|Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio – If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. – Abraham Lincoln, 1838|
When President Bush announced the war on terror in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, a majority of American citizens, according to opinion polls, strongly supported the president’s invasion of Iraq based on their faith in the president’s mendacious assertions that Saddam Hussein’s regime was complicit in the atrocities, and was also planning more, thus leaving the nation no alternative. Despite all claims that Bush is departing radically from American tradition, there is nothing new about this. Presidents have deceived the American people time and again about justifications for war. Speaking of Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, the historian Thomas A. Bailey said that FDR was “like the doctor who must tell the patient lies for the patient’s own good?” It has long been a central tenet of the American national ideology that warfare is an aberration from the normal pursuits of our democratic society. Accordingly, only the perfidy of evildoers compels us to take up the sword.
Though historians have known for a half-century that significant information indicating Japan’s plans to go to war with the U.S. was pouring into Washington throughout the fateful year 1941 as a result of U.S. possession of the code-breaking development “Magic,” as well as radio tracking stations around the Pacific rim, and American spies in Tokyo, the Japanese “sneak” attack on Pearl Harbor that initiated U.S. entry into World War II is still the quintessential paradigm employed to illustrate and justify such doctrine. Though lesser known, the popular expositions of the Mexican and the Spanish-American Wars, and World War I, and many other examples, also suit the creed. Leaders have consistently employed duplicity to lead the nation into war in order to carry out agendas radically different from the rhetorical ones employed to justify the wars.
As serious scholars know well, the real history of the nation is far removed from what James Loewen would call the “disneyfied” notions of American exceptionalism. An honest appraisal of the nation’s past obliges us to conclude that warfare and empire are and have always been the American way. The facts of history clearly contradict the national ideology. Are the ideals we instill in the nation’s public schools only fairy tales for children; or is the vaunted commitment to proclaimed American values something that can be salvaged?
The conquest and colonization of North America by the British, and French and Spanish, was the result of bitter competition between the Atlantic maritime nations for control of the newly discovered lands in the western hemisphere, as well as in Asia and Africa. Indeed, the origins of the 20th century’s global wars can be found in those conflicts five centuries ago. The stable global system that appeared to have taken shape by 1900 was the direct result of armed strife between European rivals over the previous centuries, who by the turn of the 20th century had wrested dominion over most of the arable land surface and peoples of the planet, with Britain the dominant player upon whose empire the “sun never set.” Having just reached a plateau of homeostasis in the late 19th century, this world system’s balance was severely upset by the growing power of arrivistes hungry for their “place in the sun,” Germany, Japan and the United States.
While the conquest of North America was the outgrowth of Europe’s economic and military expansion, once the nascent United States had thrown off British rule, the nation began to compete directly with the former “mother country” for hegemony in the western hemisphere, and then throughout the 20th century in the world at large. The Monroe Doctrine, announced in 1823 to assert American predominance in the western hemisphere, has been progressively amplified ever since by succeeding administrations to encompass the entire planet. American military forces are deployed in over 140 nations, more than two-thirds of the states comprising the United Nations, on a scale that dwarfs anything ever seen in history. American arms patrol all the oceans and skies, including outer space, in what the Pentagon calls its intent to achieve “full-spectrum dominance” on a planetary scale.
The only thing really new about all of this is the scale but even that was fully predictable after World War II.
Neo-Conservatives aver that their motives are altruistic and that they are performing a vital service for the world community by forcibly spreading “democracy” because no other nation is capable of defeating rogue states and dictatorships. Yet the most cursory examination of the self-serving economic boons being reaped by the the well-connected patrons of the Bush Administration give the lie to their claims of global benefaction. Numerous liberals also assert that the United States is not embarked upon an imperial mission, comparing the American present to the Greek, Roman and British past, and highlighting the obvious differences. Yet the American experiment was calculated to settle land already known to be inhabited by others, under circumstances that required the bloody conquest of those peoples and the annexation of their land. Once embarked upon nationhood the United States immediately began to wrest territory from the Spanish, French, British and other native peoples, and within little more than half a century conquered and took from Mexico approximately one-quarter of our present continental territory, an expansion unprecedented in history, and which dwarfed imperial Rome in scale. Private individuals known as filibusters, encouraged by politicians at home, even dreamt of annexing all of Mexico, and attempted to annex Nicaragua and Santo Domingo but were halted when the logistics of ruling over an immense non-white majority were realized.
So war and empire were the realities of the first two centuries of the American nation. At the dawn of the 20th century the U.S. emerged onto the world stage to compete with the great powers of Europe and Asia, employing methods that did not involve outright annexation, but which were calculated to assert dominance over the resources, labor, and markets of as much of the planet as could be managed for the benefit of the United States. That process, the process of neo-empire, continues now on a planetary scale.
But what has impelled these wars, and the establishment of this new form of empire? From the outset, the British colonists who forcibly took control of North America did so with the goal of enriching themselves as they could not hope to do in Europe. Profit was the primary motive, even among those who came as indentured servants, since a continent seemed ripe for their taking once such debts were paid. By the time of the American Revolution the colonies had developed to the point where they could challenge Britain itself for mastery, and retain the riches of the continent for themselves. Though both Jeffersonians and Hamiltonians had different plans for the expansion of the new nation, expansionism was the goal of both. A fusion of both approaches characterized the early Republic, which expanded across the continent ruthlessly, dislodging all who stood in the way, natives, Spanish, French, British, Mexicans. As we know, it was Hamilton’s vision of an industrial-financial capitalism that prevailed. By the turn of the 20th Century the U.S. had arrived as an international great power and articulated its central foreign policy goal: the Open Door. In pursuit of markets, resources and access to cheap labor, the U.S. has used every method and stratagem, including outright military intervention, covert intervention, assassination, toppling governments, torture, propping up friendly dictatorships, all to achieve the overarching goal of opening markets for American goods and services on American terms, and gaining access to vital resources to maintain American production and profit.
I. The Colonial Era to the Civil War
School children study the noble efforts of Pilgrims to establish a new society in which they could practice their religious freedom. But few learn that New England’s, and most British colonies were established as joint-stock companies to garner profit for investors, a requirement that necessitated exploitation of the new environments and their inhabitants (and most colonists themselves) .Nor do most learn of the religious fanaticism, attitudes of racial superiority, and genocidal violence that made the “New English Canaan” possible. Calling themselves God’s “new chosen people” the Puritans of New England quickly learned to call the natives “Adam’s degenerate seed,” when they were not seen merely as “swarms of lice.” Shortly after the initial settlements were established in Massachusetts Bay in the 1620s, conflict with the Pequot of Narragansett Bay led these colonists of principle to an orgy of mass murder in the name of God, culminating in the virtual extirmination of this people. “Thus was God pleased to smite our enemies and give us their land for our inheritance'” said John Winthrop, evoking Joshua’s slaughter of the Amalekites in the Old Testament. As one of the Puritans’ militia captains put matters, the colonists had deliberately sought “to cut off remembrance of them from the earth.”
The first true war attributed to British colonists in North America was “King Philip’s War,” so called, of the 1670s, and was blamed entirely on the natives, who were depicted as brutal savages, who betrayed the colonists’ trust. The Wampanoag, Nipmuc, Narragansett and other peoples of Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Connecticut had actually been exceedingly generous to the newcomers, effectively sharing land and teaching them how to cultivate it according to local climate and soil conditions. But English notions of land usage, particularly that of private enclosure, quickly brought the colonists and natives into conflict. Increasing European migration, coupled with competition over land, led to attacks by aboriginals on British settlements, then into all out war. Native populations had already been extremely diminished by contact with European diseases to which they had no immunity, and this coupled with the efforts of colonists to exacerbate conflict between tribes, and to thwart intertribal unity, made victory over the British impossible. When the colonists eventually prevailed they inflicted a horrible slaughter on men, women and children alike. For a quarter century the severed head of Metacomet, the son of the colonists’ benefactor, Massasoit, remained impaled on a pike in Plymouth town square, a reminder of the implacability of those who intended to be masters of the land.
English victory cleared the natives of southern New England and” allowed the uninterrupted growth of England’s northern colonies right up to the American Revolution,” and became as well “the brutal model for how the United States would deal with its native population.” And, one could add, for all of America’s non-white enemies yet to be. Doctrines of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, fostered to rationalize genocidal attitudes, and to justify the enslavement of Africans, quickly percolated into the culture, to be refined continually up to the present. Severely weakened, the natives of the coast were driven further and further west, a scenario essentially repeated for the next 150 years that would bear bitter fruit in places like Sand Creek and Wounded Knee. The natives of northern New England, fearing English ferocity, joined with other tribes hostile to the British, and more favorable to the French, thereby setting the stage for the North American chapter of the great continual war between Britain and France that played out over centuries.
What American textbooks often call the “French and Indian War” of 1756-1763, was really a significant episode in this larger conflict, and this war was truly global in scope, being fought also in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. It was also the war in which many American military leaders would get their combat experience in the service of the Crown only to use it against their sovereign a few years later. Without the British army the colonists would have fallen under French rule, or been expelled from North America altogether. The expense to the British Exchequer of providing military protection to the colonies was the primary cause of the increase in taxation levied on the colonies to pay for the war that would ultimately lead to the break with Britain.
Of his, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, Charles A. Beard said “perhaps no other book on the Constitution has been more severely criticized, and so little read.” This groundbreaking study showed clearly how personal pecuniary interests motivated the founders to revolt against the injustices of taxation without representation. While the rhetoric of the American Revolution clearly centered on the principle of representation in Parliament and opposition to tyranny, the fact remains that virtually all of those who signed either the Declaration of Independence or Constitution stood to lose personal fortune should they be required to pay the infamous taxes, and in their rebellion also used their newfound power to augment those fortunes and their political power. Land speculation was “one of the leading activities of capitalists” prior to the Revolution. However, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, one part of the settlement of the French and Indian War, had declared that the Appalachians were to be the limit of westward British expansion, thereby rendering western land values all but null. Later, those merchants and bankers who loaned the Continental Congress the money to pursue the Revolution understood that the framework of the Articles of Confederation could never repay them their principal or interest. Beard’s contribution was to show clearly that it was speculators (including Washington, Franklin, Patrick Henry, Gallatin, and many others), shippers and merchants and manufacturers, and holders of the public debt who wanted a central government capable of discharging debt, fostering monetary stability, and competing directly with England for commercial supremacy, who were the principal promoters of the Constitution.
