Remember the Alamo, remember the Maine, remember the Gulf of Tonkin, remember the weapons of mass destruction and now remember the Kokuka Sangyo tanker.
For a country such as the US, which has been at war for 226 years (93% of the time) in the 243 years since its independence in 1776, it’s remarkable that it has resorted so often to manufacturing excuses to go to war instead just doing it as it usually does. Of course, the manufacturing is partly a result of the abiding ignorance, misremembering, malevolent intent, propaganda and fundamental belief in the nation’s peace loving nature which infect its population and many of its political leaders.
Over the past week or so we seem to be sliding towards a similar situation – urged on by the fundamentalist Christian Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; those well-known peace loving supporters of democracy and liberty the Saudis; and, the usual suspects in the media. The British are already offering support and no doubt Australia’s supine conservative politicians will soon follow suit.
But the genuinely fake news underpinning the cases for the 1848 annexation of much of northern Mexico (the war being known in Mexico as the Intervención estadounidense en México); the defeat of the Spanish in 1898 and the beginnings of the creation of an American empire; the escalation of the Vietnam War; the massive ramifications of the Iraq invasion; and, any impending Iranian conflict have resulted in a growing cynicism in parts of the US population and other countries about what the US is actually on about and how potentially dangerous it can be.
Ulysses S. Grant, who fought in the Mexican War, was the first major figure to start questioning US international warlike aims. Grover Cleveland, Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie opposed the post-Spanish war annexations. With Vietnam only Senators Wayne Morse and Ernest Gruening out of all other Senators and House Representatives opposed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorising more military action – although within a few years millions of Americans were demonstrating against the war. And the WMD case was seen through quickly and millions mobilised against the war in a trend which has become more and more prevalent – people around the world simply don’t trust US assertions which are designed to lead to military action. The reality is that – unlike Meg Ryan’s performance when she and Billy Crystal are eating in Katz’s – faking it doesn’t work as well any more even if the amount of misleading propaganda deployed online during elections sometimes makes us doubt that. Indeed, many people are now more likely to doubt the fake than they were way back in 1846.
In some cases the damage gets rectified. Mexicans are repopulating the States they lost to the US in 1848 and may, sometime this century, become the dominant population group once more. Vietnam is prospering and one can only imagine what they would have achieved if they hadn’t had to take time off to defeat the French, the Americans and the Chinese. In other cases the ramifications are still with us. If Johnson and his advisors had not been gripped by pernicious group think and fear of appearing weak millions of those from Vietnam, America, Australia, Korea and New Zealand who were killed would have lived. There would also have been no Vietnam syndrome which were factors in the Bush-Cheney desire to show that the US could still ‘kick ass’ in situations slightly larger than Grenada. And the LBJ Great Society plans – side-tracked by Vietnam and economic problems – may have created a US very different from what it is today. The invasion of Iraq – compounded by the effects of climate change on Middle Eastern agriculture – triggered horrors which are still with us. Ironically, we would have much better off if the US and Australian conservatives had not believed in imaginary WMDs and instead believed in very real climate change and Tony Blair hadn’t had a messianic streak.
What happens next? Who knows? is the only honest answer. But when we combine the views of millenarian fundamentalists in positions of US power; having a blustering draft dodging idiot as a President; the innately warlike predispositions of US foreign policy; and, the risk of miscalculation the outcomes could be very significant to say the least.
Incidentally, a pedant would argue (and many do) that the US has not been at war 93% of the time since 1776 because the US is only at war when a declaration of war is made. It has only declared war about 11 times since the first such as 1812 – against the British – in the second early example of the special relationship. In recent years it has preferred constructions such as “giving authority to use military force” although the difference is not much consolation to a villager targeted with napalm or, these days, a drone.
And, if there was ever a war they should have been in from get go it would have been World War II. But that took a strike on Pearl Harbor – two years after the war started – to get them into the action.
Noel Turnbull is retired and blogs at http://noelturnbull.com/blog/