“The good guys always win wars – funny how that works.” – Jim Goad
Napoleon Bonaparte, hero to millions, tyrant to millions more, stated “History is a set of lies agreed upon.” In a world as complicated and interconnected as ours, civilizational myths are more imperative than ever before for powerful institutions because the individual’s access to information and ability to form networks is much higher. If religious symbols once formed the backbone of folklore, myth and mystery, governments became the driving force of civilizational origin stories in the 20th century. And by far the easiest way to marshal a people was to create an external enemy. For the United States, war has been a foundation stone to its origin myth, being engaged in one form of warfare or another for over 93% of its history. The American people, the military, and especially more recent groups such as the Neoconservatives like to think the United States has been a champion for freedom and goodwill throughout much of its historical life. But the falsehoods sold to the public at the time of America’s entry into these wars paints a different picture.
Spanish-American War (1898)
Arguably the start of America’s overseas empire with the acquisition of Cuba and the Philippines, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders posed for the camera as they stormed the beaches on the false pretense that the Spanish had blown up the USS Maine. The sensationalist stories written by William Randolph Hearst newspapers created the infamous genre of jingoistic ‘Yellow Journalism.’
World War I (1914-18)
“If any question why we died, tell them, because our fathers lied.” – Rudyard Kipling
As the ‘War to End All Wars’ raged in Europe, American President Woodrow Wilson won in 1916 on a campaign of “progressivism and peace,” and sought no American involvement in the European conflict. American industry and war armaments exports, however, was directed almost entirely to the Entente to the exclusion of the Central Powers. Given the vast industrial base of the United States relative to the Germans, arming the British was tantamount to siding with them militarily. When the Germans began attacking American merchant vessels bound for Britain it did not garner them American sympathy, nor did they with the Zimmerman Telegram promising support for a Mexican invasion of the United States.
But the decision to bring American soldiers to fight against Germany did not occur until the British signed the Balfour Declaration with Jewish Zionists. “They told England: ‘We will guarantee to bring the United States into the war as your ally, to fight with you on your side, if you will promise us Palestine after you win the war.’” Shortly thereafter in 1917 Wilson pushed the country into war, “demoralizing his own progressive base .. and ruthlessly repressing anti-war leftists and socialists.” The ‘Pearl Harbor’ event that turned public opinion – the explosion of armaments being illegally sent to Britain on board the Lusitania – was erroneously blamed on the Germans. And while before the United States had entered the war, Germany had not lost a single piece of territory, afterwards the Central Powers sued for peace, agreeing to the disastrous Versailles Treaty, which many say set the stage for German resentment over reparations and hyperinflation that fueled the rise of Hitler and the Second World War.
World War II (1939-45)
When Great Britain and France declared war on Germany in 1939, they did so on the pretense of the German invasion of Poland. The fact that Germany was reclaiming the western territories it lost under the Versailles Treaty and the Soviet Union invading eastern Poland and later the rest of the Baltics in 1940 – did not deter the UK from allying with the Soviets.
The United States, which eventually provided 2/3rds of the Allies’ war materiel, remained silent on the millions killed by the Soviet regime in the starvation famines, purges, and forced labor prior to 1933, when FDR assumed office and immediately recognized the Soviet government. Unable to enter the war with an isolationist Congress, FDR sent food, ammunition, and military hardware to Britain and Russia under the Lend-Lease Act of March, 1941. In May, 1941, prior to Pearl Harbor, the FBI interned around 1,000 Italians in Montana along with Germans who went to North Dakota. To the great objection of Admiral James Richardson, FDR ordered the Pacific battleship fleet from San Pedro, California to Pearl Harbor. “We were likely to be attacked as soon as next Monday. How we should maneuver the Japanese into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.” – Henry Stimson, US Secretary of War
When Japan attacked in December, 1941, FDR was granted a Declaration of War, and the United States proceeded to deploy munitions and manpower on a scale never before seen in warfare, dropping atomic bombs on Japan and securing France, Italy and West Germany from the Axis. As the Allied armies occupied defeated Germany, General Eisenhower oversaw the starvation of over a million Germans in prison camps, while General Patton, who warned of the danger of allying with the Soviets and portending the coming Cold War, died mysteriously in a car crash.
Korean War (1950-53)
During the final stages of World War II, FDR sought Stalin’s assistance in fighting the Japanese occupation in Manchuria and Korea. But Stalin had signed a non-aggression pact with the Japanese, and he negotiated 600 shiploads of armaments from FDR in exchange for his cooperation. Stalin waited until the Japanese were nearly defeated, however, after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, to invade the insignificant Kuril Islands and then setting up the North Korean regime.