They were opposed, in the main, by small landholders with little property, and few opportunities to obtain money. Ironically, it was these citizens who had formed the backbone of the Continental Army and the state militias that had won the Revolution, and who were now oppressed by state governments that sought to tax them, often without representation in the various legislatures, and to confiscate their land. Daniel Shays of Massachusetts had served six long years as an officer, leaving his farm in the care of his wife and children. During that time the farm’s productivity fell, while the legislature in Boston, composed of well-heeled draft dodgers, imposed taxes and raised property requirements for voting, thereby cutting Shays and others off from the suffrage. Faced with the confiscation of their land these patriots rose in rebellion against the very sort of arbitrary forces that had occasioned the revolution in the first place, as the Declaration of Independence had told them was their due. The response of the propertied patricians was to demand a government with broad powers to crush such upstarts.
Pennsylvania’s Whisky Rebellion occurred after the establishment of the central government, and American elites took rapid advantage of their new powers to cow the small farmers who objected to the newly imposed tax on whisky, which they made to preserve their corn crop and earn currency on the side. Owing to property qualifications, many of these rebels could not vote, and were thus unrepresented in the Congress that had levied the tax. Lest the farmers miss the point, President Washington himself, arrayed in his general’s uniform, and astride his war steed, led the army out to crush the rebels.
Though presidents must pay lip service to democracy, the record shows that chief executives are in a constant battle with Congress to usurp that most democratic of the branches of government and increase their own power to act unilaterally, and this conflict began almost immediately. The ink had scarcely dried on the Constitution, when the second president of the United States, embroiled the nation in an undeclared war with France.
II. The U.S Leaps Upon the Stage of World Power
While the Civil War was provoked by the issue of slavery it was certainly not fought to free the slaves by most of those doing the killing. The primary objective of Lincoln’s administration was to preserve the Union and, hence, the future dominance of the U.S. in the Western hemisphere, which was still contested with Britain despite the Monroe Doctrine. The British had almost immediately violated the doctrine when they established a new colony in the Falkland Islands, and very nearly intervened in the Civil War, precisely to split their rivals and stifle American hegemony in the hemisphere. Of course the Civil War was won by the North and with national unity settled the government in Washington began a new era of partnership with financial and industrial capital aimed at undermining British preponderance in these crucial areas. By the turn of the 20th Century the U.S. was outproducing all its European rivals combined, and New York was poised to usurp London’s role as the financial center of the planet.
As Jefferson had predicted, America’s growing preponderance in world markets required greater armed forces and more active intervention against threats to American interests. Even before the Civil War the forward-looking William Seward, later to add Alaska’s vast resources to the U.S. bounty, foresaw the coming rivalries.
Multiply your ships and send them forth to the east. The nation that draws most materials and provisions from the earth, and fabricates the most, and sells the most of productions and fabrics to foreign nations, must be, and will be, the great power of the earth.
Later, when the question of national unity and the dominance of capital was settled, he added:
The world contains no seat of empire so magnificent as this…the nation thus situated…must command the empire of the seas, which alone is real empire.
The extraordinarily rapid rise of America to financial and industrial power in the later 19th Century occasioned profound social, political and economic dislocations among nativist farmers and mechanics, immigrants arriving from eastern and southern Europe, as well as among recently freed former slaves, and the native tribes of the far West. The limits of westward territorial expansion were being reached; business cycles were creating dizzying recessions and depressions leading to massive unemployment, while helter-skelter development in the cities created immense unsanitary slums, filled with desperate and unhealthy wage-earners, who existed within sight of newly affluent middle and upper class conspicuous consumers. As the impoverished populace grew severe pressures developed for radical redistribution of the nation’s obvious immense wealth, taking the forms of demands for higher wages, unionization, shorter work hours, abolition of child labor, and health and safety guarantees. In these circumstances the more perspicacious of the ruling elites, both the older aristocrats and the nouveau rich, the highly educated theorists they supported at the nation’s principal universities, and religious leaders, were forced to develop ideas and proposals to deal with the growing crisis. Rather than undertaking such a radical redistribution, the nation’s most powerful elites settled upon key reforms aimed at mollifying the working classes but also enlarging the United States’ share of global markets. In that way the reforms could be financed while the elites continued to own privately or control the disposition of the nation’s capital. Thus was the triumph of conservatism assured.
This desire to enlarge America’s exports followed from an emerging central doctrine in policy circles. Export markets were crucial to continued industrial production, hence to widespread employment, and domestic stability. The American economic engine had expanded in scope so rapidly that it was creating surplus products, including foodstuffs, far in excess of the domestic market’s capacity to absorb them. The solution: open new markets. If products could be sold abroad the problem of the surplus would be solved. Rather than undergo a radical and more equitable redistribution of wealth, and a restructuring of the economy away from unbridled laissez-faire capitalism, the nation would increase the size of its economic pie, more workers could be employed, some of the surplus could address the more dire of the social dislocations. But for this to be accomplished the nation’s armed forces would also have to be profoundly increased, and deployed as never before.
Into this breach stepped Theodore Roosevelt, with the exception of Andrew Jackson, and perhaps George W. Bush, the most bellicose president the nation has ever had. It is forgotten today that TR was a Harvard-trained historian, whose published works are panegyrics to war, Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, expansionism and, indeed, genocide as the following passage from his highly popular four-volume history of the conquest of the western United States attests.
Whether the whites won the land by treaty, by armed conquest, or both…mattered little so long as the land was won…all men of sane and wholesome thought must dismiss with contempt the plea that these continents should be reserved for the use of a few scattered savages whose life was a few degrees less meaningless, squalid, and ferocious than that of the wild beasts.
In league with his former professor, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, his colleague, Brooks Adams, scion of John and John Quincy, and numerous other theorists and ideologues, Roosevelt became the imperialists “man on horseback,” who could marshall the necessary political support for the strategic, economic, and military justifications for America’s leap onto the stage of empire.
Having waited since mid-century to continue trans-Pacific expansion, by 1895 the U.S. had taken control of most of Samoa. In response Lodge exulted:
We have a record of conquest, colonization and expansion unequalled by any people in the 19th century…we are not to be curbed now. For the sake of our commercial prosperity we ought to seize the Hawaiian islands now.
Lodge’s challenge was quickly taken up. Hawaii was annexed in 1898, precisely at the moment the nation’s political and ideological elites were drafting plans for the expansion of the American navy, an undertaking that would subsidize numerous industries, raise employment, and facilitate the opening of new markets. The presence of the Spanish in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and even on the far western side of the Pacific in the Philippines, had long rankled Americans. Now a minor power, Spain was ripe to be banished from the global stage altogether. Claiming that Spain’s continued presence constituted an affront to the Monroe Doctrine, a threat to the hemisphere, and a brutal dictatorship to the peoples of its possessions, Washington’s and Wall Street’s new ideological decision-makers determined to find a cause for war. The infamous sinking of the U.S.S. Maine, caused by internal failure, not by Spain, was seized upon as the pretext for war. But Roosevelt, then undersecretary of the navy, confided at least one of the real reasons.
I should say that I would welcome a foreign war. It is very difficult for me not to wish war with Spain for that would result at once in getting a proper navy…In strict confidence I should welcome almost any war.
Expulsion of Spain from the Caribbean would enable the U.S. to establish naval bases in Puerto Rico and Cuba, bases that remain to this day. In short order a trans-isthmian canal would be constructed through Central America and the U.S. would have a two-ocean navy able rapidly to respond to any threat to proclaimed American interests. Thus would the Caribbean become, as the Romans used to say, “mare nostrum,” our sea,” and mastery of the Philippines would give the U.S. its “doorstep to the East.”
TR’s political opponents also consented to this war. Mark Hanna, who called Roosevelt “that damned cowboy,” affirmed.
We can and we will take a large slice of the commerce of Asia. That is what we want. We are bound to share in the commerce of the Far East, and it is better to strike for it while the iron is hot.
Yet, perhaps the clearest and rawest expression of this group’s objectives was made by Senator Albert Beveridge speaking on the floor of the Senate in 1901. A brutal counter-insurgency jungle war was then underway-America’s first- in the Philippines, where natives who had been promised independence after Spain’s defeat had been betrayed. Now Washington proclaimed itself the protector of the Pacific and declared that bases were needed from which to operate. Numerous atrocities against civilians committed by U.S. forces had been decried by the press and by the likes of Mark Twain, while pillars of the establishment like Andrew Carnegie funded the anti-imperialist movement. Beveridge responded:
God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing but vain and idle self-admiration. No, he has made us the master organizers of the world…that we may administer government among savages and senile peoples…the Philippines are ours forever…and just beyond the Philippines lie China’s illimitable markets…We will not renounce our part inthe mission of our race, trustee under God, of the civilization of the world…China is our natural customer. The Philippines give us a base at the door of the East…it has been charged that our conduct of the war has been cruel. Senators, it has been the reverse. Senators, remember that we are not dealing with Americans or Europeans. We are dealing with Orientals.
This remarkable statement encapsulates the prevailing doctrines then being forcibly injected into American civic ideology via the press, the pulpit and the lectern. First, there is Manifest Destiny renascent, in which God is presumed to have ordained a special mission for the United States as the inheritor of Anglo-Saxon civilization to set the future agenda for the world among the lesser and senescent peoples. Then there is the emphasis upon America’s right to commercial interests in greater east Asia, for which military bases will be required. Finally, Social-Darwinism and its embedded racism endorses the slaughter of Filipino civilians.
The critical welter of problems facing the nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had produced a flowering of theoretical solutions, resulting in the amalgam quoted above. Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier thesis” argued that the western frontier had long served as a safety valve to reduce popular social and political discontent by enabling migration to new lands, and he stressed that the final closing of that frontier (1890) required new outlets for American energies, a “commercial frontier” across the Pacific.
Brooks Adams at Harvard claimed that the decay of American civilization was at hand unless the course of empire continued its westward trajectory. Believing he had found the key to history in the westward progress of “world civilization” from ancient Greece, to Rome, to Britain, and to the United States, Adams asserted that the U.S. must continue this movement into the Pacific. Only the “valor” of the American soldier, he claimed, could protect against the “law of civilization and decay.”
Such ideas found currency in the nation’s military strategic circles as well. At Annapolis, Captain (later Admiral) Alfred Thayer Mahan expounded his classic The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1873, asserting that since expansion of industry had caused the U.S. to grow out of its domestic market, new outlets for the consumption of American production, and new sources of raw materials would have to be found. Colonial possessions could provide bases for battleships, and these would serve as stepping stones to the markets of Latin America and Asia. Such colonies existed ready-made for the taking from the less powerful. A canal through the Central American isthmus would provide the strategic link for American naval domination of the Atlantic and Pacific.
