Someone asked me to find war lies during the past few years. Perhaps they had in mind the humanitarian pretenses around attacking Libya in 2011 and Iraq in 2014, or the false claims about chemical weapons in 2013, or the lies about an airplane in Ukraine or the endlessly reported Russian invasions of Ukraine. Maybe they were thinking of the "ISIS Is In Brooklyn" headlines or the routine false claims about the identities of drone victims or the supposedly imminent victory in Afghanistan or in one of the other wars. The lies seem far too numerous for me to fit into an essay, though I've tried many times, and they are layered over a bedrock of more general lies about what works, what is legal, and what is moral. Just a Prince Tribute selection of lies could include Qadaffi's viagra for the troops and CNN's sex-toys flag as evidence of ISIS in Europe. It's hard to scrape the surface of all U.S. war lies in something less than a book, which is why I wrote a book.
So, I replied that I would look for war lies just in 2016. But that was way too big as well, of course. I once tried to find all the lies in one speech by Obama and ended up just writing about the top 45. So, I've taken a glance at two of the most recent speeches on the White House website, one by Obama and one by Susan Rice. I think they provide ample evidence of how we're being lied to.
In an April 13th speech to the CIA, President Barack Obama declared, "One of my main messages today is that destroying ISIL continues to be my top priority." The next day, in a speech to the U.S. Air Force Academy, National Security Advisor Susan Rice repeated the claim: "This evening, I'd like to focus on one threat in particular—the threat at the very top of President Obama's agenda—and that is ISIL." And here's Senator Bernie Sanders during the recent presidential primary debate in Brooklyn, N.Y.: "Right now our fight is to destroy ISIS first, and to get rid of Assad second."
This public message, heard again and again in the official media echo chamber, might seem unnecessary, given the level of fear of ISIS/ISIL in the U.S. public and the importance the public places on the matter. But polls have shown that people believe the president is not taking the danger seriously enough.
In fact, awareness has slowly begun spreading that the side of the Syrian war that the White House wanted to jump in on in 2013, and in fact had already been supporting, is still its top priority, namely overthrowing the Syrian government. That has been a goal of the U.S. government since before U.S. actions in Iraq and Syria helped create ISIS in the first place (actions taken while knowing that such a result was quite likely). Helping this awareness along has been Russia's rather different approach to the war, reports of the United States arming al Qaeda in Syria (planning more weapons shipments on the same day as Rice's speech), and a video from late March in which State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner was asked a question that a good ISIS-fearing American should have had no trouble answering, but which Toner found too difficult:
REPORTER: "Do you want to see the regime retake Palmyra? Or would you prefer that it stays in Daesh's hands?"
MARK TONER: "That's truly a -- a -- um -- look, I think what we would, uh, like to see is, uh, the political negotiation, that political track, pick up steam. It's part of the reason the Secretary's in Moscow today, um, so we can get a political process underway, um, and deepen and strengthen the cessation of hostilities, into a real ceasefire, and then, we . . . "
REPORTER: "You're not answering my question."
MARK TONER: "I know I'm not." [Laughter.]
Hillary Clinton and her neocon allies in the Congress believe that Obama was wrong not to bomb Syria in 2013. Never mind that such a course would surely have strengthened the terrorist groups that brought the U.S. public around to supporting war in 2014. (Remember, the public said no in 2013 and reversed Obama's decision to bomb Syria, but videos involving white Americans and knives won over a lot of the U.S. public in 2014, albeit for joining the opposite side of the same war.) The neocons want a "no fly zone," which Clinton calls a "safe zone" despite ISIS and al Qaeda having no airplanes, and despite NATO's commander pointing out that such a thing is an act of war with nothing safe about it.
Many in the U.S. government even want to give the "rebels" anti-aircraft weaponry. With U.S. and U.N. planes in those skies, one is reminded of then-President George W. Bush's scheme for starting a war on Iraq: "The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach."
