This paper is concerned with the history of the lie of innocence, its use in contemporary political dialogue and its representation in literature throughout the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries. It will be proposed that the concept of innocence is built upon a lie, constructed as a ‘truth’ that does not exist and employed by those who seek to legitimize their claim to power. The current political climate in Australia brings to the fore the examples of how the ‘lie of innocence’ can be used for political advantage and mirrors the slogans of Political Power Brokers in the present American Administration. The Australian Government’s recent para-military intervention in the self governance of remote Aboriginal Communities in the Northern Territory is a timely reminder of the cynicism of political appeals to the ‘innocence’ of the child – upheld as society’s sacred cow, where propaganda – terms and images – are substituted for deliberation.
The Children Overboard Affair was an Australian political controversy that arose in October 2001. This incident was triggered when the Australian Government claimed that a number of children had been thrown overboard from a suspected illegal entry vessel intercepted by the Navy off Christmas Island. The vessel, the Tampa, was carrying a number of asylum seekers bound for Australia. It was claimed by the Australian Prime Minister John Howard, that the motivation of those allegedly throwing their children overboard was to effectively “force” the Royal Australian Navy to rescue the children and their parents. The claim was used to cast doubt on the morality of these refugees representing them as willing to use any unscrupulous means to gain illegal entry into Australia. This incident became known as the Children Overboard Affair during which an indignant Howard sought to flame disgust and resentment for those who could treat ‘innocents’ with such criminal abandonment. A subsequent parliamentary committee found that not only was the accusation that children had been thrown overboard untrue, the Government knew it to be untrue at the time of the incident. Nevertheless the sensational portrayal of the abuse of ‘innocents’ had the desired effect upon the Australian populace; ignited by moral outrage at the apparent abuse of the ‘innocent’, Australian voters turned to Howard as the champion of the sacred and within weeks the Government triumphed at the Federal Elections.
The recent intervention of the Howard Government in the self-determination of Aboriginal Communities has been represented in much of the Australian media as ‘Black Children Overboard’. One does not have to be a cynic to suggest that Howard has adopted a similar strategy, representing himself as the patriarchal guardian of the ‘innocent’. However, if we consider that the findings from the ‘Little Children are Sacred’ Report (2007), upon which this intervention was legitimised, mirrored Government commissioned reports from 1989, 1991,1993, 1997 and 2002, doubts arise as to the veracity of the Howard Government’s commitment to the plight of Australia’s most vulnerable (Gordon 02; Wild 07). Since the devastation of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre a common theme to the Presidential speeches of George W. Bush has been his reference to the ‘innocent’. The frequent use of the term ‘innocent’ raises the obvious questions: ‘Who is innocent and why?’ and ‘Innocent of what?’
In his essay ‘The History of the Lie’, Jacques Derrida contends that the concept of the lie has a history (Derrida 2001). He refers to the ‘internal historicity’ of the lie and examines the influences upon its transformation and the possibility of ‘ruptures’ within the Western tradition. He notes that the ‘lie’ is difficult to extract when history itself might be seen as a story of lies. Just as the concept of the ‘lie’ has a history and culture ‘that has and continues to have an affect on how one lies and the presentation of the lie’, so the history of the concept of ‘innocence’ has a history that mirrors the ‘lie’ (Derrida, 2001:71). Derrida acknowledges that the concept of the ‘lie’ is problematic because one cannot prove someone is lying even if it can be demonstrated that what is said is not true. Considering the possible causes for the misrepresentation of truth Derrida asks, ‘what is it a matter of here: Incompetence? Lack of lucidity or analytical acuity? Good faith ignorance? Accidental error? Compulsion and logic of the unconscious? An outright false witness, perjury, lie?’ (Derrida 1986:83). The reasons for the evidence of a lie ‘contaminate one another and no longer lend themselves to a rigorous delimitation’. However, if as Derrida proposes the lie ‘addresses belief rather than knowledge’ it cannot be the ‘history of an error’ (Derrida 1986:86). We are left with the possibility that the ‘lie’ is constructed upon a desire to produce a simplistic ‘truth effect’: confirming a previously held belief. Similarly we may conclude that one lies to oneself to fulfill a given agenda or the demands of an ideology or belief.