Social Darwinism provided the perfect fertilizer for these ideas to take root. We are accustomed to believe that Nazi ideology provided the provenance of notions of one nation’s “racial superiority” over others, but it is too often forgotten that these ideas flowered at centers of learning like Yale and Oxford Universities in the late 19th century, where Darwin’s ideas about the biological sphere were adapted by William Graham Sumner and…… to pseudo-scientific social theory to provide justification for the then ongoing plunder of what would later be termed the Third World, and the subordination of its peoples to the interests of western capital. The nation’s political and military elites took Social Darwinist doctrine as matters of faith. Said TR: “Democracy has justified itself by keeping for the white race the best portion’s of the earth’s surface.” The first governor-general of the Philippines, General Arthur MacArthur, father of Douglas, mirrored these ideas when he claimed that “America’s wonderful thrust into Asia was the destiny of the magnificent Aryan people.”
To the nation’s political potentates like Roosevelt, Cabot Lodge, Beveridge and John Hay, these theories seemed as siren songs luring the United States into the club of great powers.
Hay is remembered chiefly for articulating the Open Door policy that envisioned free access to the markets of East Asia. However, it has become abundantly clear over the last century that the unimpeded export of American capital, and free access to resource and labor markets the world over is the primary focus of American foreign policy. Today it is called globalization but it is simply another way of fostering the Open Door. On the surface, when first enunciated, the policy claimed to be fair and equitable for all western powers interested in penetrating Asia, but by 1900 the U.S. was steadily undermining British financial supremacy, and had overtaken all European industrial rivals. The U.S. could thus out price and out sell any competitor, so this advantage meant in reality a closed door for the competition. That is why most opposed the policy, especially Japan, the rising power of Asia, which, like Germany and the U.S., had emerged seemingly from nowhere to impede the designs of the European imperialists. Washington’s open door in Asia faced no greater challenge. As a result of Japan’s stunning victories over China in 1895, and Russia in 1905, the U.S. Navy began to draw up plans for war with Nippon, plans in which both sides knew that the new American naval base at Pearl Harbor would be key. Lest the Japanese misunderstand American intentions Roosevelt dispatched the cream of the navy’s new battleships, the “Great White Fleet’ to sail for the major ports of the world, including Tokyo’s.
China itself, where the imperial court was crumbling, resisted the open door. In 1900, in the so-called Boxer Rebellion, students enraged over western colonies on Chinese soil, and increasing western penetration, lay siege to European and American enclaves inhabited by missionaries and businessmen. Most European powers, and the U.S. and Japan sent troops to quell the anti-foreign riots. Today few Americans know of this episode but national memories of western imperialism are deeply embedded in China, and, indeed, throughout Asia.
In the lead up to World War I the United States exerted its hegemony over the western hemisphere. Roosevelt issued his famous corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, informing the world that henceforth the U.S. would “police” the western hemisphere. In 1904, after dispatching covert agents to Panama to encourage dissidents to declare independence, TR deployed the fleet and marines to sever the province from Colombia, which was resisting his plans to build a canal through that narrowest part of the isthmus. When domestic political opposition to his executive fiat arose Teddy declared, “I took the Panama Canal. Let Congress debate.” From 1898 to 1917, when the U.S. entered the “Great War,” American forces were deployed by three presidents throughout the Caribbean, including Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. When revolution threatened American oil interests in Mexico, where American corporations controlled fully 80 percent of all mineral resources, President Woodrow Wilson declared: “I will teach them to elect good men,” then ordered the bombardment of Vera Cruz.
III. World War I
World War I began between the major European powers over the spark lit by the assassination of the Austrian Archduke by a Serbian in Sarajevo. However, the real issue for the side the U.S. eventually took was the growing power of recently unified Germany in the continental heartland, thus threatening the balance of power crafted a century earlier and the positions of Britain, France and Russia. German economists and politicians spoke openly of a self-contained central European empire controlled by Germany and this brought the issue of the Open Door in Europe into question for the U.S. Wilson issued an executive decree emphasizing American neutrality, but this had no legal standing. In time Congress did rule that certain commodities were contraband and could not be sold to either warring side, yet most American bankers and industrialists preferred to trade with both sides, wherever there were profits to be made.
The British Navy soon settled that issue. Still dominating the seas the Royal Navy blockaded German ports and effectively halted American trade with the Triple Alliance. Unable to reciprocate in kind the Germans began to employ the new sea weapon, the submarine, sinking British merchant ships carrying American goods. This, in turn, did not sit well with American insurance underwriters. Meanwhile, American banks were extending significant credit and loans to the British and French to cover the cost of their American imports, and the U.S. government was loaning money to the British Exchequer. American shippers were also violating the neutrality policy by secretly loading contraband, like weapons and ammunition, aboard ships bound for Britain.
Since American trade with Germany and its allies had all but vanished as a result of the British blockade the U.S. very quickly began to build up a vested interest in the outcome of the war. Should Britain and France lose, the peace terms imposed on them by Germany would undoubtedly render them unable to repay loans and credits, and German victory might mean the closure of many European markets too. Though Wilson was running for re-election on his record of neutrality, enormous political and economic pressure was placed on him to side with the Triple Entente, despite the fact that the majority of Americans favored neutrality.
In 1915 the Germans learned that the British passenger liner, the Lusitania, was also loading banned ammunition in its hold. The German government informed Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, and also took out large advertisements in New York daily newspapers, warning the passengers that the presence of weapons aboard the ship made it a legitimate enemy target. Bryan attempted to intervene but was rebuked (later to resign) and passengers were told that the Germans would never dare to sink the ship. The Lusitania was sunk with the loss of 128 American lives, and another thousand or so British passengers. War hawks in Congress, on Wall Street and in the press immediately raised the slogan “freedom of the seas” and insisted on war with Germany, gleeful that a pretext for war had arrived. Germany however backed off and promised to cease attacks on merchant vessels departing the U.S.. But at about the same time the Zimmerman Note was revealed in which Germany, fearing U.S. entry, secretly told Mexico that in exchange for a declaration of war, Germany would aid that nation to regain the American southwest, lost almost 70 years earlier in the Mexican War. These twin outrages stoked the furnace of war for the hawks: all that was needed was more flame. Wilson could have intervened against the departure of the Lusitania, after all, he knew of the ongoing and extensive trade in contraband. He could easily have dismissed the Zimmerman Note as desperate nonsense: Germany was in no position to give military aid to Mexico in North America. Despite his proclaimed neutrality Wilson did nothing to stop the drift toward war demanded by forces behind the scenes.
In the spring of 1917, with the German public suffering from hunger and malnutrition, and German forces suffering battlefield setbacks, Germany resumed submarine attacks against ships carrying goods to Britain. When two American vessels were sunk, Wilson asked for and received a Congressional declaration of war. He had only recently been re-elected on the slogan, “He kept us out of war” and yet events throughout his presidency, of which he had been well aware, had been impelling him toward just that outcome.
American entry, coupled with increasing German inability to equip troops and feed its domestic population, tipped the balance of the war. Germany was forced to ask for an armistice, in which it hoped at least to gain some of its war aims. However, despite Wilson’s attempt to achieve his “peace without victory,” the British and French, taking advantage of internal domestic turmoil in Germany, imposed draconian peace terms, thereby setting up the preconditions for another round of war in the future.
Despite Wilson’s failure to win Senate approval of the Versailles peace terms, and to enter the League of Nations, the U.S. was catapulted by the war to the very forefront of power. Its economy had grown exponentially as a result of war production, and New York had effectively replaced London as the finance capital of the world. The U.S. stood as virtually the only creditor nation. Having waged a war “to make the world safe for democracy” Americans quickly saw that very little in the way of such democracy had developed overseas, and it was mortally wounded at home.
Many groups had been outraged over Wilson’s betrayal of neutrality. His government’s response was to enact Sedition and Espionage Acts designed to silence the opposition, going so far as to jail many of those who took the First Amendment at face value. Even Eugene Debs, one of the most prominent politicians in the nation, who had been one of Wilson’s opponents in the election of 1912, was imprisoned for his compelling stand against the war. Though the Supreme Court upheld these acts, it later declared them unconstitutional but not before severe damage had been done to the Bill of Rights, and the power of the executive had been enhanced beyond the original Constitution. Even after the war was won, Wilson’s Department of Justice continued its war against pacifists, socialists and trade unionists in its infamous “Red Scare,” which, for the first time in the nation’s history created a secret police force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Though most Americans see the FBI as primarily fighter against organized crime, its initial mandate was to intimidate political opposition to the dominant parties.
In Europe, Russia, formerly an ally of Britain and France, had withdrawn from the war in a state of collapse, to then succumb to the Bolshevik Revolution. In response Washington sent troops, with others, to strangle the communist baby in its cradle, an armed intervention in Russia all but forgotten here but one which had the effect of tightening the grip of totalitarianism in that country. Faced with constant aggression from outsiders, the Soviet state quickly devolved into a brutal struggle for power internally, a clash won by the most ruthless of the Bolsheviks, Stalin.
Germany’s economy collapsed, and civil war broke out between communists and right-wing veterans of the war. Though the communists were routed, and many murdered, resulting weakness ensured that Germany would have to accept the humiliating diktat of the Versailles Peace Treaty. Later, vengeful war veterans would form the nucleus of the Nazi Party and they would hold the communists, the Jews and the victorious British and French responsible, thereby setting up what would become World War II and the Holocaust.
In Asia the hopes of tiny Vietnam were dashed when the plank of self-determination in Wilson’s Fourteen Points was declared to apply only to the small nations of Europe and not to the European colonies. Japan, too, rankled at the treatment it received. An ally of Britain against Germany, Japan was not allowed possession of Germany’s Pacific colonies, while Britain and the U.S. attempted to impose second-class military status on the nation in hope to avert Japanese expansion into mainland Asia. Both approaches eventually resulted in the opposite of what was intended.
IV. World War II and the Early Cold War
American involvement in World War II, for the most part, has not received the same kind of critical treatment as many other wars in our history for the essential reason that it is portrayed as the “Good War” because the savagery of Nazism and Japanese militarism were defeated. Those critics who have surfaced, some, who previous to their critical analyses, were highly respected pillars of the academic establishment, have been universally derided as crackpots, conspiracy cranks, or apologists for Axis aggression, or even anti-Semitic. The record shows that the Roosevelt Administration did very little to save European Jews from Hitler’s Holocaust. When the U.S. entered the war in December 1941 the “Final Solution” was not yet known in Washington, and despite later entreaties by American Jewish leaders, FDR refused either to ransom Jews from Nazi occupied Europe, or to bomb the death camps.1 The American public was disturbed by Japanese atrocities in China but not to the extent that citizens believed that direct intervention was warranted.