It's not just rogue neocons. President Obama has never backed off his position that the Assad government must go, or even his highly dubious 2013 claim to have had proof that Assad used chemical weapons. Secretary of State John Kerry has compared Assad to Hitler. But it seems that dubious claims of someone possessing or using the wrong kind of weaponry don't quite do it for the U.S. public anymore after Iraq 2003. Supposed threats to populations don't inspire raging war fever in the U.S. public (or even support from Russia and China) after Libya 2011. Contrary to popular myth and White House claims, Qadaffi was not threatening a massacre, and the war that threat was used to start immediately became a war of overthrow. The burning need to overthrow yet another government fails to create confidence in a public that's seen disasters created in Iraq and Libya, but not in Iran where war has been avoided (as well as not in Tunisia where the more powerful tools of nonviolence have been used).
If U.S. officials want war in Syria, they know that the way to keep the U.S. public on their side is to make it about subhuman monsters who kill with knives. Said Susan Rice of ISIS in her speech, which began with her family's struggle against racism: "It is horrifying to witness the extreme brutality of these twisted brutes." Said Obama at the CIA: "These depraved terrorists still have the ability to inflict horrific violence on the innocent, to the revulsion of the entire world. With attacks likes these, ISIL hopes to weaken our collective resolve. Once again, they have failed. Their barbarism only stiffens our unity and determination to wipe this vile terrorist organization off the face of the Earth. . . . As I've said repeatedly, the only way to truly destroy ISIL is to end the Syrian civil war that ISIL has exploited. So we continue to work for a diplomatic end to this awful conflict."
Here are the main problems with this statement:
1) The United States has spent years working to avoid a diplomatic end, blocking U.N. efforts, rejecting Russian proposals, and flooding the area with weaponry. The United States isn't trying to end the war in order to defeat ISIS; it's trying to remove Assad in order to weaken Iran and Russia and to eliminate a government that doesn't choose to be part of U.S. empire.
2) ISIS hasn't grown simply by exploiting a war it wasn't part of. ISIS doesn't hope to halt U.S. attacks. ISIS put out films urging the United States to attack. ISIS uses terrorism abroad to provoke attacks. ISIS recruitment has soared as it has become seen as the enemy of U.S. imperialism.
3) Attempting diplomacy while attempting to wipe someone off the face of the earth is either unnecessary or contradictory. Why end the root causes of terrorism if you're going to destroy the vile barbarous people engaged in it?
The points that focusing on Assad is at odds with focusing on ISIS, and that attacking ISIS or other groups with missiles and drones does not defeat them, are points made by numerous top U.S. officials the moment they retire. But those ideas clash with the idea that militarism works, and with the specific idea that it is currently working. After all, ISIS, we are told, is eternally on the ropes, with one or more of its top leaders declared dead almost every week. Here's President Obama on March 26: "We've been taking out ISIL leadership, and this week, we removed one of their top leaders from the battlefield – permanently." I consider the term "battlefield" itself a lie, as U.S. wars are fought from the air over people's homes, not in a field. But Obama goes on to add a real doozie when he says: "ISIL poses a threat to the entire civilized world."
In the weakest sense, that statement could be true of any violence-promoting organization with access to the internet (Fox News for example). But for it to be true in any more substantive sense has always been at odds with Obama's own so-called intelligence so-called community, which has said that ISIS is no threat to the United States. For every headline screaming that ISIS is looming just down a U.S. street, there has not yet been any evidence that ISIS was involved in anything in the United States, other than influencing people through U.S. news programs or inspiring the FBI to set people up. ISIS involvement in attacks in Europe has been more real, or at least claimed by ISIS, but a few key points are lost in all the vitriol directed at "twisted brutes."
1) ISIS claims its attacks are "in response to the aggressions" of "the crusader states," just as all anti-Western terrorists always claim, with never a hint at hating freedoms.