Derrida works within a frame that accepts Nietzsche’s contention that Christianity embraced a lie in its portrayal of a ‘true world’ (Nietzsche 1990:50). The Christian notion of a ‘true world’ finds its roots in the rule of law constructed upon judgments of good and evil. It is from these constructions of good and evil that the ‘lie of innocence’ has emanated. If we consider that any logical judgment of ‘innocence’ is effectively determined by some standard other than innocence itself, then Christianity’s claim to the knowledge of good and evil subsequently becomes the value by which innocence is adjudicated, rather than on innocence itself, if indeed this state is one that is definable or apprehensible. Christian notions of good and evil are based on a belief in its authority to identify ‘innocence’ and to judge its opposing Christian ethics and impose verdicts according to its particular purposes and ends.
Christianity’s Lie of Innocence
Under its numerous guises, the ‘lie of innocence’ appears to be beyond suspicion and hence avoids the circumspection necessary to evaluate the veracity of such judgements. However, such ambiguity is essential if the ‘lie’ is to maintain its religious immunity while retaining its socio-political currency. Christianity has consistently overlooked the disparity between its prophetic championing of the ‘innocent’ and the reality that its own stories repeatedly represent the ‘innocent’ as inconsequential, mere ‘collateral damage’ amidst a history of power struggles. Thus ‘innocence’ provides a resource for those who seek to profit from the construction of a sacrosanct idealism which serves to avoid scrutiny. It may be the greatest irony that the Christian tradition – on the whole – has failed to recognise the symbolism of the biblical legend upon which some of its most damning and oppressive doctrines are constructed.
In the Genesis narrative of the ‘Garden of Eden’ – also known as the ‘Fall of Man’ (and woman) – we picture a garden with only two points of orientation: two trees, ‘the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’ and the ‘Tree of Life’ (Genesis 2.8-9). Such conspicuous recognition suggests considerable significance and indeed these ‘trees’ have proved to be central agents in the destiny of human/deity relations. Christianity has interpreted this story as a relatively simple equation; the prohibition ‘Don’t eat from that tree’ is transgressed (Genesis 2.17). Hence according to the dominant Christian theology sin enters the world and the state of innocence is lost. Humanity is banished from paradise and removed from the presence of God (Genesis 3.24).
This reading of the ‘Fall’ proffers a metaphysical explanation for the ‘sin’ that has contaminated the human race – a transcendental rogue gene bequeathed to today’s 6.5 billion descendants. Christian leaders from St. Augustine of Hippo, through to Pope Benedict XVI and any number of American evangelists, have supported this interpretation of the ‘Fall’. This inquiry into the history of the lie of ‘innocence’ is derailed by such transcendent knowledge beyond the parameters of history and thus human analysis. However, a symbolic reading of this legend permits philosophy to shed a more humanly intelligible light on this mystery. Indeed Nietzsche, 2500 years later argued that one should seek to transform everything ‘into the humanly-conceivable, the humanly-evident, the humanly-palpable!’ (Nietzsche, 1977:243). Of course Nietzsche’s argument comes at a time of secularisation when he deems the biblical stories into the realm of parable and myth. His view is one that maintains that the old ‘myths’ constructed constructs of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that dehumanised the lives of man and women who for centuries were led to sacrifice aspects of being human that would disqualify them from eternal life with god. If one accepts the biblical stories as mere interpretation rather than sacred revelation, a Nietzschean interpretation of Genesis not only questions the dominant – literal – reading of this text. It might also be argued that the history of the ‘lie of innocence’ is a product of the intentional misrepresentation of the ‘Fall’ endorsed by those who seek to create an ideological ‘truth effect’, constructed upon notions of good and evil (Derrida, 1986:86). Exposing this lie will require us to reconsider the perspective of the ‘Serpent’ in the ‘Fall’ legend – ironically represented in Christendom as a manifestation of the ‘Father of Lies’.
Traditionally, Christianity has equated the Serpent’s claim that humanity ‘will not surely die’ if they attain the knowledge of good and evil, with seditious intent. The declaration ‘God knows that when you eat of [the tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’, is regarded as paramount to rebellion, an act of treason against God (Genesis 3.5). However, we may also read the Serpent’s proclamation as an expression of humanity’s historical fixation with good and evil and how this obsession is manifested in a self-delusional claim to omniscience. The significance of this lust for omniscience and its impact upon the fate of those adjudged as ‘innocent’ will be examined in biblical narrative. In seeking the genealogy of the history of the ‘lie of innocence’, I have decided to begin with the biblical text in that it is a source that will become integral to the symbolic worlds of western art, literature and social expression up to the present day. The aim is to follow its pathway and ascertain the extent to which its iconography of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ permeates aesthetic constructions of culture both during the period of secularization and post secularization. The aim is to examine how ‘the concept of innocence’, bred in the certainties of biblical ethics, evolves over time in literary symbolic constructions. This analysis hopes that by pin-pointing the ambiguities and contradictory aspects of its biblical construction one may trace an historical development of a lie that continues to serve and sanctify the most villainess of intentions.