When the North Koreans invaded the South, aided by Secretary of State Acheson drawing a defensive line around most of Asia to the exclusion of the peninsula. “In Korea we have direct killing of Americans with Soviet weapons, the American casualty roll in the Korean War was 33,730 killed and 103,284 wounded. The 103,000 man North Korean army, which crossed the South Korean border in June, 1950 was trained, supported, and equipped by the Soviet Union and included a brigade of medium Soviet T-34 tanks, with US Christie suspensions, the artillery tractors were direct metric copies of Caterpillar tractors, the trucks came from the Henry Ford Gorky plant or the Zil plant, the North Korean Air Force had 180 Yak planes built in plants with US Lend-Lease equipment. These Yaks were later replaced by MiG-15s, powered by Russian copies of Rolls-Royce jet engines, sold to the Soviet Union in 1947.”
When General MacArthur executed his brilliant landing at Inchon in September 1950 and swept the entire North Korean army nearly to the Chinese border at the Yalu River, the Chinese Red Army began pouring in by October. MacArthur ordered the bridges bombed, but within hours his orders where countermanded by Secretary of Defense George Marshall. MacArthur stated, “I realized for the first time that I’d actually been denied the use of my military power to safeguard the lives of my soldiers, and the safety of my army. To me it clearly foreshadowed a future tragic situation in Korea and left me with a sense of inexpressible shock.”
Later President Truman removed MacArthur, who sought to fight the war to a decisive victory, from command. The Cold War policy of “containment”, spearheaded by US ambassador to the Soviet Union George Kennan, had become the overriding doctrine that continued US involvement on the Korean Peninsula below the 38th parallel to this day over 60 years later and set the precedent for intervention in Vietnam.
Vietnam War (1955-75)
If you look at the Wikipedia entry for US military casualties, the Cold War between the USSR and China lists only 48 combat deaths. But the Vietnam War alone surpassed that of Korea, killing 47,424 American soldiers, and only a cursory look at the Asian geopolitical map and hearing proponents of the ‘Domino Theory’ would make one understand these conflicts were inextricably linked to the Cold War that was anything but cold.
The rationale for US involvement in Vietnam has been debated endlessly, and seen from a historical context makes much more sense when you see the sequence of events leading up to it considering the French role in NATO. But few debate the horrific toll on human life – especially that in Vietnam and surrounding Laos and Cambodia, where over a million were killed, and the tremendous burden the war placed on American finances, effectively spurring massive inflation and forcing Nixon to end the US Treasury’s gold standard.
For the Vietnamese, the conflict was primarily a war for independence from external powers, including the Chinese, and a civil war between the factions who sought to control its outcome. For the American military and President Johnson, it was an opportunity to expand their power. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution leading the US to war in Vietnam, passed after alleged reports of a North Vietnamese attack on a US destroyer, were called into question by numerous authorities on location. Naval Commander James Stockdale recounted, “We were about to launch a war under false pretenses, in the face of the on-scene military commander’s advice to the contrary.”
Six Day War (1967)
On June 8th, 1967, the USS Liberty was attacked and nearly sunk by Israeli warplanes. The event was quickly covered up, but to the sailors on board and to those critical of America’s relationship with Israel, the event still holds major significance.
When the attack took place, Israel was fighting a preemptive war against the forces of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. It did so on the premise that it faced overwhelming opposition, and only a surprise-attack would enable them to win. They not only won, but they also decimated their opposition, proving their fears exaggerated. Nonetheless, drawing the US into an open conflict with their largest rival Egypt, would prove advantageous, and if America believed the Egyptians, not the Israelis, had sunk the Liberty, it may have done so. Fortunately for the remaining sailors, the Israelis withdrew, but only after machine gunning the decks and seeing the American flag to only be told by their commanders to continue. One pilot remarked “But sir, it’s an American ship,” to be told “Never mind, hit her!” When President Johnson, pre-occupied with Vietnam, found out about the attack, he dismissed it, allegedly stating “I want that ship on the ocean floor” indicating his desire to preserve what he valued as America’s relationship with Israel over the lives of the sailors and future entanglements to come.
US Invasion of Panama (1989-90)
With the Soviet Union in turmoil and former CIA Director George HW Bush as newly elected President of the United States, Operation ‘Just Cause’ was launched to remove the Panamanian Dictator Manuel Noriega. The publicly stated reason, as is typical of US military interventions, was to provide Panamanians with “freedom and democracy” through elections.
The irony, however, was the United States was perfectly happy to work with Noriega throughout the 1980s while HW Bush was Vice President, using him to provide intelligence and funnel weapons to the Contras against the Sandinistas and other communist guerrilla groups in Central America. The United States was also well aware of Noriega’s role in trafficking cocaine, but looked the other way. What is less well known, and provides the clearest motive for his removal, was the Bush family’s involvement in trafficking those very same drugs through CIA operated airplanes. “Just Cause” may have been simply a way to remove a liability to the new President.