Until the attack at Pearl Harbor the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens opposed entry into the war. Moreover, neither Germany nor Japan had the remotest chance to invade, much less occupy, the U.S. In May 1941 Adolf Berle, Assistant Secretary of State declared that “a naval invasion of the Western Hemisphere is out of the question.” The military correspondent at the New York Times, Hanson Baldwin, wrote that “No air power now assembled is capable of bringing that kind of power against the United States.”2 No long range bomber existed that could reach the U.S. across either the Pacific or Atlantic, and neither Germany nor Japan had aircraft carriers that could get within range of the American mainland. While some analysts worried that a Germany in control of the territory and resources of the European heartland might at some future point be a military threat, no such rationale surfaced by FDR to justify war during the lead-up to it. The U.S. continental territory was under no direct military threat from either of the two most powerful Axis nations. War resulted from causes that had far more to do with economic security as defined by financial elites, including FDR, a former Wall Street attorney.
In 1931-1932 Japan invaded and annexed Manchuria, and for the remainder of the decade progressively took over coastal China, and in 1940 invaded Indochina. Japan’s announced goal was a “Monroe Doctrine for Asia,”3 but this came directly into conflict with the Open Door policy of the U.S., a goal that since its articulation in 1899 has been at the heart of American foreign policy the world over. Whether it is called the Open Door or globalization, access to resources around the globe, and penetration of global markets on American terms is the fundamental goal of American foreign policy.
The Open Door originally envisioned untrammeled access to the resources, labor and markets of East Asia. But in 1933 Japan closed the door to American trade in Manchuria. In 1935 President Franklin Roosevelt told an informant that “the American people would not go to war to preserve the integrity of China” but the U.S. would go to war to maintain “their right to trade with China.”4 In November 1938 Tokyo announced its intention to create the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity sphere and would close all markets throughout this empire, thereby attempting to dominate the same sort of economic sphere that the U.S. enjoyed throughout the Western Hemisphere.
If these setbacks for U.S. policy were not bad enough, worse things were transpiring in Europe. As one response to the Great Depression, newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt hoped to open new markets for American exports and renew older ones. But because of an unfavorable trade balance with the U.S. Germany adopted bilateral barter agreements with its other trading partners. By the mid-1930s such agreements with Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay had, said Secretary of State Cordell Hull, “artificially displaced our Latin American trade.”5 In 1940, continental markets were effectively closed when Hitler overran Central and Western Europe and declared “America for the Americans. Europe for the Europeans.”
Hitler’s potential control over much of the European continent was deeply troubling to American financiers and industrialists, though Wall Street itself had provided the plans and capital for Germany’s renascence after World War I, and even contributed to Hitler’s election campaign, when the hope was that Germany would be the anchor for a European general market closely tied to the American economy. German industrialists and financiers had been closely allied with their counterparts in America but Hitler’s move toward continental autarky spelled trouble for the U.S.’s emergence from the Great Depression.6 Germany’s plan to dominate the European heartland, however, did not pose any military threat even in the relative long-term. This was demonstrated by early 1941 during the Battle of Britain when Hitler signally failed to cross the English Channel, and then made the fatal error of invading the Soviet Union. As the Magazine of Wall Street put the matter: “If Hitler cannot cross the English Channel, how can he cross the Atlantic Ocean?”7 This view was shared by most military observers.
But for the nation’s financial elite the real threat lay elsewhere. Treasury Secretary Henry Morganthau said: “The Germans will form a sort of overall trading corporation and what are we to do about our cotton and wheat?” Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long stated that, “If Germany wins this war and subordinates Europe every commercial order will be routed to Berlin and filled under its orders somewhere in Europe rather than in the United States.”8 A major lord of Wall Street, Bernard Baruch, spoke for many:
Germany does not have to conquer us in a military sense. By enslaving her own labor and that of the conquered countries, she can place in the markets of the world products at a price with which we could not compete. This will destroy our standards of living and shake to its depths our moral and physical fiber, already strained to the breaking point.9
Baruch’s point was affirmed also by Thomas Lamont of the First National City Bank of New York:
Under a Hitler victory we should find ourselves in the midst of a country-wide depression so deep and so profound as to make the worst of the last ten years look like a happy and bountiful time.10
In flagrant violation of the Neutrality laws passed by Congress FDR secretly ordered the American Navy to begin actively assisting British warships in their military actions against German submarines. At first such activities were confined to helping British ships locate the submarines, but before long the U.S. vessels were firing on the German ships too. The result was that a number of U.S. Navy vessels engaged in open combat in the North Atlantic with Germany, leading to the loss of American life. Roosevelt called the subs the “rattlesnakes of the sea” and attempted to persuade the public that Germany had attacked first. However, he was undermined by his own Navy Secretary who told the New York Times the truth.11 Harold Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, wrote to a subordinate:” The Navy is already in the war in the Atlantic, but the country doesn’t seem to realize it…Whether the country knows it or not, we are at war.”12
FDR’s actions were clearly intended to provoke Germany into retaliation that would then cause a hostile reaction in American public opinion. While they failed to impel the U.S. into war, the forays persuaded Hitler that FDR fully intended to find a way into war with Germany, just as the U.S. had in World War I. This consideration was central to the Axis pact that tied Germany, Japan and Italy in a defensive alliance designed to deter a U.S. strike against any one of these nations. Undoubtedly, Hitler’s declaration of war against the U.S. only a few days after the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, coupled with his erroneous belief that the Japanese had inflicted a mortal blow to the American fleet, was designed to force the U.S. to fight on two fronts, and thus be weakened considerably.
While the president’s and the nation’s financiers’ attention was fixed upon European affairs since Europe’s markets combined were the largest source of America’s export dollars, Asia remained of vital concern. As Japan continued its conquests along the East Asian littoral Fortune magazine editorialized:
With a population of more than 400 million China is the biggest single potential market in the world. A strong China, able and willing to protect the principle of the open market in the Far East, would be worth billions of dollars to the United States.13
Most such arguments were made behind the closed, mahogany paneled doors of Washington or Wall Street. The most public argument for American intervention throughout the troubled world, and perhaps the most influential in business circles, was made in the nation’s most popular magazine by Henry R. Luce.
And the cure [for failure in U.S. foreign policy] is this: to accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit …(emphasis added)
Our thinking of world trade today is on ridiculously small terms. For example, we think of Asia as being worth only a few hundred millions a year to us. Actually, in the decades to come Asia will be worth to us exactly zero-or else it will be worth to us four, five, ten billions of dollars a year. And the latter are the terms we must think in, or else confess a pitiful impotence14.
Japan’s attack on the American bases in Hawaii has become the legendary paradigm of the “American way of war” which holds that the U.S. departs from the path of peace only when the misdeeds of others leave no alternative. Yet the historical record clearly indicates that the Roosevelt administration followed policies that effectively left Japan with two choices, what Yale political scientist Bruce Russet, called Japan’s “Hobson’s choice.”15 The island nation could accept permanent subordinate status to the western powers in the international arena or go to war with what Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto, architect of the strike at Pearl Harbor, called the “sleeping giant.” FDR’s repeated circumventions of the Neutrality Act clearly favored the British again, as in World War I. When the president froze Japanese assets in the U.S., embargoed vital oil and steel exports, and then in August 1941, and again even more harshly just ten days before Pearl Harbor, issued an ultimatum to Japan to withdraw its troops from China and Indochina,16 Japan’s government concluded the U.S. left it a choice either to accede, and then suffer the certainty of a military coup, or go to war to protect the gains made over the previous decade. No serious politician could entertain doubt about the choice Japan would make.
In 1939 Admiral James O. Richardson, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, was ordered by FDR to move the fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor. Simultaneously, American air and sea forces were beefed up in the Philippines, within striking distance of Japanese bases in Formosa (present day Taiwan). Both Richardson, and other navy and army officials, immediately warned that these actions would be seen as a grave provocation by the Japanese to which they might respond preemptively. In his book, published after the war, Richardson detailed the conversation he had with FDR. To the Admiral’s warning about the threat of war FDR responded, “Sooner or later the Japanese would commit an overt act against the United States and the nation would be willing to enter the war.”17 Because of his frank opposition to his commander-in-chief’s policies Richardson was replaced by Admiral Husband Kimmell. But the admiral was not alone in his assessment of the president. FDR’s own secretary of war, Henry Stimson, confided to his diary that “the President shows evidence of waiting for the accidental shot of some irresponsible captain on either side to be the occasion of his going to war.”18
Japan did indeed take the measures employed against it as an indication that the U.S. fully intended to find a way to thwart its growing empire. When ordered to develop plans to attack the American base at Pearl Harbor Admiral Yamamoto told his superiors that Japan could not hope to win such a war; the best outcome, and that was a long shot, would be if Japan could succeed in destroying the American fleet and thus buy time to build Pacific defenses and negotiate a settlement with the U.S.19
When the U.S. Navy began to draw up its “War Plan Orange,” after Japan’s stunning defeats of China in 1895 and of Russia in 1905, it was clear to both sides that the newly acquired U.S. base at Pearl Harbor would be the key to the outcome. Therefore, American commanders had always known that Pearl Harbor could be, and probably would be, the target of a surprise attack.20 The Japanese had initiated war with Russia in just such a manner. Admiral Richardson had warned that “The Navy had been expecting and planning for a Japanese surprise attack for many years.”21 In January 1941 Richardson’s superior, Admiral Harold Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, declared: “If war eventuates with Japan, it is believed easily possible that hostilities would be initiated by a surprise attack upon the Fleet or at the naval base at Pearl Harbor.”22 So at least twice during the 1930’s the base’s defenses were tested in mock air raids conducted by U.S. warplanes. Nevertheless, adequate defenses against a real attack were never prepared. After returning from his inspection of facilities at Pearl Harbor in 1939, General “Hap” Arnold, commander of the Army Air Force said the defenses were inadequate, “the target presented was an airman’s dream-a concentration difficult to miss.”23
We now know that the code-decrypting system known as “MAGIC” was providing substantial information on Japanese plans and decisions.24 In 1941 only the Japanese diplomatic code had been broken but that provided plenty of vital information. On November 15, 1941, after swearing them to secrecy, Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall informed a key group of Washington newsmen that ” We are preparing a defensive war against Japan, whereas the Japs believe we are preparing only to defend the Philippines…We know what they know about us and they don’t know we know it.”25 According to Secretary of War Henry Stimson, FDR told his top advisers on November 25 “that we were likely to be attacked perhaps as soon as next Monday (December 1) and the question raised was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without too much danger to ourselves.”26
Washington also knew that Japan would not accept the ultimatum to withdraw its troops from East Asia issued by Secretary Hull on FDR’s orders, and that the Japanese had decided that war was their only solution. As a consequence all U.S. Pacific commanders were issued a “war warning” on November 27 when MAGIC informed the U.S. government that the Japanese carrier fleet had left home waters. To navy commanders Admiral Stark said: “Negotiations with Japan have ceased, and an aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days.” General Marshall dispatched similar warnings, adding, “The United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act.” 27
According to the testimony of numerous former navy specialists in the craft of radio direction finding (RDFs), critical information about the track of the Japanese fleet was dispatched to Washington. Though the Japanese fleet was instructed to maintain radio silence, at a few key junctures in its Pacific transit it was forced to communicate via radio between vessels and this allowed RFDs to show that the fleet was sailing due east.28 It might have orders to attack the U.S. facilities at Midway or Wake Island, but logic dictated that an attack on these places would serve no military purpose. If Admiral Yamamoto’s gamble was to be realized, the U.S. fleet would have to be destroyed, and it was based at Pearl Harbor.