The Bible provides numerous references to ‘innocence’ and the ‘innocent’. In the majority of contexts the term ‘innocent’ relates to matters of law. Typically innocence is represented in the form of a pronouncement followed by a statement of cause and effect. For example, the Old Testament book Exodus states: ‘Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty’ (Ex 23.7). Prophetic texts address the betrayal of the ‘innocent’ and the impending judgment of those who abuse them; destruction will be reaped upon those who bring harm to the ‘innocent’. The second most common reference to the ‘innocent’ appears in relation to religious devotion. ‘Innocence’ is imputed as the moral state of those who participate in and conform to the dictates of religious observance. Thirdly, we find the term ‘innocent’ associated with those who are characterised by powerlessness such as children, the poor and vulnerable. ‘Innocence’ is shown to be characteristic of people who do not have the means to revolt against their masters.
Throughout Old Testament narrative the ‘innocent’ serve as minor characters and devoid of individual identity, are relegated to particular demographic groups such as women poor, children/infants or according to their ethnicity. Within these narratives the fate of such ‘innocents’ is dependent upon the social and religious demands imposed by religious observance. This observance within the society of its emergence will be qualified in terms of Birthright/Ethnicity; the wealth of relevant parties; the social control of sexual desire and the demands of prevailing laws.
Firstly I will briefly consider the relationship between ‘righteousness’ and ‘innocence’ within Old Testament narrative. The ‘Sacrifice of Issac’ is the story of the Hebrew Patriarch Abraham, who takes his son Issac to a high mountain altar upon which he is to be sacrificed. Abraham acts in obedience to the command of his god and his instructions are quite straightforward: ‘Take your son, your only son, Issac, whom you love… sacrifice him there as a burnt offering’ (Gen 22.2). The story reads as a test of Abraham’s devotion to god, regardless of the cost of such devotion. Issac carries the wood for his own sacrifice and Abraham is shown to be willing to butcher his son like a lamb. At the climax of the story, as the knife is raised, god intervenes and stays Abraham’s hand. Calling to Abraham, an angel suggests that a near by ram in some thickets is a more appropriate sacrifice. Consequently, due to Abraham’s willingness to kill his son he is regarded as righteous and blessed (Gen 22.16-18). There is no suggestion in the text that Issac is aware of his fate, however, he is represented as willing to comply with his father’s will even to the point of death. We are given no indication that Abraham displayed any sense of what one might consider a natural emotional reaction – whether it be despair, reticence or anger – to such a request. In this narrative we witness religion assuming the authority to demand the sacrifice of the ‘innocent’ without question or challenge. In the Bible there is a requirement for those who will inherit the kingdom to express, in life, evidence that one is a devotee to his god without question.
The expectation of religious devotion comes to the fore in the book of Job, where the protagonist is tested to the extreme by a god who seeks to counter accusations of favouritism levelled by the Satan. We are presented with the following rhetorical question: ‘Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?’ (Job 4.7) By implication this question suggests that the ‘innocent’ are sheltered from unjust suffering, a claim that is contradicted repeatedly throughout Old Testament narrative. Ethnicity determines one’s ‘innocence’ in a number of narratives, most significantly in texts that speak of divinely ordained genocide or ethnic cleansing, commonly referred to as the ‘Holy Ban’ in contemporary Christian terminology. One such story features the prophet Samuel who commissions King Saul on behalf of the Israelite God: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says … Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants’ (1 Sam 15.2a, 3). King Saul is duty bound to annihilate a people – inclusive of those deemed innocent – due to their ethnicity. Punishment of the wicked is dispensed through the wholesale slaughter of the Amalekites, the apparent innocent among them. The implication that the ‘upright’ are not ‘destroyed’ – as noted in Job – is contradicted in this narrative; the children and infants are openly marked for death.
