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  • Writer's pictureDan FitzPatrick

Something in the Air

By Cadbury FitzPatrick

I have two new pen pals. Clementine (I call her Clemmie) lives in a very large place called California, which as she explains it to me has very nice weather all year round but otherwise seems pretty odd to me. Clemmie first noticed my column when her human family put the newspaper under her water bowl (the male member of my human family was pretty annoyed at that). Clemmie introduced me to her friend, Liberty, who lives in a place called DC, which is very small but filled with lots of very self-important humans who spend all their time arguing with one another and accomplishing very little in the process, which seems odd in the extreme.

Like me, Clemmie and Liberty are both dogs. Clemmie is a black Labrador Retriever and Liberty is a purebred American Cocker Spaniel. I am an Australian Shepherd, which despite its name is a breed that originated here in the United States (how they got that wrong I will never know). Despite our differences, we three get along famously.

Liberty and Clemmie lived near each other in California before Liberty’s human family moved to DC to work in something called “The Government” (the way she describes it, it must be very important). Apparently, DC was built for a specific purpose and is full of beautiful buildings arranged in a kind of park-like setting. Many of them have special meaning to the humans, who come in great numbers throughout the year just to visit them. It sounds like a very special place.

For the most part, Liberty has been happy living in DC. More recently, however, she has grown very troubled. She is used to seeing large, noisy crowds of humans gather at these special buildings, often to hear long speeches from other humans who seem always to be speaking louder than they need to. But now, she tells me, DC is very quiet. Hardly any humans come from other places to visit. Tall metal barriers topped with circles of very sharp wire have been placed around all of the special buildings. Armed humans in uniforms called “soldiers” can be seen everywhere in DC; they arrived right after an incident at the very big building on a hill but are still there, many weeks after the event. Liberty says she does not understand why the barriers and soldiers remain in DC now that what the humans call the “change in Government” has occurred (according to Liberty, this has happened many times before in the past, but never with all the barriers and soldiers).

Liberty is an intelligent and very thoughtful dog. She senses that something is not right in DC. The constant arguing among the humans does not worry her; she is used to it. Arguing is what humans come to DC to do, though she never experienced it to be as consistently nasty and personally hurtful as it is now. She is beginning to wonder how long her human family will stay in DC.

Liberty has another animal friend, a Great Horned Owl named Rix. Rix is old, and wise, and has lived in DC for a very long time, nested high up near the dome of a building called the Library of Congress. As an owl, Rix has extraordinarily acute hearing and is very active at night. Over the years, he has learned many things about humans and how they live and act.

Rix is troubled too. He told Liberty a fable based on what he had learned of human history, which she passed on to me. Now I am troubled as well.

Apparently, there was another country, far away from here, that years ago decided to fight with its neighbors for land and wealth. It lost and was forced to pay a terrible price. The animals in that country suffered greatly and chose for their new leader a wolf named Dolf. Shortly thereafter, the country’s central meeting place for organizing affairs and resolving differences was intentionally destroyed by fire. Dolf accused a member of a rival animal group of setting the fire; that animal and others in the same group were arrested. Dolf then used the incident to issue an emergency decree suspending all animal liberties and began a ruthless effort to eliminate the rival group. Dolf and his followers instituted mass arrests of the group’s members, including all of its leaders. With the majority of his opposition out of the way or silenced, Dolf assumed total power over the country. He then led his country into another disastrous fight with its neighbors.

Years later, evidence surfaced suggesting that Dolf and his party had actually planned and ordered the setting of the fire as part of what Rix said humans refer to as a “false flag operation.”

Liberty had been confused by this story and asked Rix how Dolf had managed to get away with his actions. Rix explained that Dolf and his followers had successfully used a technique which the humans refer to as a “Big Lie,” the basic premise of which is that humans (and animals) can actually be convinced to believe something – even something fanciful or demonstrably false – if it is repeated over and over again, ideally from multiple sources, and if they are prevented or discouraged from finding out the truth.

Dolf was aided in his deception by a very cunning brown rat derisively nicknamed Gerbil. Gerbil was a master of disinformation (also known as lies), which he cleverly fed out to the country’s animal population through various means, including allies in the animal leadership and others whom he knew had the ability to influence opinion. He adroitly set one group on another so as to keep all opposition to Dolf’s leadership fractured and weak. He demonized entire species as evil and the cause of all of the country’s problems. He used labels to humiliate and depersonalize opponents, even to the point of making them pariahs and second-class citizens of the animal community. He used hate as both a shield and a weapon to protect and advance Dolf’s agenda. All to enormous pain and long-lasting harm to the animals in that country.

Liberty shared her concerns with me. The incident at the big building on the hill was very bad, but she can’t help but think that the reaction to it, particularly the continued presence of the barriers and soldiers, was extreme. As there does not appear to be any ongoing security threat, why would the humans continue to expend time and resources that could be used elsewhere? Is there another reason for continuing to be so visibly on alert? Is someone in the Government trying to send a message that a threat exists, possibly even from members of its own citizenry? Is someone using the Big Lie technique to label and demean others with different opinions? Could that be a precursor to declaring those people potential threats to the country, worthy of preemptive arrest and silencing? Could someone be coordinating messaging from multiple sources in aid of this effort? Could it be that someone could be so cynical as to use a temporary crisis to impose draconian solutions unthinkable in times past?

I don’t have any answers for Liberty, but I share her concern. If I could, I would go to our local meeting place and bark my head off as a warning to my friends. I would ask everyone to use their own common sense, to view critically all information that seems questionable, to ask questions and insist on truthful answers. I would remind all who would listen that history has a tendency to repeat itself, but that nothing is cast in stone, and that it is the citizens of the community who possess the sovereign right to determine their destiny. That leaders are accountable to those they lead and responsible for acting only in their best interest. That freedom is not free.

I would bark. But would anyone listen?

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