2) European nations have been happy to allow suspected criminals to travel to Syria (where they might fight for the overthrow of the Syrian government), and some of those criminals have returned to kill in Europe.
3) As a murdering force, ISIS is far out-done by numerous governments armed and supported by the United States, including Saudi Arabia, and of course including the U.S. military itself, which has dropped tens of thousands of bombs in Syria and Iraq, blew up the University of Mosul on the 13th anniversary of Shock and Awe with 92 killed and 135 injured according to a source in Mosul, and just changed its "rules" on killing civilians to bring them slightly more into line with its conduct.
4) Actually useful steps like disarmament and humanitarian aid are not being taken seriously at all, with one U.S. Air Force official casually pointing out that the United States would never spend $60,000 on a technology for preventing starvation in Syria, even as the United States uses missiles costing over $1 million each like they're going out of style -- in fact using them so rapidly that it risks running out of anything to drop on people other than the food it has such little interest in dropping.
Meanwhile, ISIS is also the justification du jour for sending more U.S. troops into Iraq, where U.S. troops and U.S. weapons created the conditions for the birth of ISIS. Only this time, they are "non-combat" "special" forces, which led one reporter at an April 19 White House press briefing to ask, "Is this a little bit of fudging? The U.S. military is not going to be involved in combat? Because all the earmarks and recent experiences indicate that they will likely be." A straight answer was not forthcoming.
What about those troops? Susan Rice told Air Force cadets, without asking the American people, that the American people "could not be more proud" of them. She described a cadet graduating in 1991 and worrying that he might have missed out on all the wars. Never fear, she said, "your skills—your leadership—will be in high demand in the decades ahead. . . . On any given day, we might be dealing with Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine [where, contrary to myth and White House claim, Russia has not invaded but the United States has facilitated a coup], developments in the South China Sea [apparently misnamed, as it belongs to the United States and its Philippine colony], North Korean missile launches [how, dare I ask, will an Air Force pilot deal with those, or the much more common U.S. missile launches for that matter?], or global economic instability [famously improved by bombing runs]. . . . We face the menace of advancing climate change." The Air Force, whose jets are among the biggest producers of climate change, is going to attack climate change? bomb it? scare it away with drones?
"I know not everybody grew up dreaming of piloting a drone," said Rice. But, "drone warfare is even finding its way into the upcoming Top Gun sequel. These [drone] capabilities are essential to this campaign and future ones. So, as you consider career options, know that [drone piloting] is a sure-fire way to get into the fight."
Of course, drone strikes would be rare to nonexistent if they followed President Obama's self-imposed "rules" requiring that they kill no civilians, kill no one who could be apprehended, and kill only people who are (frighteningly if nonsensically) an "imminent and continuing" threat to the United States. Even the military-assisted theatrical fantasy film Eye in the Sky invents an imminent threat to people in Africa, but no threat at all to the United States. The other conditions (identified targets who cannot be arrested, and care to avoid killing others) are bizarrely met in that film but rarely if ever in reality. A man who says drones have tried to murder him four times in Pakistan has gone to Europe this month to ask to be taken off the kill lists. He will be safest if he stays there, judging by past killings of victims who could have been arrested.
This normalizing of murder and of participation in murder is a poison for our culture. A debate moderator recently asked a presidential candidate if he would be willing to kill thousands of innocent children as part of his basic duties. In the seven countries that President Obama has bragged about bombing, a great many innocents have died. But the top killer of U.S. troops is suicide.
"Welcome to the White House!" said President Obama to a "wounded warrior" on April 14. "Thank you, William, for your outstanding service, and your beautiful family. Now, we hold a lot of events here at the White House, but few are as inspiring as this one. Over the past seven years, this has become one of our favorite traditions. This year, we've got 40 active duty riders and 25 veterans. Many of you are recovering from major injuries. You've learned how to adapt to a new life. Some of you are still working through wounds that are harder to see, like post-traumatic stress. . . . Where's Jason? There's Jason right there. Jason served four combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He came home with his body intact, but inside he was struggling with wounds nobody could see. And Jason doesn't mind me telling you all that he got depressed enough that he considered taking his life."
