Venezuela, Africa

by Jefferson Hansen


— The tyrant's two sons were killed in a gun battle by forces of the superpower.

— How did that happen?

— They were holed up in a building with an incredible cache of automatic guns as well as grenades and rockets and so forth. The two of them held off the attackers for hours.

— How do you know?

— What do you mean, 'how do I know'? I saw it on T.V.

— The news?

— Of course.

— And you believe them?

— What else is there to believe?

— Given that the public relations arm of the armed services is responsible for feeding them all of their information, plenty.

— So you don't believe these guys were shot?

— I didn't say that. I don't know what to believe.

— There were pictures. On the t.v. They showed pictures of the dead sons, with pictures of them alive for comparison. They were the same.

— Ever hear of photo shopping?

— What's you name, again? You're a pain.

— You're a pain. And what's your name? again?

— How could you believe such a thing about the superpower's armed forces?

— Remember the blonde-haired, blued eyed female soldier who was wounded and taken prisoner when remaining behind to heroically defend the patients at the field hospital she was stationed at?

— Yeah.

— It was all bullshit.

— The superpower has no truck with bullshit.

— The p.r. arm of the superpower's armed services spread this story far and wide. Then negotiated for her release from the forces of the petty tyrant, and returned her to Tennessee with instructions not to discuss the nature of her wound or her time as a P.O.W.

— Yeah. I remember that.

— It's all bullshit. When reporters asked to speak to her, her military lawyer said that she couldn't speak because it might compromise the superpower's secrets. That's the first evidence of something fishy: why was she assigned a lawyer by the military? A blogger who knew her since high school has reported that the story was manufactured: she was wounded by friendly fire during the attack on the hospital, then taken elsewhere to recover. The P.O.W. bit was a complete fabrication in order to drum up support for the war.

— You believe this blogger.

— More than I believe Tom Brokaw.

— O.k., fine. The superpower might engage in some propaganda. But faking the deaths of those sons? Come on. What if they show up later?

— The superpower will identify them as imposters. Look, given a certain assumption, I can make all data explicable by it.

— Come again.

— Say I believe the sun revolved around the earth. As did Ptolemy, the Greek. He designed a virtually perfect architectonic explanation for the night sky. His system predicted where the stars and planets would be as well as Copernicus's did in the 16th and 17th centuries. The only difference was that Copernicus's was simpler and, ultimately, won over more converts, but only after a century-long fight. (pause) What's more, there was a Greek, a contemporary of Ptolemy's, who designed a heliocentric system, but the idea that the earth revolved around the sun seemed too far-fetched to even consider.

— What's your point, exactly?

— If the superpower's p.r. arm simply assumes that those sons were killed, then it will explain all subsequent data from that assumption. Any sightings of the "sons" would be considered simply chance, simply people who look like the sons. The worst that could happen is that, if the superpower did find the sons later in the course of this investigation, they would be killed. The end.

— You've got my head spinning. So you are claiming that the p.r. of the superpower's armed services simply assumes a world into being?

— Yes. Until their assumptions are exposed as false. Then they go into "spin control."

— Well, I know what that means. Finally, I am on solid ground.

— So, what did the news say about the sons of the petty tyrant?

— Plenty. Son A_____ spent his whole time gambling. He would travel to the most interesting cities and gamble. Just gamble. Yet there was a catch. He and only he decided when the game was over. Poker games sometimes went on for 36 hours. Sometimes they would play four hours a day for days on end, lounge the rest of the day, and sleep in. Then go at it again. They could do this for weeks until the son was ahead. He used to brag about how he never lost a dime gambling. Of course, he never lost a dime because of his political power, not his gambling skills. He and his henchmen would kill anyone who got out of line, in an instant. And only he and his 'bodyguards' could be armed, of course. (pause) Now, do you believe that?

— Yeah. It could be lies, but people have been saying that for years. Even back when the petty tyrant was the superpower's best friend in the region.

— When was this?

— Ten years ago. Back when he was at war with the religious fanatics in the region. The superpower preferred petty dictators to religious fanatics. At the time, I really don't think it could have done any better. Foreign policy is difficult. At the same time that we supported him, the petty dictator experimented with biological and chemical weapons on one of the minority ethnic groups in his country. There is no doubt that he is a horribly cruel human being. He might even have turned into another Hitler had he the know-how, resources, and intelligence. Basically, I just think the guy was a thug who happened to get power, and kept it through merciless intimidation.

— Then it's good that the superpower is trying to depose him?

— Eventually, it might be for his people. But my guess is that it will cause so much upheaval in the country that people will yearn for the old days of the petty tyrant. If you lay low, for the most part you were o.k. After a war, any country is devastated. And how free do you feel if the only way to get groceries safely is if armed forces from another country are on high alert all around you?

— So, the devil you have is better than the devil you don't?

—I believe that in the long run this country would be better off having some sort of democratic / republican system that is in keeping with their culture. But all reports say that most of the people would prefer to trade the petty tyrant in for a country run by religious zealots enforcing fundamentalist rules. The people don't even want what the superpower considers liberty. (pause) Tell me about the other son.

— Son B_____ was even crazier. He had wild parties at his enormous palace. Thousands of guests would come. And they were all essentially required to be there: If you didn't show, he would have his goons hunt you down, pull you out of the house, and shoot you right in the middle of the street, so that all could see the result of standing him up.

— I have heard a little of this before, but I didn't give it much credence.