The book of Deuteronomy sets a legal precedent regarding one’s innocence in relation to the transgression of a family member: ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for their children nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin’ (Deut 24.19). Therefore punishment due to one’s ethnicity or alleged inherited guilt – such as that espoused by the doctrine of ‘original sin’ – is brought into question. The issue of individual accountability and inherited guilt is raised in the Story of ‘David and Bathsheba’. King David, having instigated a sexual liaison with Bathsheba the wife of Uriah the Hittite, subsequently ensures that Uriah is killed in battle to avoid any ramification from his adultery (2 Sam 11.2-5). In response to David’s transgressions, the prophet Nathan declares: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says. Because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die’ (2 Sam 12.7, 14). That the death of Bathsheba’s child is imputed as a consequence of David’s sin, directly contradicts the Deuteronomy proclamation that ‘each is to die for his own sin’ and hence exposes the ‘lie of innocence’. Those deemed to be ‘innocent’ in biblical prophetic texts, are vicariously sacrificed in compliance with the demands of religious observance, ethnic purity, sexual transgression or legal dictates.
There are a number of stories in the Old Testament where characters who are representative of the archetypes of powerlessness, who reject the fate that is imposed upon them by the powerful. These characters take on the role of protagonists who illuminate the relationship between power and ‘innocence’; they find their roots in the ‘Garden of Eden’. If we go beyond the constraints of the metaphor, the ‘Tree of life’ suggests the possibility of a living principle that is not viewed as an alternative mode of life, perhaps, until the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, who in undermining the ‘truth’ factor in the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ reminds one that there may be another way of living life. The ‘Tree of life’ was a metaphor in the Bible that is not developed but rather subsumed by the ‘Fall’ and thus loses its right to grow. It is my contention that the ‘Tree of Life’ can only grow within an environs that is not determined by fixed moralities imposed by proclamations of certainties in relation to what is righteous.
Sons against the Father: Innocence of Becoming
Nietzsche’s invalidation of absolute values and his proclamation for the need of a re-evaluation of values leads to his conceptual framework of the ‘Innocence of Becoming’, which heralds the capacity of each person to create one’s own values rather than following ones dictated by the Bible or church dogma. Reading the seeds of discontent between the laws and its transgressors can be found in the biblical stories. Read retrospectively, one sees the seeds of modern protagonists who in defining their way differently from the father’s way pre-empt the narratives of modernist texts.
Typically we find tension between the will of the father, and the son who seeks to create space for the expression of his own will and ambition. In the majority of cases the father does not tolerate dissension from a son who will not comply with the constraints and expectations imposed upon him. The story of King Saul and his acrimonious relationship with his son Jonathon brings to light the tension between ‘innocence’ and the demand for unconditional obedience. During a skirmish between the Israelite and Philistine armies King Saul had ‘bound the people under an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!’ (1 Sam 14.24). In response Jonathon reasons: ‘My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies’. Jonathon’s bemusement is evident when he asks Saul, ‘I merely tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now I must die?’ Saul’s judgement is unequivocal: ‘May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathon’ (1 Sam 14.29, 30). In Old Testament narratives the father responds to dissent in one of two ways: either the son is abandoned and thus assumes the plight of the orphan, or he is killed. The son who by his refusal to comply or acknowledge the father’s will, is symbolic of the individual who rebels against the imposition of power, yet refuses to resort to the violence that legitimises such power. The son who refuses to collude or comply with the will of the father is never pronounced ‘innocent’.
Innocence in Literature
Literary works written in the secular age from the mid 19th Century to today have drawn upon the multi-functional nature of the concept of ‘innocence’. Although the themes identified in Old Testament narrative resound in many novels of this period, the representation of the ‘lie of innocence’ continues to evolve. I will draw on two examples. The writings of Albert Camus whose novels written in the modernist era attempts to explore the philosophical dilemmas for people without a god and who live in a world without the reassurance of possible redemption and eternal salvation. It is instructive to see the way Camus treats the idea of ‘innocence’ and how he demonstrates its inherent contradictions.
In his novels The Outsider and The Plague, Camus asks us to consider how one can be innocent in a world that is absurd. In abandoning the constructs of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ dictated by Christian religion, Camus is caught in a period in which the memory of old ‘truths’ impinge on the attempt to bring about the new. The concept of an absolute standard of truth, or the belief that truth is of value, is central to the Christian concept of ‘innocence’. One deemed to be righteous is by implication ‘innocent’ of transgression against God. However, if God is refuted and dismissed from the equation: ‘there can no longer be any a priori since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it’ (Sartre 1975:353).