I don't know about you, but this inspires me mostly to tell the truth about war and try to end it.
David Swanson's new book is War Is A Lie: Second Edition.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson's books include War Is A Lie.
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The US has a long history of deliberately provoking wars, with horrendous human consequences, but this time the stakes might be even higher.
The U.S. proposal for a U.N. resolution allowing “all necessary measures” to forcibly halt and inspect North Korean ships and to cut off oil to North Korea may send our species out the door with a culminating act that echoes and builds on numerous historical precedents.
We know, if we don’t deny the science, that climate change threatens us all, that a single nuclear bomb could push climate change well past the point of no return (if we aren’t there already), that several nuclear bombs could starve us out of existence, and that a significant nuclear war could end our follies quite swiftly.
That alone ought to be enough reason to choose diplomacy over the foreign-policy equivalent of shooting guns at a hurricane.
But why is innocent harmless philanthropic inspecting of ships for the good of the Rule of Law a problem? If those people have nothing to hide, then what — insert clever grin here — do they have to worry about, huh?
Surveys of people around the world find strong majority opinion that the greatest threat to peace is the U.S. government. Surveys in the United States find nobody thinking such insanity. And of course the 4% of us who live in the United States are basically right, and the other 96% of our species are a bunch of lunatics as a general rule. But let’s try to see things from their misguided viewpoint, falsely informed as it is.
They think that big U.S. corporations like making money. Nuts, I know. But they think that. And they know that many of the biggest U.S. corporations make weapons of war, and that they make more money when they have more wars. Also, the nutcases who inhabit the rest of the earth believe that the U.S. government may not be 100% free of corruption, that in fact U.S. election “contributions” are the equivalent of what the rest of the world calls “bribes.” Lunacy, I’ll grant you, but the point is that these poor deluded creatures see it this way.
Now, we all know, or should know, that
- then-Vice President Dick Cheney proposed staging a conflict between U.S. and Iranian ships in order to start a war;
- then-President George W. Bush proposed painting U.S. planes with U.N. colors and flying them low over Iraq to get them shot at to start a war;
- then-President Barack Obama obtained a U.N. resolution to rescue supposedly threatened people in a Libyan city and immediately proceeded to bomb and overthrow the Libyan government, relying on the expectation that many people would sort of kind of think a war had somehow more or less been authorized;
- then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt acted on an October 1940 memo by Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. McCollum.
That memo called for eight actions that McCollum predicted would lead the Japanese to attack, including arranging for the use of British bases in Singapore and for the use of Dutch bases in what is now Indonesia, aiding the Chinese government, sending a division of long-range heavy cruisers to the Philippines or Singapore, sending two divisions of submarines to “the Orient,” keeping the main strength of the fleet in Hawaii, insisting that the Dutch refuse the Japanese oil, and embargoing all trade with Japan in collaboration with the British Empire. The day after McCollum’s memo, the State Department told Americans to evacuate far eastern nations, and Roosevelt ordered the fleet kept in Hawaii over the strenuous objection of Admiral James O. Richardson who quoted the President as saying “Sooner or later the Japanese would commit an overt act against the United States and the nation would be willing to enter the war.” The message that Admiral Harold Stark sent to Admiral Husband Kimmel on November 28, 1941, read, “IF HOSTILITIES CANNOT REPEAT CANNOT BE AVOIDED THE UNITED STATES DESIRES THAT JAPAN COMMIT THE FIRST OVERT ACT.” Joseph Rochefort, cofounder of the Navy’s communication intelligence section, who was instrumental in failing to communicate to Pearl Harbor what was coming, would later comment: “It was a pretty cheap price to pay for unifying the country.”
