Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Drinking the Kool-Aid

W. Patrick Lang

Col. Lang is president of Global Resources, Inc. and former defense intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). For a printable pdf version of this article, click here.

Throughout my long service life in the Department of Defense, first as an army officer and then as a member of the Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service, there was a phrase in common usage: "I will fall on my sword over that." It meant that the speaker had reached a point of internal commitment with regard to something that his superiors wanted him to do and that he intended to refuse even though this would be career suicide. The speaker preferred career death to the loss of personal honor.

This phrase is no longer widely in use. What has taken its place is far more sinister in its meaning and implications. "I drank the Kool-Aid" is what is now said. Those old enough to remember the Jonestown tragedy know this phrase all too well. Jim Jones, a self-styled "messiah" from the United States, lured hundreds of innocent and believing followers to Guyana, where he built a village, isolated from the world, in which his Utopian view of the universe would be played out. He controlled all news, regulated all discourse and expression of opinion, and shaped behavior to his taste. After a time, his paranoia grew unmanageable and he "foresaw" that "evil" forces were coming to threaten his "paradise." He decided that these forces were unstoppable and that death would be preferable to living under their control. He called together his followers in the town square and explained the situation to them. There were a few survivors, who all said afterward that within the context of the "group-think" prevailing in the village, it sounded quite reasonable. Jim Jones then invited all present to drink from vats of Kool-Aid containing lethal doses of poison. Nearly all did so, without physical coercion. Parents gave their children the poison and then drank it themselves. Finally Jones drank. Many hundreds died with him.

What does drinking the Kool-Aid mean today? It signifies that the person in question has given up personal integrity and has succumbed to the prevailing group-think that typifies policymaking today. This person has become "part of the problem, not part of the solution."

What was the "problem"? The sincerely held beliefs of a small group of people who think they are the "bearers" of a uniquely correct view of the world, sought to dominate the foreign policy of the United States in the Bush 43 administration, and succeeded in doing so through a practice of excluding all who disagreed with them. Those they could not drive from government they bullied and undermined until they, too, had drunk from the vat.

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