voting system is as fraudulent as the president insists. Admittedly, my more imperfect angels revel in the sweet righteousness of this political irony. However, the horror this represents for our democracy is soberingly frightening.
To the current administration’s credit, Operation Warp Speed essentially provided a blank check to COVID-19 vaccine developers, which has contributed to a medical miracle. The development of a vaccine that is greater than 90% effective in under a year is mind-boggling in the medical technological prowess this effort demonstrates. As the president-elect points out, though, the vaccine is only as good as the number of Americans who get vaccinated. The need for the public to accept the vaccine is where the passive acceptance of many of our elected officials to the present administration’s disinformation exacts its vengeance on our society. I have tried to make the case earlier in the editorial that deception, whether through active lies or by failing to confront a mistruth through silence, is a warfare tool. American citizens have lost faith in the institutions on which this country depends. The vitriolically false and conflicting messages from our elected leaders may appear to be the right course of action as a loyal member of a political party, but this activity is not healthy for our democracy.
Misinformation is a tool of warfare and has no place in the conduct of American politics. Even the most uncomplicated, science-based advice regarding the virus, such as masking, avoiding crowds, and social distancing, has become politicized. As an Army physician, I have spent a lifetime doing “what is good for soldiers.” Many of our elected officials’ current political antics and silence regarding this election’s falsehoods and the pandemic are not suitable for soldiers or citizens.
As a profession, healthcare providers continue to enjoy a privileged position in society as reliable sources for factual information regarding public health. Perhaps more than at any time in our history, we cannot allow misinformation or deception to confuse the American population regarding the COVID-19 vaccination. It is our duty to inform our patients fully regarding the benefits and side effects of the vaccine. This information must represent the best available science and be politically agnostic. Furthermore, as uncomfortable as it can be, we must actively challenge the anti-science and anti-vaccination attitudes of those who would deter others from receiving the vaccination for dubious reasons. We must educate our patients that the vaccination protects them directly and, in time, will provide protection for fellow citizens who might not have the luxury of receiving a vaccine.
Conquering the COVID-19 pandemic is the task for federal medicine in 2021. If we are true to this goal, truthful in our profession, and truly supportive of our Constitution, we can make 2021 a sight better than 2020 (no matter how ridiculously low a bar that is).
- https://www.cisa.gov/news/2020/11/12/joint-statement-elections-infrastructure-government-coordinating-council-election. Accessed 11 December 2020.