Patriotic Wars in U.S. History

Did the world change on September 11, 2001?

The September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center has been compared to 1941, but a more apt comparison is 1914. The loss of innocent life on a single day is comparable to Pearl Harbor, but the nature of the terrorist attack, and the waging of war against other countries with no connection to the terrorist attack, are reminiscent of the assassination of the Archduke of Austria which started the First World War. In 1914 Austrian patriots held the entire Serb nation responsible for the act of a single terrorist. As Russian patriots came to the defense of their fellow Slavs in Serbia, patriots in Germany, England, France, the Ottoman Empire, and eventually the United States joined the war.

As the USA was about to enter the First World War, Emma Goldman described patriotism in the following words:

Conceit, arrogance, and egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Let me illustrate. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.

The inhabitants of the other spots reason in like manner, of course, with the result that, from early infancy, the mind of the child is poisoned with blood-curdling stories about the Germans, the French, the Italians, Russians, etc. When the child has reached manhood, he is thoroughly saturated with the belief that he is chosen by the Lord himself to defend his country against the attack or invasion of any foreigner. It is for that purpose that we are clamoring for a greater army and navy, more battleships and ammunition....

We Americans claim to be a peace-loving people. We hate bloodshed; we are opposed to violence. Yet we go into spasms of joy over the possibility of projecting dynamite bombs from flying machines upon helpless citizens.... Our hearts swell with pride at the thought that America is becoming the most powerful nation on earth, and that it will eventually plant her iron foot on the necks of all other nations.

Such is the logic of patriotism.

Another leader of the movement to prevent U.S. entry into World War I was labor activist Eugene V. Debs. He summarized the history of warfare as follows:

Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. In the Middle Ages when the feudal lords who inhabited the castles whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine concluded to enlarge their domains, to increase their power, their prestige and their wealth they declared war upon one another. But they themselves did not go to war any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street go to war. The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another's throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt. And that is war in a nutshell.

After giving this speech in Canton, Ohio, Debs was arrested under the the Espionage Act. At his trial he declared:

Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

When entire nations were regarded as enemies, it seemed natural to use a weapon of mass destruction — poison gas — to kill as many people of the enemy nation as possible. The result of the defeat of the Central Powers in the First World War was the rise of Nazism, which led to the Second World War. From the new nations created out of the defeated Ottoman Empire came new (or revived) national conflicts in the Balkans and the Middle East which are still with us.

Why does the American public (though not, according to most polls, the public in the rest of the world) believe that the regime of Saddam Hussein was responsible for the September 11, 2001, attack? A useful historical parallel is the Spanish-American war.

In 1898 the Hearst Corporation, comparable in its day to modern media conglomerates such as the News Corporation and AOL Time Warner, campaigned for an invasion of Cuba under the slogan "Remember the Maine!" The slogan (in its more complete and more nationalist version, "Remember the Maine—to Hell with Spain!") referred to the U.S.S. Maine, which had exploded in Havana harbor. Hearst blamed the explosion on an attack by Spain, which controlled the island of Cuba at the time, although there was no evidence of Spanish responsibility. Modern historians believe that the explosion was not caused by an attack of any kind.

Following Hearst's lead, Congress supported a war on Spain. The U.S. quickly won the war, "liberating" Cuba, which became an American colony, along with Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. Cuba was soon granted nominal independence (the other colonies were not so fortunate), on condition that it cede Guantánamo Bay, the site of Hearst's vacation home, to the U.S. for a naval base.

The U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo is now used to hold prisoners of war from the Afghanistan war for military tribunals, in violation of the Geneva convention. Meanwhile, President Bush sanctimoniously accuses Iraq of violating the Geneva convention by televising pictures of U.S. prisoners of war.

The war propaganda of modern corporate news media follows the example set by Hearst. The News Corporation's Fox network has revived Hearst's sensationalism as the standard to be followed by other networks such as AOL Time Warner's CNN and GE's MSNBC. All the corporate media dutifully report the latest Pentagon propaganda.

A month after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Weekly Standard, another publication of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, published an article entitled The Case for the American Empire. The article put forward the idea that it was necessary to invade and occupy Afghanistan not to capture Osama bin Laden, but as a first step toward establishing a new American Empire. The next step, the article stated, was to invade and occupy Iraq, "finishing the job" started by the first President Bush, who did not follow through on his earlier plan to establish a New World Order. The Weekly Standard argued as follows:

The debate about whether Saddam Hussein was implicated in the September 11 attacks misses the point. Who cares if Saddam was involved in this particular barbarity? He has been involved in so many barbarities over the years—from gassing the Kurds to raping the Kuwaitis—that he has already earned himself a death sentence a thousand times over. But it is not just a matter of justice to depose Saddam. It is a matter of self defense: He is currently working to acquire weapons of mass destruction that he or his confederates will unleash against America and our allies if given the chance.

Once Afghanistan has been dealt with, America should turn its attention to Iraq. It will probably not be possible to remove Saddam quickly without a U.S. invasion and occupation—though it will hardly require half a million men, since Saddam's army is much diminished since the Gulf War, and we will probably have plenty of help from Iraqis, once they trust that we intend to finish the job this time. Once we have deposed Saddam, we can impose an American-led, international regency in Baghdad, to go along with the one in Kabul. With American seriousness and credibility thus restored, we will enjoy fruitful cooperation from the region's many opportunists, who will show a newfound eagerness to be helpful in our larger task of rolling up the international terror network that threatens us.

Vice President Cheney, Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld and his assistant secretary Paul Wolfowitz signed the 1997 Statement of Principles of Weekly Standard editor William Kristol's Project for the New American Century. Along with Richard Perle, who recently resigned as chair of the Defense Policy Board for corporate influence peddling (although he remains a member), they have made Weekly Standard policy the official policy of the United States government. Their National Security Strategy for the United States, which includes the preemptive use of nuclear weapons, elaborated on the earlier National Energy Strategy, in which Cheney and his colleagues called for drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The U.S. Congress, in its nearly unanimous vote on March 21, 2003, expressing support for "the President as Commander-in-Chief for his firm leadership and decisive action in the conduct of military operations in Iraq as part of the on-going Global War on Terrorism" reconfirmed its overwhelming support during the Clinton Administration for the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-338), which declared: "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq."

Advocating support for troops is a political statement. The decision to join the military, to declare oneself willing to kill when ordered by the government, is a political act. It is especially so under a commander-in-chief who openly defies international humanitarian standards.

U.S. foreign policy did not fundamentally change on September 11, 2001; it simply became more openly hostile to the rest of the world. Prior to 2001, the world associated September 11 with another regime change, the CIA's overthrow of the democratically elected government of Chile on September 11, 1973. The Iraqi people do not see the U.S. flag as a symbol of democracy, and neither should the peace movement.

It is time once again to "remember the Maine," to remember that what the corporate media presents as news is often merely propaganda to promote their agenda. While President Bush, who was not elected, portrays Saddam Hussein as a dictator reminiscent of Hitler, we should heed the warning of Luftwaffe Commander-in-Chief Hermann Goering, one of the chief architects of Nazi Germany. At the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal Goering stated:

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.

Patriotism was dangerous enough at the start of the 20th century, when poison gas was the only available weapon of mass destruction. At the start of the 21st century, the arsenal of mass destruction includes nuclear and radiological weapons. Patriotic wars now have the potential to destroy not only nations, but the entire human race, along with many other species.

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