The Lie of “The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth”

Clerk of the Court: Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

Witness for the plaintiff: No

CC: What?

Witness: No. I said “No.”

Judge: Sir, am I to understand that you are not willing to tell the truth in this matter?

W: My objection is to the oath. My faith tells me not to take oaths, but to say yes when I mean yes and no when I mean no.

Judge: Very well. If we eliminate the words “so help you God” will that satisfy you?

W: Well, it’s a start, but I still have an objection.

J: To what?

W: I object to the phrase “the whole truth.” It’s vague.

J: No one has ever had that objection before. Why do you, now?

W: I am sure that the prosecutor has coached his witnesses to tell the truth, but no more than is absolutely necessary to avoid revealing anything that might be exculpatory. I am sure the police and other investigators have been similar coaching.

J: Are you suggesting that there is anything improper in the prosecution’s presentation of his case?

W: I simply want to avail myself of the same opportunity, namely, to tell the truth, but no more of it as seems prudent.

J: You’ve heard many other witnesses in this case take the oath to which you reject. None of them have presented any objections, much less those to which you object. Doesn’t that tell you something?

W: Yes, sir. It tells me that it is very easy to follow the lead of thousands of people doing the same thing over the years—even the centuries. It smooths the way, and obviates any requirement to think about what you are doing.

J: Be that as it may, your attitude suggests that you might be willing to play fast and loose with the truth in this matter. Be assured, sir, that lying under oath is a serious crime—a felony.

W: You have just reinforced my conviction that it best, given your warning, not to take an oath.

J: Are you going to tell this court the truth, or not?

W: I assure you, sir, that I will not lie to this court.

J: But the whole truth?

W: Where does the whole truth end? Would it include the vulgar and offensive language used by the policeman when he arrested the defendant? Would it include the fact that the policeman, the prosecutor, and you, sir, are all employees of the same political organization, namely, the state, thus raising the question of conflict of interest?

A moment of pause

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