In the Outsider the language employed by Camus experiments with a character who seems to be without any particular set of values or beliefs other than those that emanate from a need for physical pleasure (Camus 1982). Camus shows how values held in the society form the central component of constructed reality; his ‘absurd hero’ Meursault problematises and subverts these constructed meanings. Meursault is in ‘a process of becoming’ in a philosophical sense as Camus tests the possibility of coming to values without pre-knowledge of them; he is a man who is ‘pre-conscious’ in relation to ethics in a world that he experiences as devoid of meaning beyond the sensory experience of a moment. It is not until he commits a ‘murder’ that he becomes aware of ethical concerns as constructed by society. Sartre suggests that Meursault is portrayed as ‘one of those terrible innocents who shock society by not accepting the rules of the game’ (Sartre 1968:28). Camus asserts that the ‘most incorrigible vice’ is ‘ignorance which fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill’ (Camus 1968:110). In Meursault’s trial for murder, the Magistrate, from a self proclaimed place of ‘innocence’ ironically sentences an ‘innocent’ to death.
In The Plague, Camus represents the Christian response to ‘innocence’, suffering and the imminence of death, through the character Father Paneloux (Camus 1968). For Paneloux the ‘scourge’ of the plague represents God’s legitimate revenge sent to humble the ‘proud of heart’ and lay low those who ‘hardened themselves against Him’ – here we may detect echo’s of the ‘Holy Ban’ (Camus 1968:80). His later confrontation with the suffering and death of a child ruptures the ‘lie’ of religious dogma and rationalisation upon which he had constructed his prior notion of death. Amidst the intolerable agony of a dying child Camus captures the suffering of the ‘innocent’: ‘big tears welled up and trickled down the sunken, leaden-hued cheeks’, the ‘child lay flat…in a grotesque parody of crucifixion’ (Camus 1968:175). Upon the death of the child, Rieux lashes out in ‘mad revolt’ against Paneloux’s benevolent god: ‘Ah! That child anyhow, was innocent and you know it as well as I do!’ (Camus 1968:177). Rieux exposes the ‘lie’ on which Paneloux’s concept of ‘love’ is constructed. Refusing to take comfort in religious platitudes he declares, ‘No Father. I’ve a very different idea of love. And until my dying day I shall refuse to love a scheme of things in which children are put to torture!’ (Camus 1968:178). Commenting on Christianity, Camus writes that ‘everything is ordered in such a way as to bring into being that poisoned peace produced by thoughtlessness, lack of heart or fatal renunciations’ (Camus 2000:25). One cannot find ‘innocence’ if it requires forgetting the unreasonableness of the world or seek comfort from our anguish in the seductions of the ‘lie’, in faith or belief because this is a leap into forgetting.
I wish now to look at a more recent text written primarily for adolescents that represents the political orphans that the ‘Fathers’ have wrought in their fanatical belief in a particular political program. In this book the ‘innocents’ are represented as scapegoats to be sacrificed in the name of a higher ‘truth’. The concept of ‘innocence’ and its service to the ‘history of the lie’ can be witnessed in Robert Cormier’s Post-modern, adolescent novel, After the First Death (Cormier 2004). The novel has emerged at a time when political dialogue had become increasingly polarised and dominated by dualistic pronouncements of good and evil, us and them – innocence and guilt. Cormier’s novel has an additional poignant relevance in that it represents two ‘innocents’ (Ben and Miro) who hearken from both sides of the current political divide and serve to understand the idea of ‘terrorism’ in diametrically opposed ways. The novel is centered on the outskirts of an American town where a bus transporting pre-school children is hijacked by a small band of terrorists. Cormier’s novel portrays many of the ‘performative’ truths, perspectives and tragedy that is representative of the current climate of political terrorism. Three teenagers are caught up in the ensuing drama as the violence of opposing political ideologies determines their fate. The story is told from the perspective of the teenagers: Ben the son of a US General; Miro, a sixteen year old, trained since childhood to undertake terrorist activities in the United States and Kate; the bus driver unwittingly thrust into the nightmare.
