9 - Misinformation and the “War on Terror”: when memory turns fiction into fact  pp. 179-203

Misinformation and the “War on Terror”: when memory turns fiction into fact

By Stephan Lewandowsky, Werner G. K. Stritzke, Klaus Oberauer and Michael Morales

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If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.

(Descartes, Principles of Philosophy (1644))

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction”; “we know where they are.” These statements, made in 2002 and 2003 by the US Vice President, Dick Cheney, and the US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, respectively, turned out to have no basis in fact when the post-invasion search for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq failed to turn up any tools of chemical or biological warfare, let alone the massive stockpiles that US officials insisted had been hidden by the Iraqi regime. Notwithstanding, polls conducted in the United States for up to a year after the invasion, by which time the absence of WMDs had become fully evident and made public, continued to reveal a persistent belief in their existence among 20% to 40% of respondents (Kull et al., 2004; PIPA, 2004). Indeed, for several months after President Bush declared the war to have ended (May 1, 2003), some 20% of respondents additionally believed that Iraq had in fact used chemical or biological weapons on the battlefield during the immediately preceding conflict (Kull et al., 2004.)

Lest one think that these figures merely represent some inertia of opinion, with those erroneous beliefs inexorably fading over time, polls conducted in March, 2006, revealed that nearly a quarter of Americans continued to believe that Iraq possessed WMDs just before the invasion (PIPA, 2006).

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