In addition, the FBI had known for over a year that spies were operating out of the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu, and keeping careful watch on the islands’ military facilities. They were transmitting key information back to Tokyo constantly, including detailed information about the berths of the battleships. In the first six days of December these spies sent messages that ominously spoke to a forthcoming sneak attack. On December 2 one intercept said: “All American personnel given shore leave as usual. Pearl Harbor not on alert.” On December 6 the spies’ final transmission stated, “All clear…no barrage balloons [air defenses] are up…there is an opportunity for a surprise attack against these places.”29 Also that day, upon reading a separate and key Japanese transmission, FDR told his closest aide, Harry Hopkins, “This means war.”30
Importantly, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been long aware of the espionage in Hawaii, and J. Edgar Hoover wanted to arrest the spies. He was asked by Assistant Secretary of State Adolf Berle to desist: “No expulsion is possible as any charge leading to ouster would reveal American crytographic success to Japan.”31
To their credit the senior navy and army commanders on Hawaii, Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Walter Short, attempted to protect their respective bases. Kimmel deployed his carriers to the west of Hawaii, anticipating correctly that any attack would come from that direction. Washington ordered him not to place his fleet in a position that would “precipitate Japanese action.” Then he was ordered by Washington instead to dispatch army aircraft to Wake and Midway ( a third carrier was sent to San Diego for repairs), a move that removed the vital carriers from Pearl Harbor.32 Short wanted to disperse his aircraft across the islands, so they would not all be vulnerable in one place, but he was ordered to keep them in concentrated airstrips with increased ground security.33 Knowing that U.S. cryptographers had broken some vital Japanese codes to some of which they had been privy, both senior officers took these official countermeasures from their superiors to mean that Washington did not anticipate an attack at Pearl Harbor. That is one reason the island’s defenses were down that fateful morning of December 7, 1941.
Short’s air force was destroyed on the ground. Kimmel’s carrier airplanes were no longer present. The official explanation for the absence of the carriers has always been that Washington wished to beef up defenses elsewhere in the Pacific but that line of argument makes no sense given that if Japan had attacked those tiny bases she would still be at war with the U.S. but without having inflicted the crippling blow necessary for Japan’s strategy to be fulfilled. One thing is certain: Two of those three carriers were present at the critical Battle of Midway six months later, where intelligence gathered by MAGIC allowed the U.S. to draw the main fleet of the Japanese into a trap and into a resounding defeat that effectively broke the back of Japan’s entire strategic offensive. After Midway Japan was essentially defeated though it would take time, and hundreds of thousands of American lives, to dislodge Japanese forces from their Pacific island redoubts.34
Another extremely curious set of facts involves the events in the Philippines only eight hours after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Once Oahu was bombed an all-out alert was transmitted so it was certain that U.S. forces in the Philippines knew that the U.S. was at war. Their commander was General Douglas MacArthur, who had for years been preparing the islands’ defenses. His orders, never carried out, were to bomb Japanese bases in Formosa, Indochina, and China. When the Japanese attacked only hours after Pearl Harbor his subordinates begged him to get U.S. aircraft off the ground to counterattack. For reasons never explained, MacArthur refused to give these orders and the American air forces in the Philippines were destroyed on the ground where they were concentrated, wingtip to wingtip. These forces may not have been able to stop the Japanese takeover of the Philippines but no attempt was made. As a result of the Japanese victory in the Philippines, tens of thousands of American and Filipino troops were taken prisoner, many of them to die horrible deaths owing to beatings and starvation, in what became the worst single defeat in American military history in terms of loss of life, worse even than Pearl Harbor. Yet, not only was MacArthur, not punished, as both Kimmell and Short were, he was promoted and given the Congressional Medal of Honor, though lieutenants at the scene said that MacArthur had never emerged from his fortified command center into the line of fire, the ostensible requirement for the honor.35
Though nearly 400,000 Americans died in World War II, this was by far the lowest casualty rate of any of the major combatants, owing to the enormous advantages of U.S. firepower. A striking example of this is the ratio of American combat deaths at Iwo Jima, 7,500, to Japanese deaths, 100,000. The British war historian, John Keegan, estimated that it took the U.S. approximately 25,000 rounds of ammunition, ranging from M-1 bullets to 18 inch naval shells, to kill one Japanese soldier in that month-long battle.36
Unlike its allies and enemies alike, the U.S. also suffered no devastation to its continental territory, and endured by far the fewest casualties. Indeed, at war’s end the U.S. was far richer than when it entered, and because all others had spent themselves, it emerged as the dominant power on the planet.
Even before the war ended, however, the specter of mass unemployment surfaced again. In 1944, Charles Wilson, former chief of General Electric, and FDR”s wartime production czar, had worried about the 16 million GIs who would shortly return to civilian life. Would breadlines await them? War production was manifestly the only real factor that had ended the Great Depression but even so it had absorbed only a fraction of those formerly unemployed. The bulk of young would-be workers were now wearing military uniforms. Wilson’s answer was a “permanent war economy.” But for that a permanent enemy would be required.37
Thus yesterday’s ally was rapidly depicted as the new threat and danger on the horizon. Though the Soviet Union had undergone the most extensive devastation in the history of warfare – between 25-30 million dead, 70,000 cities and towns utterly destroyed, transportation and agriculture crippled- Americans were bombarded with propaganda to the effect that Stalin had illegitimately annexed Eastern Europe and was now poised to take over the world. While communist propaganda did call for worldwide revolution, the revolt of the so-called “third world” that would begin in Greece, Palestine, India, Indonesia, Korea and Vietnam was not directed from Moscow. Incipient anti-colonial struggles across the planet, were a response to centuries of European (and Japanese) misrule, as well as the newly appreciated fact among the colonized that the Europeans were finished as empire builders.
Stalin sought to take advantage of western imperial decline to foster traditional Russian foreign policy aims, especially national security, rather than to spread the true faith of communism. The Red Army’s occupation of Eastern and Central Europe was a result of having waged successful war against the Nazi juggernaut. The Soviets occupied these nations because many had allied themselves with Hitler and sent troops into Soviet territory.
The Yalta Accords had effectively assented to a division of Europe between the U.S., Britain, and the USSR in keeping with military realities. Washington, employing Churchill’s hypocritical phrase, began to assert that Stalin had drawn an “Iron Curtain” across Europe and that he had to be “contained.” No sooner had the dust of WWII settled than the popular media began to assault the public with doomsday scenarios of Soviet launched nuclear missiles falling on Washington, even though the U.S. was the sole atomic power, and most intelligence studies insisted that Stalin was years away from acquiring nukes.38
The notion that it was moral opposition to communist totalitarianism that animated American policy is widely held but this idea is contravened by the fact that throughout the Cold War Washington overthrew democracies and filled the vacuums with dictatorships every bit as brutal and criminal as anything to be found in the communist world. And Stalin’s presumed intransigence is called into question by the facts that he withdrew Soviet troops from Iran, Manchuria, North Korea, and Austria in line with wartime agreements, hardly the actions of someone bent on global domination. Rather Stalin’s power, while great, was still limited by the vastly superior power of the U.S., as the history of containment proved, and his actions were those of a ruler cannily, if savagely, preserving what he possessed.
Clearly the Soviets attempted to exploit popular revolutions wherever they could but Washington was also intervening across the planet and on a much greater scale. The wars in Korea and Vietnam were the brainchildren not of Moscow or Beijing but stemmed from indigenous political movements that had arisen in response to the depredations of Europeans or Japanese, and the aid given to U.S. client regimes in Seoul and Saigon dwarfed the contributions of the so-called communist monolith.
The deeper crisis facing American geo-political supremacy was the devastation of the global capitalist economy engendered by the war. U.S. policy faced a five-pronged threat: 1.) that the ruined nations of capitalist Europe- both friend and former foe- would revert to the sort of economic nationalism of the prewar years, and close their markets. 2.) that post-war impoverishment in the devastated regions would lead to support for socialists and communists and that might lead to accommodation with the Soviets. 3.) that both Europe and the Asian rim could not buy American goods owing to their lack of dollars, and this would stall the American economy at the moment war production was ending. 4.) That the European colonies and Korea were in revolt and threatening to take themselves in independent directions, thereby potentially removing themselves as sources of cheap labor and resources and markets for American goods. 5.) Finally, that American federal tax revenues, which had been increased ostensibly for the emergency of war, would have to be maintained. In the face of widespread opposition to the new taxes, some way would have to be found to persuade the public that taxes would continue to rise.39
The central goal of postwar U.S. policy became the economic and financial reconstruction of Germany as the new axis of an integrated European market for American goods and services, coupled with a similar program for Japan in East Asia that effectively would grant Japan management rights over the very empire it had just lost, but now under American supervision. As then U.N. ambassador John Foster Dulles put it, “a healthy Europe” could not be “divided into small compartments.” It had to be organized into “an integrated market big enough to justify modern methods of mass production for mass consumption.” Having challenged the U.S. and Europe’s empires, both Germany and Japan would now become junior partners in “America Inc., “sharing in the benefits of a global economy while thwarting the opposition of communists and economic nationalists.” 40
Just as the key to the American victory in World War II had depended upon allied access to the fuel upon which industrial and military production and deployment had depended, so postwar policy increasingly focused upon control of oil. As the State Department’s Petroleum Division put matters even before the war ended, oil was “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” As early as 1943 the Standard Oil Company of California had urged the Roosevelt Administration to extend Lend-Lease aid to Saudi Arabia and bring it under the U.S.’s protective umbrella. According to analysts in the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs, the first priority of U.S. policy toward the region should be to safeguard and develop, “The vast oil resources of Saudi Arabia, now in American hands under a concession held by American nationals.”41
On February 14, 1945, the war rapidly heading toward Allied victory, FDR met with Saudi King Ibn Saud aboard a U.S. warship in the Suez Canal. No documentary evidence exists to delineate what was agreed but the facts of history indicate a clear alliance between the two nations based on oil. In 1946 a State Department position paper declared:
Our petroleum policy is predicated on a mutual recognition of a very extensive joint interest and upon control?of the great bulk of the petroleum resources of the world????US-UK agreement upon the broad, forward-looking pattern of the development and utilization of petroleum resources under the control of nationals of the two countries is of the highest strategic and commercial importance. 42
Inclusion of Britain in this condominium was actually somewhat disingenuous since the British Empire was collapsing as a direct result of the wartime “imperial overstretch,” and Washington was playing Rome to Britain’s Athens. Indeed, American oil policy was aimed at controlling wartime allies as well as erstwhile enemies. As James Forrestal, shortly to be named the first Secretary of Defense, put matters in 1947, “whoever sits on the valve of Middle East oil may control the destiny of Europe.”43 The next year, George Kennan, the architect of the anti-communist containment policy, and chief of policy planning at the State Department, wrote that “U.S. control over Japanese oil imports would help provide ‘veto power’ over Japan’s military and industrial policies.”44
The Truman Doctrine of 1947 purportedly sought to declare war on communism but also effectively globalized the Monroe Doctrine in support of traditional goals. An early draft of Truman’s message read as follows:
Two great wars and an intervening world depression have weakened the [capitalist] system almost everywhere except in the United States???if, by default, we permit free enterprise to disappear in other countries of the world, the very existence of our democracy will be gravely threatened. 45
What Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson feared was a return to self-contained, exclusive economic blocs that would freeze American enterprise out. Whether that took the form of Stalinism, state socialism, state capitalism, economic nationalism, or Arab nationalism made little difference. What official Washington meant by “free enterprise” was freedom for American corporations and financial institutions to penetrate the markets of the world on American terms. Obviously that would limit, at the very least, the freedom of others.