On May 31, 1941, at the Keep America Out of War Congress, William Henry Chamberlin gave a dire warning: “A total economic boycott of Japan, the stoppage of oil shipments for instance, would push Japan into the arms of the Axis. Economic war would be a prelude to naval and military war.” On July 24, 1941, President Roosevelt remarked, “If we cut the oil off, [the Japanese] probably would have gone down to the Dutch East Indies a year ago, and you would have had a war. It was very essential from our own selfish point of view of defense to prevent a war from starting in the South Pacific. So our foreign policy was trying to stop a war from breaking out there.” Reporters noticed that Roosevelt said “was” rather than “is.” The next day, Roosevelt issued an executive order freezing Japanese assets. The United States and Britain cut off oil and scrap metal to Japan. Radhabinod Pal, an Indian jurist who served on the war crimes tribunal in Tokyo after the war, called the embargoes a “clear and potent threat to Japan’s very existence,” and concluded the United States had provoked Japan.
Then, of course, there is the Korean precedent. The United States and allies divided Korea in two and fueled hostility on the border. The U.S. rejected Soviet proposals for peace negotiations. U.S. troops had to be drafted, even though they were told they were heading off to somehow defend the way of life in the United States and in supposed defense of South Korea against aggression by North Korea. On June 25, 1950, the north and the south each claimed the other side had invaded. The first reports from U.S. military intelligence were that the south had invaded the north. Both sides agreed that the fighting began near the west coast at the Ongjin peninsula, meaning that Pyongyang was a logical target for an invasion by the south, but an invasion by the north there made little sense as it led to a small peninsula and not to Seoul. Also on June 25th, both sides announced the capture by the south of the northern city of Haeju, and the U.S. military confirmed that. On June 26th, the U.S. ambassador sent a cable confirming a southern advance: “Northern armor and artillery are withdrawing all along the line.”
South Korean President Syngman Rhee had been conducting raids of the north for a year and had announced in the spring his intention to invade the north, moving most of his troops to the 38th parallel, the line along which the north and south had been divided. In the north only a third of available troops were positioned near the border. Nonetheless, Americans were told that North Korea had attacked South Korea and had done so at the behest of the Soviet Union as part of a plot to take over the world for communism. Arguably, whichever side attacked (and the consensus is that it was the North to first launch a successful major invasion, regardless of which side initially attacked), this was a civil war. The Soviet Union was not involved, and the United States ought not to have been. South Korea was not the United States, and was not in fact anywhere near the United States. Nonetheless, the United States entered another “defensive” war that had been built up to and provoked by both sides of a small, distant, and divided country.
The U.S. government persuaded the United Nations that military action had to be taken against North Korea, something the Soviet Union might have been expected to veto had it been behind the war, but the Soviet Union was boycotting the United Nations. The United States won some countries’ votes at the United Nations by lying to them that the south had captured tanks manned by Russians. U.S. officials publicly declared Soviet involvement but privately doubted it. The Soviet Union, in fact, did not want a war and on July 6th its deputy foreign minister told the British ambassador in Moscow that it wanted a peaceful settlement. The U.S. ambassador in Moscow thought this was genuine. Washington didn’t care. The North, the U.S. government said, had violated the 38th parallel, that sacred line of national sovereignty. But as soon as U.S. General Douglas MacArthur got the chance, he proceeded, with President Truman’s approval, right across that line, into the north, and up to the border of China. MacArthur had been drooling for a war with China and threatening it, and asked for permission to attack, which the Joint Chiefs of Staff refused. Eventually, Truman fired MacArthur. Attacking a power plant in North Korea that supplied China, and bombing a border city, was the closest MacArthur got to what he wanted.
But the U.S. threat to China, or at least the U.S. threat to defeat North Korea, brought the Chinese and Russians into the war, a war that cost Korea two million civilian lives and the United States 37,000 soldiers, while turning Seoul and Pyongyang both into piles of rubble. Many of the dead had been killed at close range, slaughtered unarmed and in cold-blood by both sides. And the border was right back where it had been, but the hatred directed across that border greatly increased. When the war ended, having accomplished no good for anyone but weapons makers, “people emerged from a mole-like existence in caves and tunnels to find a nightmare in the bright of day.”
