[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Russ Baker, Host:
I’ve known David Swanson, chiefly via reading his work and occasionally e-mailing, for a number of years, and admire his single-minded advocacy for peace. In addition, he has been helpful in spreading the word about my research on the Bush family in Family of Secrets, for which I am grateful.
Firedoglake asked me last week if I could host this discussion. In the short intervening period, I was only able to read parts of the manuscript. As the book jacket sums up, “War Is A Lie is a thorough refutation of every major argument used to justify wars, drawing on evidence from numerous past wars, with a focus on those wars that have been most widely defended as just and good…” Clearly, War Is A Lie is an ambitious effort, organized around ideas rather than chronology, taking in, albeit briefly, most of the wars we talk about, from Iraq and Afghanistan to the two World Wars, back to the Civil War and even to antiquity. It is full of eye-opening facts that cast doubt on the school textbook version of events, and “wow” moments where we are made to question our deepest assumptions. David Swanson whets my appetite for a much more discerning look at particular wars I thought I knew much about, and more importantly, about war itself. He is particularly effective in demonstrating the cynicism and duplicity of leaders who tell us that war is for one purpose, while knowing full well that it is for another.
A caveat: In my reading, I discovered some significant errors of fact. For example, the author states that Allen Dulles ran the OSS during World War II (Dulles headed the Bern, Switzerland branch) and that Dulles was the first Director of Central Intelligence (he was the fourth.) Sometimes I found him to oversimplify complex situations, and some of the footnoted sources seem far less than authoritative. It also sometimes reads as if War Is a Lie were penned in haste.
Nevertheless, Swanson’s passion for the topic, his compassion for all peoples, his fresh thinking and his commitment to questioning conventional attitudes toward war and exposing popular myths and fallacies are what stand out. He presents many significant pieces of history that are not widely known and effectively assumes the mantle of moral guide. Swanson makes a compelling case for our re-examining our own knowledge about why we make war, and underlines the deception and folly that is almost always at the core of such violent adventures. Compared to traditional histories and analyses, and even with its drawbacks, I consider War Is A Lie an important work and one worthy of our attention. I’m glad to moderate this conversation.
To start things off, I’m going to include here some brief excerpts as a basis for conversation:
-Wars are given so many glorious and righteous justifications, including the spreading of civilization and democracy around the world, that you wouldn’t think it would be necessary to also claim that each war was unavoidable….And yet there has probably never been a war that hasn’t been explained as an absolutely necessary, inevitable, and unavoidable last resort….
-If World War II was a good war, why did the United States have to wait until its imperial outpost in the middle of the Pacific was attacked? ….Innocent people were under attack in Europe. If the war had something to do with that, why did the United States’ open participation have to wait until Japan attacked and Germany declared war?
-A few other things Americans are loathe to recall are the inspiration our own country offered to Hitler, the financial support our corporations offered him, and the fascist coup plotted by our own respected business leaders. If World War II was an unavoidable clash between good and evil, what are we to think of American contributions to and sympathies with the evil side?
-Adolf Hitler grew up playing “cowboys and Indians.” He grew up to praise the U.S. slaughter of native peoples, and the forced marches to reservations….
-In the United States the Department of War was renamed the Department of Defense in 1948, appropriately enough the same year in which George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. Since then, Americans have dutifully referred to anything their military or most other militaries do as “defense.”… But if what the Pentagon does is primarily defensive, Americans require a sort of defending unlike any previously seen or currently sought by any other people. Nobody else has divided the globe, plus outer space and cyberspace, into zones and created a military command to control each one. Nobody else has several hundred, perhaps over a thousand, military bases spread around the earth in other people’s countries. Almost nobody else has any bases in other people’s countries….
-Would a Korean War have been needed if we hadn’t sliced the country in half? Was the Vietnam War needed to prevent the domino-falling that did not actually happen when the United States was defeated there?
-War may dominate human history, and certainly our history books pretend there’s been nothing but war, but warfare has not been constant. It’s ebbed and flowed. Germany and Japan, such eager war makers 75 years ago, are now far more interested in peace than is the United States.
-Iran, that terrible demonic threat in U.S. “news” media, has not attacked another country in centuries.
-In the United States we invented the idea of permanent war, gave near-total war making powers to presidents, created secret agencies with the power to engage in warfare with no oversight, and built a war economy that would require wars from which to profit.
-The training that our children are receiving as they zap the enemy dead time after time in video games may be better war training than what Uncle Sam provided the “greatest generation.” Children playing video games that simulate murder may, in fact, be being trained to become our future homeless veterans reliving their glory days on park benches.
-In May 2003, two scholars at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released a study of past U.S. attempts at nation building… Never, the authors found, has a surrogate regime supported by the United States, such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, made the transition to democracy.
-Women gained rights in Afghanistan in the 1970s, before the United States intentionally provoked the Soviet Union to invade and armed the likes of Osama bin Laden to fight back. There has been little good news for women since.
-…while publicly threatening war on Iraq over its fictional “weapons of mass destruction,” the United States ignored an interesting development: the actual acquisition of nuclear weapons by North Korea. Wars don’t go where the offenses are; the offenses are found or concocted to fit the desired wars.
-In January, 2003, President George W. Bush proposed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair that painting U-2 aircraft with United Nations colors, flying them low over Iraq, and getting them shot at, could provide an excuse for war.
“And the second way to defeat the terrorists is to spread freedom. You see, the best way to defeat a society that is — doesn’t have hope, a society where people become so angry they’re willing to become suiciders, is to spread freedom, is to spread democracy.” — President George W. Bush, June 8, 2005.
This isn’t a stupid idea because Bush speaks hesitantly and invents the word “suiciders.” It’s a stupid idea because freedom and democracy cannot be imposed at gunpoint by a foreign force that thinks so little of the newly free people that it is willing to recklessly murder them.
-Most of the violence in Basra ended when the British troops there ceased patrolling to control the violence.
-…Obama…won the Democratic primary largely because he was lucky enough not to have been in Congress in time to vote for the initial authorization of the Iraq war. That he voted over and over again to fund it was never mentioned in the media, as senators are simply expected to fund wars whether they approve of them or not.
-By 2007, we could document a shocking sevenfold increase in fatal jihadist attacks around the world, meaning hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of additional dead civilians in predictable if criminal response to the latest “defensive” wars by the United States, wars that had produced nothing of value to weigh against that harm.
-With 86 percent of Americans in a February 2010 CNN poll saying our own government is broken, do we have the know-how, never mind the authority, to impose a model of government on someone else? And if we did, would the military be the tool with which to do it?
-War would be the greatest evil on earth even if it cost no money, used up no resources, left no environmental damage, expanded rather than curtailed the rights of citizens back home, and even if it accomplished something worthwhile. Of course, none of those conditions are possible.
-If we can avoid wars sometimes, and if some of us can avoid wars all the time, why can’t we collectively do better?