Fearing that such language would make the policy appear “like an investment prospectus” the final draft of the Truman Doctrine, the one that became public, was retro-fitted to emphasize the global threat of communism.46
Yet the cost of reconstructing ruined economies and taking on the financial burdens in Greece and Turkey from Britain were an enormous drain on the U.S. budget, especially in the continuing absence, despite the Marshall Plan, of Europe’s ability to buy from American producers.
Meanwhile, the American public was slow to take seriously the threat of Soviet communism, and was balking at continued taxation at wartime levels.
Then, in 1949, the near simultaneous shocks of the Chinese Communist Revolution, and the earlier than predicted Soviet atomic bomb success altered Washington’s initial plans. Though genuine China experts emphasized that tensions between the Chinese communists and Stalin portended a future rift, and insisted that China posed no threat to the U.S., and though the Soviets did not have the strategic forward bases to conduct atomic air assaults on the U.S., the Truman Administration’s response to these events helped to induce and accelerate a national hysteria and wrought the utter reorientation of U.S. foreign policy.
Militarization, unprecedented in American history, became the order of the day.
The Soviet A-Bomb was predictable. Considerable evidence exists to conclude that one of the major factors in the decision to use the Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had as much to do with sending a clear message to Stalin as to the Japanese intransigents. Stalin was shocked by the atomic bombings, not because he was squeamish obviously, but because he now had at hand prima facie evidence that the Americans could be as ruthless as himself. Certainly the Soviets drew a clear conclusion from the vaporization of the two cities and they then pulled out all the stops in their own scientific establishment to meet the U.S. on its own nuclear terms. Ironically, in the name of meeting what it claimed was a deadly threat, Washington’s policies toward the Soviets hastened them to create the far graver threat of the capability to wreak nuclear annihilation upon the U.S., a threat which nearly came to pass on more than one occasion, but especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and which still exists in the form of Russia’s still formidable nuclear arsenal.
Liberals and conservatives blamed China’s march to communism on Moscow but the reality was that the corrupt rule of Washington’s client, Jiang Jieshi, provided the vacuum which Mao Zedong readily filled. The communists had resisted the Japanese fiercely while Jiang’s troops confined their military activities to plundering their fellow Chinese. Communists rode to power in China on the crest of popular support, and as a result of Chinese conditions, not because puppet-masters in the U.S.S.R. orchestrated events.47 At any rate the sudden withdrawal of all of northeast Asia from the global capitalist system seriously deranged Washington’s reconstruction plans for Japan, which required access to the region’s resources and markets, just as it did before World War II.
The National Security Council was established in 1947, ostensibly to rectify intelligence weaknesses that had led to Pearl Harbor but in reality to coordinate the new Cold War. In 1952 it issued one of the most pivotal documents in the annals of U.S. foreign policy, National Security Memorandum No. 68 (NSC 68). Arguing that a quantum leap in military spending might distort the Soviet-bloc and Chinese economies to the point where they would develop military hardware over consumer goods, “guns over butter,” and thereby foster internal upheaval, NSC 68 called for a tripling of the U.S. military budget, accompanied by parallel tax increases, the reining in of labor, reduction of social welfare spending, and greater propaganda measures domestically to build public consensus for a heated up crusade against communism.48
There was, however, one significant problem. The fiscally conservative Congress balked at the enormity of the appropriations requested. Two months later relief arrived. In the deathless and cynical words of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, “Thank God! Korea came along and saved us.”
Korea had been divided by agreement between Washington and Moscow at the end of World War II, with plans for reunification to be decided in future. As was the case in China, matters were complicated by the fact that indigenous Korean opposition to Japanese rule had been led by the communists. Thus communists believed they had a right to establish the post war government, or at the very least to play a major role in any postwar regime that would encompass the entire peninsula. Korean anti-communists hoped to purge their rivals entirely. Led by the American client Syngman Rhee, they were determined to reunify Korea on their terms, and until the war began had to be restrained by Washington from attacking the north.
Only weeks before North Korean communist forces crossed the 38th Parallel into the south, Secretary Acheson had written Korea out of the U.S. “defense perimeter” but now the North Korean “invasion” of their own country was touted as evidence of the growing Soviet-led communist menace to the free world. Washington declared that it organized the U.N. “coalition” to drive the northerners out of the south but once that objective had been achieved General Douglas MacArthur went beyond his mandate, crossed into the north, and indicated his intention to drive the communists from power altogether. This had the inexorable effect of drawing China into the war. When the Chinese forced American troops into retreat MacArthur’s erstwhile victory stood at the brink of disaster, since the Chinese appeared capable of driving American forces off the Korean peninsula entirely. MacArthur therefore openly advocated the use of nuclear weapons, joined by numerous members of Congress, and the world stood at the brink of another global conflagration.
The Chinese, however, stopped their advance at the 38th Parallel, restoring the status quo ante bellum, and forced the North Korean communists into peace negotiations.
When in 1953 an armistice was signed, over 3 million Koreans were dead, more than 50,000 U.S. soldiers had been killed, and the political boundaries of the nation were exactly what they had been when the war began. Though Washington claimed that it had achieved a victory for democracy, the new southern regime proved as dictatorial and brutal as many other American clients, killing or imprisoning all communists remaining in the south, and later brutally suppressing dissent form any quarter. But South Korea was now safe to become a haven for massive American foreign investment.
North Korea actually developed economically as well under communist rule, though political freedoms were totally absent. When Soviet subsidies lapsed, however, in the early 1990s, North Koreaâ€˜s rulers devoted what resources remained to military readiness, including development of nuclear arms, and forced its citizens into dire poverty, facts that have been used most recently to declare North Korea a “rogue state.” Indeed, North Korea is undoubtedly the most militarized nation on earth. Yet, another salient fact, but one which has been missing from the discussion, is that when American pilots returned to their carriers in 1953 they reported that there were virtually no targets remaining to be bombed. Most of the north’s population was living in underground shelters. Massive dams along the Yalu River had been destroyed from the air causing massive flooding and loss of life, while simultaneously destroying crops over a vast area, therefore leading to mass famine. Nazis were executed after World War II for similar violations of the Geneva Convention that the international tribunal ruled were war crimes. What might the American mindset be had we ever undergone such devastation?
V. U.S. Interventions in the Muslim and So-Called Third World
Similar patterns of communist and non-communist nationalist resistance to the U.S. agenda appeared throughout what the west liked to call the Third World. Ho Chi Minh turned toward communism as a direct result of having lived under French capitalism, as predatory and parasitic a system in their colonies as has ever existed under the rubric of any “ism,” and because when he looked to American aid at the Versailles peace conference in 1919 he was shown the door, as he would be in 1945-1946 when he appealed to President Truman for recognition of Vietnamese independence. Moreover, the Vietnamese revolution was impelled primarily by nationalism not communism. Ho was never Stalin’s or Mao’s stooge. Had Washington followed the advice of its agents who lived with the Viet Minh during World War II, and recognized Vietnamese independence, that nation would have been a loyal ally in southeast Asia, communist or not, and the terrible tragedy of the Vietnam War could have been avoided. Vietnam could have been a much safer locus of American trade than it is even now.
Throughout the former European empires the real problem for Washington was de-colonization. Sometimes the movements were communist but often not. Nationalism and the movement toward “non-alignment” were equal threats, though anti-communism provided the ideological cover for Washington’s global military response to any and all emerging movements that might frustrate the overall goal of a unitary, integrated American-managed world-system.
Thus in the name of anti-communism the newly minted Central Intelligence Agency, violating the congressional mandate that had created it, and domestic and international law as well, overthrew the parliamentary government in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954. In that year Vietnam was divided, supposedly temporarily, in order to allow nationwide elections but, since the CIA knew that Ho Chi Minh would easily win, the division was really to buy time to prevent Ho from achieving his movement’s goal of independence and national unity. In fact Washington moved to prevent national elections agreed to by all great powers, except the U.S., in the Geneva Accords of 1954, and in contravention of them “invented” a new state, South Vietnam, and then pretended that it was the choice of a majority of Vietnamese.
Throughout the 1950s the U.S. also intervened covertly to thwart the rise of Arab and Muslim secular nationalism, particularly Nasserism, whom the CIA tried to assassinate because he nationalized the Suez Canal, as well as Qassim in Iraq for doing the same to that nations’s oil industry. The strategy of attempting to overthrow governments that stood in the way of American corporate dominance of key national industries in the Muslim world backfired by creating a vacuum into which Islamic fundamentalism flowed, in what the CIA today calls “blowback.”
In 1961 the CIA worked covertly to overthrow the popularly elected government of Patrice Luumumba in the Congo, and Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, and Castro in Cuba in the same year which pushed him even closer to the Soviets and led to the nearly apocalyptic missile crisis in 1962, In 1963 JFK auithorized the overthrow of the government of Ngo Dinh Diem, which the U.S. had originally installed, aided the military overthrow of an elected government in Brazil in 1964, succeeded in overthrowing Sukarno in Indonesia in 1965, and invaded Vietnam in March, and the Dominican Republic in April of that year, assisted in the right-wing overthrow of the constitutional government of Greece in 1967, and aided generals in Chile, only one of two democracies in Latin America, to overthrow the legitimately elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973.