Miro, the young terrorist operative questions the necessity of wearing a mask during operations, if the cause he served – the restoration of his homeland – was heroic and just. The terrorist leader explains: ‘There were many laws in the world … according to the wrong laws, their mission, their work, was condemned. But these laws were made by their enemies. So they had to disguise themselves to remain free under the wrong laws’ (Cormier 2004:41). The ‘revolutionary’ indoctrination that had formed Miro’s education proclaimed the ‘innocence’ of their ‘cause’ and defers to that same ‘innocence’ as the authority that legitimates the right to kill. Nietzsche warns us to be on guard against holy simplicity! He suggests that ‘everything which is not simple is unholy to it: and it, too likes to play with fire – in this case, the fire of the stake’ (Nietzsche 1969:90). Such simplicity is depicted in Miro’s response to the unplanned death of a hostage. He recounts a ‘revolutionary’ slogan: ‘The blood that spills is the fuel that will bring us back to our homeland’ (Cormier 2004:130). Perhaps the ‘lie of innocence’ is most poignantly expressed in Cormier’s work when Kate comments that Miro had ‘looked at her with innocent eyes as he told her of killing people’. Kate reflects that she had ‘always thought of innocence as something good, something to cherish … but innocence, she saw now could also be evil. Monstrous’ (Cormier 2004:130).
The Modern Lie
The ‘innocence’ of the child is shown to be a valuable commodity, as represented in Miro’s comment: ‘We still have the children’. Cormier’s ironic portrayal of Miro appealing to the sacrosanct motif of the innocent child as he instructs Kate to drive carefully because they ‘would not want anything to happen to the children’ (Cormier 2004:30) reminds us of John Howard’s concern for the children overboard. In today’s share market of ideas the ‘lie of innocence’ is at the service of the highest bidder. The ‘innocent’ in contemporary political dialogue are those with the financial power to create an image in which they are portrayed as ‘innocent’. Those professed to be innocent demonstrate sufficient ‘performative’ righteousness to be proclaimed vicariously as patriots, faithful, devout, citizens! The plight of the vulnerable – women, children, the poor – suffer the same fate as their erstwhile ‘innocent’ companions in biblical narrative. Yesterday’s lies of the powerful merely pre-empt the political narratives and rhetoric of today’s lies.
Derrida explains that the modern lie entails a paradoxical perversion or ‘conspiracy in broad daylight’ where the truth is spoken with the ‘view of deceiving those who believe they ought not believe it’ (Derrida 1986:92). Drawing on Alexandre Koyre’s Theory of the secret, Derrida identifies the evidence of a ‘society with a secret whose structure permits a conspiracy in ‘broad daylight’ (Derrida 1986:93). The ‘modern lie’ denies the inherent value of thought, purporting that ‘myth is better than science, and rhetoric that works on the passions preferable to proof that appeals to the intellect’ (Koyre cited in Arendt 1961:255). As previously noted such emotionalist rhetoric has been characteristic of the Howard Government and can be repeatedly identified in the presidential speeches of George W Bush.
At a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Singh during the 2006, G8 Summit, Bush declared: ‘I know you’ve been through difficult times, and America mourns the loss of innocent life as a result of the terrorist attacks … we condemn violence, we honor innocent life’. Similarly, the President’s response to the 2002 bombing in Bali, highlights the plight of the ‘innocent’. ‘Terrorists have once again targeted innocents … At least 182 innocent men and women have been murdered. We must together challenge and defeat the idea that the wanton killing of innocents advances any cause or supports any aspirations’. During a tribute at the Pentagon Memorial for the victims of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attack, President Bush once again drew upon the term ‘innocent’ as he reflected on the tragedy: ‘We will never forget all the innocent people killed by the hatred of a few … a cult of evil which seeks to harm the innocent and thrive on human suffering. Theirs is the worst kind of violence, pure malice, while daring to claim the authority of God’. Bush concluded his speech with a benediction: ‘May God bless you all, and may God bless America’.
Innocence as promoted by the Howard and Bush Governments correlates with compliance; a lawful – albeit often retrospective – obedience and ideological conformity. By nature ‘innocence of becoming’ is an antithesis to constructed notions of innocence. Such ‘becoming’ speaks of the exercise of one’s free will within an environment that is increasingly intolerant of dissent. Although ‘innocence of becoming’ – Camus’ ‘rebellion’ – remains indifferent to representations of innocence, the ‘lie’ permits no such accommodation.
This paper was concerned with the concept of ‘innocence’ and its representation in the Judeo-Christian tradition and contemporary use within the political dialogue of Western Governments. It was argued that the concept of ‘innocence’ is a lie, constructed upon the deceits of Power, finding its origins in the Bible and further represented in literary texts across time and place. Somehow, it is the plight of the suffering child that serves to illuminate the deception that lies at the root of all political imperatives (or religious ones) that claim a position of absolute right. The suffering of the child has and always will be used to discredit the political evil of the other side. The literature we have briefly considered perhaps reminds us that one cannot find ‘innocence’ by leaping into forgetfulness, denial or ideological compliance.
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