Reflections on the Why of Things

Who, what, where, when, how, why. These are the basic points of reference to be covered in journalism and detective work.

The most important of these is why. Why can explain all the others, and can lead to additional conclusions and insights beyond the particular incident that one is describing or understanding.

“Why” is intimately connected with some of the “whos” involved in the activity. It is inherent in individual actions and also in social customs and subconscious beliefs.

The examination of the physical universe has only “what, where, when, how”. Most science of non-human life also is similar. With some advanced animal species, examination of individuals comes up with a “who” and “why”, but the “why” is significant only if the individual shows an initiative that is not connected with known instincts for survival. In most events concerning non-human life, the same considerations apply as for the physical universe. For example, in the recent massive die-off of raccoons in our area, the “why” is really a “how”, namely the transmission among the animals of a certain disease pathogen. 

In our complex society, the “why” is often difficult to determine. A former work colleague said once that “there are good reasons and true reasons for things.” Often someone makes up what appear to be good reasons to hide the true reasons. Journalists often give up at this point.

As an example of what we’re talking about, let’s look at the 2003 Iraq War. President George W. Bush ordered the US military to invade Iraq, in spring 2003. The “how” included bombings and troop movements to Baghdad, followed by occupation. The press reported an official “why”, namely the assertion that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction”, which was proven false. After that, the mainstream media didn’t try to present any credible “why”.

But the “why” is of supreme importance. It’s hard to believe that the military wanted this war on top of the Afghanistan war, except perhaps some of the top brass. Asking “why” leads to the Bush cabal, his small group of his advisors on foreign policy. It also leads to the whole neoconservative movement, and the unspoken impulse toward an American empire.

The cabal members aren’t going to tell us the true reason(s). Here are some candidates for “why”:

  • To control Iraq oil
  • To send a message to other nations that they must do what the US government wants them to do (although the Afghanistan war already sent that message)
  • To solidify the American military and financial hegemony over the greater Middle East, as part of the Empire 
  • To complete the job that Mr. Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, started with the 1991 war, and avenge Saddam Hussein’s attempted assassination of the latter
  • Carrying out a subconscious, national impulse toward constant warfare as a necessity to maintain a new “Pax Romana”. Also from suspicion, fear, and hate of “the other”.

As you see, understanding “why” can lead to far-reaching conclusions about society, leaders, and motivations.


As a follow-up to the above essay: Obama the truth-teller! In his September 2013 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Obama said (paraphrased): “The principal interest of the United States in the Middle East is to keep the oil flowing. If not for us, due to energy independence, then for the rest of the world.”

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