— There's more. At these parties, which his wife together with all his countless mistresses were required to attend, he would command that people around him engage immediately in orgies. If a man was having some trouble due to the pressure, he put a knife to his throat. Most guys managed to move things along. And everybody had to smile and moan as if in pleasure. He killed people who were in the act but crying about it. He would do it personally, usually by slicing the throat. (pause) Sometimes he even commanded some of his henchmen to rape specific women, and he forced their husbands or boyfriends to smile while they watched, or he might kill them.

— And to think that the religious men considered a "violated" woman completely ruined and worthy of death, no matter the source of the "violation."

— I am only getting started. Also at these parties he would randomly select people to play Russian Roulette. The real thing. He and his henchmen bet on who would die. If anyone refused to go through with playing the game as instructed, they would be hung on some rings by their wrists and crucified.

— Slow suffocation.

— That's right. So why shouldn't the superpower save these people from that? Isn't war necessary sometimes?

— Yes. Of course. But the country at least ran well before the superpower invaded. Yes, you were always in danger of the random cruelty of the men who ran the country. But how many people lived there? And how few would be affected by this cruelty? Whereas a full-scale invasion of a country would destroy an infrastructure that tens of millions of people depend on. (pause) How about this? Let's say the sons were not killed. Neither one seems like a man who would stand up for himself. Perhaps in exchange for information about their father and other leading members of the government, they were given witness protection? Maybe they now live in suburban Tucson with their wives and three children (the only ones they were allowed to keep.)

— That's insane.

— Why?

— First of all, you're paranoid. Second of all, how many people would need to be involved in such a scenario? Everyone along the chain of command would need to know what was going on, and none could be a whistleblower or a leaker. Highly unlikely.

— I agree with your assessment of most supposed conspiracy theorists. Oswald clearly shot Kennedy. Alone. But this is a different story. The sons may have been wounded, or seemingly wounded. The president and the secretary of defense, with the help of public relations, could inform the soldiers that the sons died in the hospital as a result of wounds sustained during the gunfight.

— Actually, they do say that. Exactly.

— O.K. Those guys are taken care of. Next, two, uncoordinated groups of CIA agents are informed that these men have provided intelligence to the superpower and are to be placed in witness protection. From then on it's clockwork: by simply assuming that the men are run-of-the mill informants, they are treated as such and nobody gets suspicious. Only about five people need to know the truth. (pause) And the sons end up in Tucson. Not hard to imagine.

— Is it as likely as their going down with their boots on?

— Do cowards do that? By the way you describe these men, they are cowards. Spoiled by power, having all they want simply by scaring people. Those are not the type of men who go down fighting.

— What makes you such an expert on this?

— I'm a spy.

— You're a spy!

— Keep it down, you idiot. Well, I was a spy. I am retired now.

— For what country?

— The superpower.

— The superpower. Then how can you be talking so negatively about it?

— I'm not. I'm just giving you the insider's perspective. It ain't a pretty world. We can't go into a tiny country with a petty tyrant and cleanse things. History is stickier than that.

— How can you be so against your country if you spied for it?

— I'm not. It's a complicated world. And we do a lot of horrible things. I know. I saw them. But I am convinced that we are the major force for good in the world. Can you pick a country you'd rather have as the world's single superpower?

— Good question.

Army personnel as pacifist as quakers.

— You're a utopian. There is nothing more dangerous. I have sat in the same room while we cut deals with cutthroats such as the petty tyrant we're currently at war with. For us to do the limited good we can do, we need to know when to turn away from bad stuff we can't help. A superpower has very limited resources, no matter what the numbers about weapons and factories and whatever say. There is no such thing as invading a country and keeping it. Slowly but surely insugencies grow, ebb and flow, but time is on their side. The superpower has other things to think about. Insurgencies don't. It's like prisoners and prison guards. The prison guards always feel a little behind because after their shift they have 16 hours of down time when they are hopefully thinking of something other than their job. But if you're a prisoner, all you think about is escaping or beating the system. What else is there to do? Unless the superpower is willing to turn the country into a prison, where the insurgents are completely neutralized by an overwhelming and oppressive superpower, the insurgency wins. How else can it go? It has never gone differently. The only empires that have retained their colonies have been overtly repressive and merciless. Like the petty tyrant.

— What's your point, exactly?

— Get ready. We in intelligence have spent a lifetime learning to be stealthy. We all knew from the beginning that the president and the secretary of defense wanted to attack the country led by religious zealouts. But they are an extremely dangerous and powerful country: worst-case scenario is WWIII. I am not kidding. So we fudged the data. We made the zealots look much stronger than they really were, and the petty dictator much weaker. We maneuvered the civilian leadership into a less dangerous war.

— That's traitorous.

— No. It's patriotic. And I can tell you this all I want. For the intelligence community to punish people who did this would be foolhardy. It would gut the heart of their power: the bureaucrats and faceless mid-level spies and intelligence analyzers. We make the fools dance, not the other way around.

— You have a high opinion of yourself.

— Not really. It's systemic. We spend decades in intelligence. There's a new president and administration every eight years at the most. You do the math. Isn't it reasonable to suppose we are calling the shots when it comes to foreign policy? I'll tell you another thing. The only place you will find more pacifists than you do in the intelligence and military communities is at a Quaker meeting. No kidding. We see how horrible war is. Of course we hate it.

— (after a long lull in the conversation) Where were you stationed as a spy?

— Africa.

— Where in Africa?


— Venezuela is not in Africa.

— Yes it is. I ought to know. I spent years there.

— I am positive that Venezuela is in South America.

— Well, I won't try to show you up. You are free to believe what you want. But Venezuela is in Africa.