I cannot resist mentioning here one of the most ludicrous ever means of rejecting unwanted information about a war, which arose in the United States during the Korean War. Here in our little U.S. bubble we’ve heard of a couple of versions of a film called The Manchurian Candidate. We’ve heard of the general concept of “brainwashing” and may even associate it with something evil that the Chinese supposedly did to U.S. prisoners during the Korean War.
I’d be willing to bet that the majority of people who’ve heard of these things have at least a vague sense that they’re not actually real. In fact, people cannot actually be programed like the Manchurian candidate, which was a work of fiction. There was never the slightest evidence that China or North Korea had done any such thing. And the CIA spent decades trying to do such a thing, and finally gave up.
I’d also be willing to bet that very few people know what it was that the U.S. government promoted the myth of “brainwashing” to cover up. During the Korean War, the United States bombed virtually all of North Korea and a good bit of the South, killing hundreds of thousands of people. It dropped massive quantities of Napalm. It bombed dams, bridges, villages, houses. This was all-out mass-slaughter. But there was something the U.S. government didn’t want known, something deemed unethical in this genocidal madness.
It is well documented that the United States dropped on China and North Korea insects and feathers carrying anthrax, cholera, encephalitis, and bubonic plague. This was supposed to be a secret at the time, and the Chinese response of mass vaccinations and insect eradication probably contributed to the project’s general failure (hundreds were killed, but not millions). But members of the U.S. military taken prisoner by the Chinese confessed to what they had been a part of. Some of them had felt guilty to begin with. Some had been shocked at China’s decent treatment of prisoners after U.S. depictions of the Chinese as savages. For whatever reasons, they confessed, and their confessions were highly credible, were borne out by independent scientific reviews, and have stood the test of time.
There isn’t any debate that the United States had been working on bio-weapons for years, at Fort Detrick — then Camp Detrick — and numerous other locations. Nor is there any question that the United States employed the top bio-weapons killers from among both the Japanese and the Nazis from the end of World War II onward. Nor is there any question that the U.S. tested such weapons on the city of San Francisco and numerous other locations around the United States, and on U.S. soldiers. There’s a museum in Havana featuring evidence of years of U.S. bio-warfare against Cuba. We know that Plum Island, off the tip of Long Island, was used to test the weaponization of insects, including the ticks that created the ongoing outbreak of Lyme Disease. Dave Chaddock’s book This Must Be the Place collects the evidence that the United States indeed tried to wipe out millions of Chinese and North Koreans with deadly diseases.
The propaganda struggle was intense. The support of the Guatemalan government for the reports of U.S. germ warfare in China were part of the U.S. motivation for overthrowing the Guatemalan government; and the same cover-up was likely part of the motivation for the CIA’s murder of a man named Frank Olson.
How to counter reports of the confessions? The answer for the CIA and the U.S. military and their allies in the corporate media was “brainwashing,” which conveniently explained away whatever prisoners said as false narratives implanted in their brains by brainwashers. Millions of Americans more or less believe this craziest-ever dog-ate-my-homework concoction to this day. It’s safe to say that Americans wouldn’t believe in Chinese “brainwashing” if the stories had been about the U.S. government rather than the Chinese.
Since the war ended, the United States has refused to end it, opposing any peace treaty, threatening North Korea steadily for decades, flying practice bombing runs along the border, forcing South Korea to install U.S. weapons that both North Korea and China view as threats. And now, fed up with North Korea’s failure to react sufficiently to countless provocations, the U.S. wants to stop ships on the open seas and blockade its puny enemy. When this approach was taken with Japan, neither Japan nor the United States had nuclear weapons.
This article was originally published at DavidSwanson.orgon September 11, 2017.