Despite efforts in the mid-1970s by Congress to rein in such activities on the part of American intelligence agencies this pattern continued in Africa, and in Central America during the 1980s, and on up to the present day, a full decade after the fall of communism. New enemies appeared as soon as the old ones departed.
The origin of the current crises in Afghanistan and Iraq can be traced back to the division of the former Turkish empire and the takeover of Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan by Britain and France after World War I, but once the U.S. displaced the old empires it too turned to intervention throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
Forgotten today is the fact that the very first profits American oil companies derived from the Middle East came from Iraq. After World War II Washington succeeded in supplanting Britain as the dominant power in the region. In 1955 the Eisenhower Administration agreed to anchor the Baghdad Pact, an informal alliance of the U.S., Great Britain, and the four, then western-dominated, nations of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Pakistan. In 1957, the Eisenhower Doctrine formalized the agreement by declaring Washington’s intent to arm these nations and defend the region against “outside aggression.” Though couched in anti-Soviet rhetoric, the U.S. was really responding to the rising tide of Arab and Muslim nationalism, and efforts by such regimes to throw off western dominance by seeking closer relations with the USSR.
In 1958 the British-installed Iraqi monarchy was overthrown in a military coup comprised of nationalist and pan-Arabist officers led by General Abdul Karim Qassim, who announced his intent to nationalize Iraqi oil, established relations with the Soviets, and set up an informal coalition of oil-producing states that would ultimately evolve into the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC. At that time, Allen Dulles, chief of the Central Intelligence Agency, cited the situation in Iraq as “the most dangerous in the world today.”
The CIA then began to cultivate relationships within the Iraqi Ba’ath party, known to be violently opposed to Qassim. Saddam Hussein, at that time a youthful Ba’athist, attempted to assassinate Qassim with the assistance of the CIA, thereby initiating the agency’s decades long on-again-off-again romance with Hussein in his rise to power through the ranks of the Ba’ath until he became president of Iraq in 1979, when his first act was to murder all of his presumed opponents.
Islamic fundamentalism in its present form came into existence as a protest against European meddling and westernization among the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and it received a mighty boost when the U.S. re-installed the hated Shah in Iran by overthrowing the parliamentary government of Premier Mossadegh in 1953. The Shah’s regime brutally suppressed traditional Shiite Muslims with a secret police force trained by the CIA, and promoted western style modernization. It even went so far in the mid-1970s as to allow the army to fire on Shiite women demonstrating to wear the banned chador, or Islamic headdress, killing dozens and thereby setting off the firestorm that ultimately led to the Islamic Revolution of 1978.
To contain the spread of Shiite fundamentalism Washington found it expedient to curry favor with Saddam Hussein of neighboring Iraq (whom it had assisted to power in the first place), encouraging him to go to war with Iran, and providing him with much military hardware and other forms of support. Donald Rumsfeld, then President Reagan’s special envoy, even met with the dictator in 1983 and gave him a warm handshake and the go-ahead. When Saddam used chemicals provided him by American, and European companies to make poison gas and then used this banned product on Iranians and Kurds within Iraq itself, the international community condemned this savage crime and attempted to impose sanctions against him, but the first Bush Administration refused to join in and worked to protect his regime right up until he crossed his erstwhile patron by invading Kuwait in 1990.
Cynical propaganda was employed to win the American public’s support for war with Iraq in 1990, most especially the unproven assertion that Saddam intended to invade Saudi Arabia and by annexing the world’s largest source of oil make Iraq the master of Mideast petroleum. Such ploys also included the impersonation of a Kuwaiti nurse by the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter who claimed before television cameras to have seen Iraqi troops slaughtering infants in their cribs when she hadn’t even been in Kuwait during the invasion. This grotesque and mendacious publicity stunt was orchestrated by the public relations firm Hill and Knowlton, a firm with deep connections to the current administration. When Iraqi troops committed genuine atrocities in Iran and against Iraqi Kurds these received virtually no notice in the American media, at least not until later after Saddam had been demonized.
Iraq was driven from Kuwait easily. Rather than overthrow Saddam at that time the first Bush Administration realized that the untimely removal of Saddam would quickly lead to the disintegration of Iraq and quite likely to a Shiite takeover of much of the nation, while the Kurds would opt for independence, thereby inflaming Turkey’s, Iran’s and Syria’s Kurds. The entire Middle East would have been destabilized.
The Bush Administration would have preferred Saddamism without Saddam but in the absence of a strongman they could trust they settled for the devil they knew, one whose brutality could be counted upon to keep Iraq intact. The result was twelve more years of Saddam’s brutality for Iraq.
When a United Nations team visited Iraq immediately following the Gulf War it found its infrastructure, including water systems, sewage systems, electricity grids, and hospitals in an “apocalyptic condition,” devastation induced by the American bombing. Once one of the more developed of Third World nations Iraq collapsed suddenly into one of the poorest. Defense Intelligence Agency documents show that U.S. military planners knew clearly that the destruction of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure would lead inexorably to mass epidemics of extremely serious diseases that in the absence of any Iraqi capability to treat them would lead to widespread death and suffering. The conclusion is inescapable. Washington wanted mass civilian deaths and casualties. Why? Undoubtedly to send a clear message and savage example to others in the region who might contest Washington’s interests.
In short order Washington imposed a comprehensive sanctions regime that led over the next few years to the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five. The Clinton Administration, in a bid to undermine criticism, appeared to soften the sanctions through the “oil for food” program. However, it was utterly predictable that Saddam would sabotage it by keeping oil revenues to reward his closest allies (and corrupt UN officials) and allowing ordinary Iraqis quite literally to starve. The UN itself, which pretended that it was the initiator of the sanctions, released reports indicating that the effects on the Iraqi people contravened the UN Charter and the Geneva Convention. The toll being taken on ordinary Iraqis was so terrible, the UN estimated 1.7 million Iraqi civilian deaths as a result of sanctions, that the former Assistant Secretary General of the UN, Dennis Halliday, and many other top officials, resigned in protest saying:
The policy of economic sanctions is totally bankrupt. We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and as terrifying as that.
In 1999, 70 members of Congress appealed to President Clinton to lift the sanctions and end what they termed “infanticide masquerading as policy.”
Later, when asked about the deaths of so many Iraqi children Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, declared that she thought it was “worth the price” on American national television and earned the bitterness of much of the Islamic world.
Even before the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 President Carter declared that the Soviets were threatening the entire region, and he therefore enunciated his own version of American foreign policy doctrine by asserting:
“Any attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
The CIA had been working with the Pakistani Interservices Intelligence Agency (ISI) to recruit approximately 50,000 Islamic mujahideen (including Osama bin Laden) from across the Muslim world to enter that nation to undermine its pro-Soviet regime. These Islamists committed acts of terror against civilians, including blowing up buildings and aircraft in Afghanistan and in neighboring Soviet republics. No American officials called them terrorists then. Instead they applied the Orwellian appellation “freedom fighters.”
President Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, put matters baldly:
“We didn’t push the Russians to intervene but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.” On the day the Soviet Army entered Afghanistan Brzezinski exulted: “Now we can give the USSR its Vietnam War.” 58
Later, when it became apparent that the mujahideen had turned against their American benefactors, Brzezinski was asked whether he regretted having brought anti-American terrorists into existence. His answer was stark:
What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred up Muslims or the liberation of central Europe and the end of the Cold War?
Stirred up Muslims indeed! The Taliban soon after gave safe haven to bin Laden and he then used Afghanistan as a base to launch a wave of terrorist attacks against U.S. targets, most particularly the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
The evidence is clear that plans to attack Iraq had been formulated in the Bush White House prior to the events of 9-11. Just nine days following the attacks key members of the Defense Policy Board, many of whom had served in the Bush I and Reagan administrations, wrote an open letter to George W. Bush arguing:
Even if evidence does not directly link Iraq to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.
Well before Bush was even “elected” a radical plan to exert global hegemony had been put forth by a group calling itself the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), the main elements of which have been put into motion, and which constitute the most comprehensive revision of American foreign policy since NSC-68, and resembles nothing so much as the aggressive posture undertaken by Washington at the turn of the last century. Indeed, the Bush Administration’s current objectives far surpass the Cold War blueprint in scope and the national resources that will be necessary to secure them.
According to PNAC the primary goal of U.S. policy must be to prevent the rise of any power that could challenge U.S. supremacy. That includes the economic and military potential of the European Union as well as the former communist giants. PNAC’s military goals stress the ability of the U.S. to act alone and to conduct “pre-emptive” attacks on various “enemies,” without recourse to the United Nations. These are the essential tenets of the so-called “Bush Doctrine.”
In 1992 Paul Wolfowitz, then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, objected to the outcome of the first Gulf War, wherein Saddam Hussein was allowed to remain in power. Wolfowitz drafted a Defense Policy Guidance document calling for continued intervention throughout the region to “access vital raw materials, especially Persian Gulf oil.” Rejected by the first Bush Administration as too “radical” the document nevertheless became the template for PNAC.
In 1998 18 prominent “neo-conservatives, including Wolfowitz, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, James Woolsey, and Richard Perle wrote President Clinton calling for the immediate removal of Saddam Hussein and the implementation of much of Wolfowitz’s original plan. Again this proposal was rejected.
But upon George W. Bush’s ascension to the presidency via judicial fiat most among this neo-conservative coterie became prominent members of his administration or otherwise advised it. In 2000 PNAC published its extensive and comprehensive blueprint for the radical revision of U.S. policy and strategy toward the larger world, and the total reorganization of U.S. armed forces, effectively rejecting multilateral cooperation in favor of what amounted to a call for unilateral global hegemony by the world’s only superpower.
The proposal called for entirely new missions for U.S. forces, including a dominant nuclear capability and new types of nuclear weapons, sufficient combat forces to fight and win multiple major wars at once, and “constabulary” forces to supplant the United Nations. The plan also foresaw “a network of â€˜deployment bases’ or â€˜forward operating bases’ to increase the reach of current and future forces.” The report itself complained that the process of accomplishing this transformation was “likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event-like a new Pearl Harbor.”
Then on September 11, 2001 that catalyzing event occurred and within hours members of the Bush Administration were scrambling to take the most advantage of the “opportunities” that the tragic attacks afforded. As national Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice put matters:
An earthquake of the magnitude of 9-11 can shift the tectonic plates of international politics?the international system has been in flux since the collapse of Soviet power…this is a period of not just of grave danger but of enormous opportunity?to create a new balance of power that favored freedom.
