There is a wonderful short documentary doing the rounds on the Internet at the moment courtesy of The New York Times. Directed by Errol Morris, the film focuses on the presence of the so-called “Umbrella Man” at the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. With the help of private detective and former philosophy professor Josiah Thompson, Morris paints the picture of the apparently sinister presence of a man holding a black umbrella on a sunny day in Dallas exactly at the point where Kennedy was shot.
However, Thompson goes on to point out that the Umbrella Man eventually came forward and explained that he was holding the umbrella as a protest against the appeasement policy of JFK’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, when he was US ambassador to Britain before the Second World War. The umbrella was a visual reference to the British prime minister at the time, Neville Chamberlain, who also carried one.
“If you put any event under a microscope, you will find a whole dimension of completely weird, incredible things going on,” says Thompson, adding that the Umbrella Man episode is a “cautionary tale.” “If you have any fact which you think is really sinister; forget it man, because you can never think up all the non-sinister, perfectly valid explanations for that fact,” he says.
As incongruous as the two events are, perhaps there is a lesson that we can take from the story of the maligned Umbrella Man going into this week’s momentous European Union leaders’ summit. One of the main reasons that we have arrived at the point where the future of the euro and the EU itself is hanging in the balance is that too many decision-makers within the Union and the eurozone have spent the last two years chasing shadows, or men with umbrellas if you will, rather than addressing the real issues.
For much too long, this crisis — which Europe now unanimously admits is a systemic one — was approached as if it was a symptom of the failure of one country: Greece. Rather than treat Greece as the weakest link in a chain that would be tested to its limits, the eurozone chose to view it as the font of all Europe’s woes. The fact that a more comprehensive strategy to tackle the euro’s weakness is now being sought is tantamount to an admission that the wrong strategy was adopted.
The blinkered view that persisted over the past couple of years was built on certain myths that went largely unchallenged and became established in public discourse, much to the damage of both Greece and the eurozone. These myths have since given rise to other tales that threaten to undermine any possibility of recovery, even at this late stage. For this reason, perhaps now would be a good time to address some of the misnomers and misconceptions of the past months.