Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When Myth is Treated as Reality

There’s a danger when someone has grown up in an environment where they’re subjected to distorted, inaccurate propaganda.  That danger is further compounded when such individuals have access to such information platforms as the Internet.
This was driven home to me quite clearly recently when, after I’d made a presentation to a local Harare think tank, during the question and answer session that followed, a young man tried to present to me a “Wikileaks document that is the U.S. plan to invade Zimbabwe.”  Now, I’d not previously heard of the so-called document and wasn’t prepared to debate it with him, but I did later do some research and discovered the ‘truths’ that this young man so zealously presented.  Herewith is the result of my research.
Operation Shumba, the document the young man claimed was the US Government’s plan for an invasion of Zimbabwe, was taken directly off the Internet.  Now, that in itself had aroused my suspicions when he brought it up.  We don’t usually put our military plans on the Internet for all to peruse.  Secondly, with 20 years in the military, I’d never heard of us giving such a name to an operation – what American can even pronounce it correctly.  Then, there’s the document itself, which can easily be found through Google.
It was on the University of Indiana page – also not a place where official government documents can be found – and contained the names of a professor and several students. Well, guess what folks?  It was a class project that, like many class documents these days, was put on the university Web site for other students and researchers to read.  Never did they think someone in faraway Zimbabwe would download their class paper and try to use it to claim it as proof that the US has nefarious intentions toward their country.  Of course, they’ve never had to deal with paranoid propagandists who routinely mold facts to fit their ideology and who haven’t even a nodding acquaintance with that old concept called honesty.
Anyone reading the document with an open mind will see immediately that it is not an official government document.  It might take a little to figure out that it’s not even real – but, common sense would lead a rational person to come to that conclusion eventually.  When, however, one has for a lifetime been subjected to lies and distortions by a regime that tries to block any other sources of information – branding anything that it disagrees with as ‘illegal’ – it is probably understandable that one could misunderstand.  I’m being generous here – chances are the misunderstanding in this case was quite deliberate and meant to put me on the spot.
I hope that young man reads this and has had time to see where he erred.  If you make a public claim, you’d better have all your facts straight and unassailable.  If you make an accusation based on something you find on the Internet you must remember, others can access that same information.  Furthermore, they might also think to contact the author of the document to verify its nature – that’s what I did.
Don’t play too loose with the truth – lies can become a noose that entangle you.  Operation Shumba is like a lot of the other urban legends that fly around that have no basis in reality.  There are no black UN helicopters zipping around Utah; no American prisoners in tiger cages in Southeast Asian jungles; and there is no plan to invade Zimbabwe.