PNAC released a letter arguing that “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”
In his State of the Union address of January 2002 Bush accused Iraq as part of an “axis of evil” that included Saddam Hussein’s bitter enemy, Iran, and North Korea, and declared that the U.S. was ready for “pre-emptive action.” Bush stated flatly that Iraq had 500 tons of chemical weapons, including Sarin and mustard gas, 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin and 30,000 prohibited warheads, many of which Saddam was said to be willing to give to terrorist groups. He also asserted that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger for its proscribed nuclear weapons program.
On February 4, 2003 the chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, announced that there was no evidence of Iraqi mobile bio-weapons labs, no other WMD production, and no evidence of links to Al Quaeda. The very next day, in a dramatic speech to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell made a total of 29 claims about Iraq’s ties to terrorists, its weapons programs, various violations of UN requirements, and the claim that Saddam had “the wherewithal to develop smallpox.”
The following month the U.S. launched all-out war on Iraq. Since then not a single claim made by the Bush Administration has been substantiated. On October 2, seven months after the occupation of Iraq, CIA weapons expert David Kay told congressional intelligence committees that “We have not yet found stocks of weapons,” and today claims to have been misled by the Bush Administration, as does Secretary of State Colin Powell. In December 2003 a 600 page joint report issued by both congressional intelligence committees on the intelligence failures in the wake of the events of 9-11 cited dozens of nations where Al Quaeda had received aid or haven. Conspicuously absent from the list was Iraq.67 Both the 9-11 Commission and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on intelligence prewar assessments issued in the summer of 2004 have emphasized that no such connection existed.
The Bush Administration’s claims have been false all along. Saddam’s regime, cruel and despotic as it was, posed no threat to the United States, or to its neighbors and had no links to terrorism, though the assault on Iraq’s Muslims has now made that nation a new recruiting ground for Al Quaeda, evidence for which the press reports every day. The crucial question remains: what were the real reasons for this war?
White House and Pentagon strategic planning documents closely follow the PNAC template. The real aim is to be found there. Massive re-organization of the U.S. military, new weapons, including “bunker-buster” nukes, strategic bases (“lily pads” in military parlance) in the Middle East from which to carry out proposed operations against other nations, especially Iran and Syria which have been threatened in much the same way as Iraq, and to assert firm control over the region’s oil reserves. Having destroyed Iraq’s sophisticated infrastructure in both the first Gulf War and the current one, the administration also envisions the reconstruction of that devastated nation, at American taxpayer expense, and on terms that will prove highly profitable to strategically positioned private American corporations, especially the ones that have contributed most to the Bush re-election campaign. The Center for Public Integrity recently reported that over half of the Defense Department’s budget now goes to private contractors and the top ten, consisting of well known giants like General Dynamics, General Electric, Northrup Grumman and the Carlysle Group, receive nearly forty-percent of that total-vested interests in a permanent state of war/emergency if ever there were.
As the 21st Century opens the United States finds itself at war in two countries, with troops stationed in 130 other nations, and another major crisis with Iran brewing. In the case of Iraq the early public optimism following in the wake of the rapid removal of Saddam has given way to diminishing support for the continued occupation as a mounting insurgency in that country continues to take the lives of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians every day. Although the Bush administration continues to insist that it is motivated by democratic, humanitarian and security concerns that seems belied by the fact that the first places occupied and defended by U.S. troops as they took Iraqi territory were the oil facilities and banks and not the hospitals, electric power plants so vital to the well-being of ordinary Iraqis, and the museums containing the most ancient artifacts reflecting the history of western civilization. Recent polls indicate that the majority of Iraqis see the American forces as occupiers and not liberators, evidence for which is perceived in the handpicked Iraqi interim prime minister Iyad Alawi, with two decades of CIA connections behind him, sweetheart multi-billion-dollar contracts that have been awarded without bid to the administration’s closest corporate allies, and statements indicating that Iraq’s oil resources are to be privatized and sold to the highest bidders who undoubtedly will be mostly American.
Afghanistan remains as divided, impoverished and undemocratic as ever, opium production has surpassed the pre-9-11volume, and U.S Special Forces have signally failed to apprehend Osama bin Laden, who remains a continual inspiration to his followers and increasingly throughout the Muslim world.
The Bush administration is under heavy criticism for mounting American casualties and is making noises about the need to speed up the transfer of power to Iraqis via the national elections scheduled for January, though the U.S faces the daunting problem of persuading any of the leading factions that Iyad Alawi, with his longtime CIA connections, will serve Iraqi interests primarily. As Iraqi casualties mount every day either from car bombs detonated by Iraqi insurgents, or from U.S. air attacks on densely populated urban areas, increasing numbers of Iraqis are joining or abetting various factions fighting what they see as a U.S. occupation. According to a CIA operative who trained the Afghan “freedom fighters” to fight the Soviets in the 1980s, for every mujahideen killed by Soviet troops at least a half-dozen of his family members immediately took up arms in revenge. “Sadly this same rule probably applies in Iraq.” He added:
There were two stark lessons in the history of the 20th century. No nation that launched a war against another sovereign nation ever won. And every nationalist-based insurgency against a foreign occupation ultimately succeeded. 68 Troop morale among U.S. forces is declining, enlistments and re-enlistments among all troops but especially Reserves and National Guard units are rapidly dropping, and Bush is quietly filling draft board positions across the country, going so far as to inform them that 20 years olds will be drafted first should conscription be implemented. If the most influential voices within the administration are to be taken seriously, the president’s re-election and four more years of power are likely to result in the expansion of what they like to call the “war on terror” but which is, in fact, a great deal more than that, the political, military and economic consequences of which cannot yet be predicted but are certain to be tragic and wide-ranging.
Paul L. Atwood
(a) Thomas A Bailey, The Man in the Street (New York, MacMillan, 1948) 13.
(b) Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian Hating and Empire Building (New York, Schocken, 1990) 46-61.
(c) Eric B Schultz and Michael J Tougias, King Philip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict (Woodstock, Vermont, Countryman Press, 1999) 1-7.
(1) David S Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945 (New York, Pantheon, 1984) 42-58; 243-251.
(2) Patrick J Heardon, Roosevelt Confronts Hitler: America’s Entry Into World War II (DeKalb, Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press, 1987) 184-185
(3) Stephen R Shalom, “VJ Day: Remembering the Pacific War”, Critical Asian Studies 35, no 3 (September 2003).
(4) Ibid. 72.
(5) Ibid. 69
(6) Ibid. 155-188.
(7) Ibid. 183-184.
(8) Ibid. 158
(10) Ibid. 185
(11) Bruce M Russett, No Clear and Present Danger: A Skeptical View of the US Entry Into World War II (New York, Harper and Row, 1972) 78-79.
(12) Charles A Beard, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War 1941: A Study in Appearances and Realities (New Haven, Yale University press, 1946) 784-787.
(13) Fortune, May 1941.
(14) Life, February 7 1941
(15) Russett, 44-62
(16) Historians have long debated whether the ten-point message delivered by Secretary Hull to the Japanese on November 26 1941 was an ultimatum or roadmap for a peaceful outcome of the US-Japanese dispute. Hull himself said “You cannot give an ultimatum to a proud people and not expect them to react violently”. See, United States Congress, Report of the Joint committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, 79th Congress, 2nd Session, 1946, Part 5 (Washington, DC, US Government printing Office, 1946) 2175.
(17) James O Richardson, On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor: The Memoirs of Admiral James O Richardson, USN (Washington, DC, Naval History Division, Department of the Navy, 1973) 427.
(18) Henry Lewis Stimson, On Active Service in Peace and War (New York, Harper and Row, 1948)
(19) David M Kennedy, Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (New York, Oxford University Press, 1999) 526; John Toland, Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath (New York, Berkeley Books, 1982) 264.
(20) Edward S Miller, War Plan Orange: The US Strategy to Defeat Japan 1897-1945 (Washington, DC, Naval Institute Press, 1991)
(22) Toland, 262
(23) Ibid. 261-262
(24) MAGIC was the generic code-name for the overall process of decoding Japanese transcripts. See, Robert B Stinnettt, Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor (New York, The Free press, 2000).
(25) Michael S Sherry, The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1991) 109
(26) Henry L Stimson, Diary, November 25 1941. Quoted in Hearden, 218.
(27) Stinnett, 171-172; Toland, 6-7.
(28) Stinnett, 189-198; Toland, 284-317.
(29) Stinnett, 98-118; Toland, 314-315.
(30) Toland, 316
(31) From Adolf Berle’s diary, June 3 1941. Quoted in Stinnett, 97.
(32) Stinnett, 149-156.
(33) Stinnett, 175-176.
(34) Kennedy, 535-544.
(35) Many sources deal with these issues. See, John Jacob Beck, MacArthur and Wainwright: Sacrifice of the Philippines (Albuquerque, Univesity of New Mexico Press, 1974); Lewis Brereton, The Brereton Diaries: The War in the Pacific, Middle East and Europe, October 1941 – 8 May 1945 (New York, Morrow, 1946); William Manchester, American Caesar, Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964 (Boston, Little Brown, 1978); Louis Morton, United States Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific: The Fall of the Philippines (Washington, DC Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1953).
(36) John Keegan,
(37) Richard Polenberg, War and Society: The United States, 1941-1945 (Philadelphia, J B Lippincott, 1972) 236-237. See also, Seymour Melman, The Permanent War Economy (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1974); Noam Chomsky, “The Savage Extreme of a Narrow Policy Spectrum”, Interview in Counterpunch, July 31 2004.
(38) Life, November 19 1945; Collier’s, October 27 1951
(39) Thomas J McCormick, America’s Half-Century: United States Foreign Policy in the Cold War (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987) 72-98.
(40) Ibid. 77
(41) Robert Baer, Sleeping with the Devil (New York, Three Rivers Press, 2003) 79.
(42) Foreign Relations of the United States, 1945, VIII, 54.
(43) Carl Soberg, Oil Power: The Rise and Imminent Fall of an American Empire (New York, New American Library, 1976) 187.
(44) Larry Everst, Oil, Power and Empire: Iraq and the US Global Agenda (Monroe, Maine, Common Courage Press, 2004) 57.
(45) McCormick, 77.
(47) Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945 (New York, Grove Press, 2001)
(48) “National Security Paper Number 68”, in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, 1: 234-292.
PAUL L. ATWOOD is a senior lecturer in the American studies department and research associate in the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences, both at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is a Vietnam-era veteran and an editor ofSticks and Stones: Living with Uncertain Wars (2006).
This article was originally published at Global Policy Forum, February 2006