Gulf War (1990-91)
Saddam Hussein, CIA asset since at least 1963 executing communist partisans in Baghdad and later receiving US chemical weapons and satellite intelligence to fight against the Iranians, invaded neighboring Kuwait on August 2nd, 1990 in an attempt to seize their oil wealth. Hussein had effectively bankrupted Iraq in his 8 year conflict against Iran, and used the alleged ‘slant drilling’ of Iraqi oil by Kuwaiti wells as pretext for the invasion. Disrupting global oil markets, nearly doubling prices, and threatening Western allies Saudi Arabia, a key oil producer in its own right, and nearby Israel, the United States began orchestrating a massive military campaign to repel Iraq’s army from Kuwaiti soil. The airlift and logistics supply line began almost immediately, code named Operation ‘Desert Shield’, but in order to maximize international approval and UN authorization for the use of force, the Bush administration needed more.
In a speech given to the US Congress revealed to be prepared by American PR firm Hill & Knowlton, a Kuwaiti girl claiming to be a nurse stated “Iraqi soldiers came into the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the children to die on the cold floor.” Later the girl’s identity was revealed as the daughter of Kuwaiti ambassador to the US. Amnesty International subsequently accused the Bush Administration of “opportunistic manipulation of the international human rights movement” to gain support for military action. On November 29th, 1990, the UN authorized military intervention with Resolution 678. The US lobbied extensively to gain China and the Soviet Union’s support, relaxing sanctions on the former for the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre, and arranging for Saudi Arabia to give $1 billion in aid to the USSR.
When the Iraqis did not withdraw from Kuwait by the UN mandated deadline of January 15th, 1991, the US-led coalition began Operation ‘Desert Storm’ with a massive 1 month long air campaign. The military campaign was hugely successful, resulting in only 292 killed in the coalition (to the Iraqi 25-50,000), and concluding in a brief 100 hour ground operation and full Iraqi withdrawal. The Washington Post claimed the victory had helped kick America’s ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ of caution in military adventurism, and empirically the show of support of America’s subsequent assault on Iraq in 2003 could very well be attributed to this. But to the 250,000 soldiers who came home with various symptoms variously attributed to accelerated anthrax vaccine schedules and depleted uranium, the ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ was very much a ghostly reminder of the horrors of war.
The War on Terror (2001-??)
When the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Pentagon faced a crisis of purpose. After the massive military buildup in the Reagan years and the consequent budget deficits, the prowess of the US military unmet by anything the Soviet-armed Iraqis could muster, President Clinton embarked on a military reduction program, leading to the record surpluses, unprecedented since 1969, near the end of his term in 2000, albeit aided tremendously by the tech boom. To Clinton’s credit, he allegedly turned down proposals by the pro-Israeli lobby to invade Iraq. “In 1996, they came up with the clean-break plan, which was an outline for how Israel would basically get rid of Iraq and Saddam Hussein and move into Syria, Lebanon, and on to Iran. I think they‘re trying to carry out this plan. It was written by the person who‘s now the Middle East adviser to Dick Cheney, and the person who was in charge of the war in Iraq, largely, Doug Feith at the Pentagon, in addition to the person who is head of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle.”
When George W Bush was inaugurated in 2001 on a promise to return the budget surplus to tax payers, the stock market was crashing and the economy entering a recession. Bush was already unpopular, but on September 11th, this all changed as the country was plunged into a war as the World Trade Center was destroyed and the Pentagon blown up. The government named former CIA asset Osama Bin Laden as the culprit. Within a mere 28 days, the United States was bombing Afghanistan, Bin Laden’s supposed base. The speed at which this happened was logistically unlikely to have started right after the attacks, and Pakistan later revealed that it was told in June, 2001 the US was prepared to strike, confirmed subsequently by Donald Rumsfeld. The physical implausibility of the plane strikes on the Trade Centers causing their collapse was also highly suspect, something Donald Trump even recognized the very same day – but by the time people had questioned the credibility of the government’s case – it was too late. The US was already at war, and letters of anthrax were mailed to Senators hesitant to sign the Patriot Act authorizing suspension of Habeas Corpus. Richard Perle now worked for the Bush Administration, and the WMDs warned of to persuade the UN and Congress to enter into another war with Iraq in 2003 were proven fallacious when none were found. The $50 billion Defense Secretary Rumsfeld estimated for the cost of war is now estimated at $4.6 trillion since 2001. To this day, the US military occupies Afghanistan, and the 4,424 US military deaths are dwarfed by the over 1.2 million Iraqis killed and ensuing chaos in Lebanon and Syria.
This is the first of a series of excerpts from the book Exit Strategy – Navigating the Decline of the American Empire from the Myth of the 20th Century crew