August 21, 2007

The American Way of Doing Business

In a number of essays, I've examined the astonishing, dangerous and comprehensive ignorance of history that afflicts most Americans, including very significantly our governing class. As I remarked just before last fall's election -- and I emphasize, still one time, that my estimate of just how remarkably awful the Democrats would be if they took back Congress was hugely overgenerous by any standard of measurement (see here for the latest example):
It helps to perpetuate the charade -- one that encompasses every aspect of domestic and foreign policy -- that most people know nothing of history, either our own or that of other countries. It's as if none of it ever happened before. For most of these people, it's as if nothing ever happened before. No wonder they so easily believe that this time will be different. For them, there are no other times at all. Everything is new to them, even and especially their own iniquity.
Among the most tiresome and predictable features of our national debates are the recurrent bouts of false moral outrage. They are as drearily regular as the latest instance of governmental stupidity and cruelty, and as devoid of further meaning. Governmental abuse of the citizens the state purports to "serve" (hmm) and public announcements of our offended moral sensibilities both signify the emptiness of our national conscience. We commit atrocities every day and murder on an ungraspable scale -- so we must pretend that we are "better" than our actions would reveal to any sentient being.

Janet Jackson exposes a nipple for a microsecond, and the stars stop in their spheres. (That's because most people view sex and the body, and woman in particular, as inherently corrupt and evil, but it wouldn't do to discuss that.) Partisans leap into battle to stop the exploitation of young adult Congressional pages -- and such exploitation assuredly does deserve condemnation -- yet while they bleat about "protecting the children," they entirely ignore the widespread practice of corporal punishment in public schools. If the sainted new Democratic Congress has made any effort to eliminate that especially reprehensible and destructive evil -- one practiced on the most helpless of all human constituencies -- the news appears to have been omitted from all those sources that usually report such developments, however badly.

I note in passing that almost everyone is quick to condemn the torture and murder of dogs, but the casual, daily, virtually universally accepted cruelties visited upon children elicit almost no one's concern. I will be writing much more in the near future about Alice Miller's critically important work, but pay very careful attention to this further instance of the fundamental displacement of our moral priorities. We rush to protect animals, but not children. Curious, that. With much more to come on this subject, I'll give you a very brief indication of why this happens: fortunately, most of us are not implicated in cruelty to animals. The absence of guilt makes the condemnation easier; because we are so anxious to establish that we still have some vague sense of right and wrong, we are quick to take up the cause. But most people are implicated in numerous cruelties to children, all of which are defended as being for the children's "own good." That is a lie with particularly terrible consequences -- and it is the identical rationalization used by many to "justify" the invasion and occupation of Iraq (as it was the justification for any number of horrors, going back at least to the Mexican-American War: "To conquer Mexico, in other words, would be to do it a favor"; see below for further details). What we learn and internalize as children, we reenact as adults.

A revealing example of these periodic witch burnings is the widespread condemnation heaped upon Stu Bykofsky for this instance of everyday, unremarkable stupidity. How awful, everyone cried, that anyone would suggest that another 9/11 could serve any good end! How despicable to wish for the murder of 3,000 Americans for some allegedly important goal like national "unity"! How loathsome is any individual who would have such thoughts, much less commit them to paper!

There, does everyone feel better now? Have you managed to convince yourselves that you're still decent, caring human beings?

If such an argument is to be condemned when advanced by one insignificant man -- and I fully agree that it is with regard to the argument itself, although the man is of no importance at all -- how much worse is it when a government does the same thing, and when a government does the same exact thing repeatedly?

No, I am not talking about unproven (and unnecessary) theories that the Bush administration engineered the attacks on 9/11. I'm talking about historical matters which are beyond dispute. In his reviled column, Bykofsky writes:
Turn back to 9/11.

Remember the community of outrage and national resolve? America had not been so united since the first Day of Infamy - 12/7/41.

We knew who the enemy was then.
I'll get to that "first Day of Infamy" in a moment, but let's begin earlier in our national narrative.

Leaving aside the genocide of the Native Americans, and the importation, enslavement and genocide of the slaves -- a lot to leave aside, but we don't have a month or a year to contemplate all our transgressions -- let's begin with a very clear instance of how the United States has practiced the intentional provocation of another government to justify its own wars of aggression. From an earlier essay, "Conquest and Murder for God and Civilization," an excerpt from Hampton Sides' book, Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West:
The war with Mexico was a complex affair with many tentacles of grievance, real and imagined, reaching back many years. Most immediately, the war had to do with Texas. Late the previous year, 1845, the United States had officially annexed the Lone Star Republic, which, a decade earlier, had declared its independence from Mexico after the bloody battles at the Alamo and San Jacinto. But Mexico had never recognized Texas's claim of independence and certainly was not prepared to see it pass into United States possession. ... Realizing that neither diplomacy nor outright bartering would achieve his expansionist ends, Polk was determined to provoke a war. He dispatched Gen. Zachary Taylor to disputed territory, between the Nueces and the Rio Grande, in southern Texas. It was an unsubtle attempt to create the first sparks. In April 1846, Taylor's soldiers were fired upon, and Polk was thus given the pretext he needed to declare war.

"American blood has been spilled on American soil," Polk spluttered with righteous indignation, neglecting to mention that Taylor had done everything within his power to invite attack, and that anyway, it wasn't really American soil--at least not yet. Mexico had "insulted the nation," the president charged, and now must be punished for its treachery, beaten back, relieved of vast tracts of real estate it was not fit to govern.

The simple truth was, Polk wanted more territory. No president in American history had ever been so frank in his aims for seizing real estate. ...

Perhaps to dignify the nakedness of Polk's land lust, the American citizenry had got itself whipped into an idealistic frenzy, believing with an almost religious assurance that its republican form of government and its constitutional freedoms should extend to the benighted reaches of the continent then held by Mexico, which, with its feudal customs and Popish superstitions, stood squarely in the way of Progress. To conquer Mexico, in other words, would be to do it a favor.
We now move along to half a century later, and an episode with which you are probably familiar:
When William McKinley became president in 1897, he was already planning to expand America's role in the world. Spain's Cuban troubles provided the perfect opportunity. Publicly, McKinley declared: "We want no wars of conquest; we must avoid the temptation of territorial aggression." But within the U.S. government, the influential cabal that was seeking war and expansion knew they had found their man. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge wrote to Theodore Roosevelt, now at the Navy Department, "Unless I am profoundly mistaken, the Administration is now committed to the large policy we both desire." This "large policy," also supported by Secretary of State John Hay and other key figures, aimed at breaking decisively with our tradition of nonintervention and neutrality in foreign affairs. The United States would at last assume its "global responsibilities," and join the other great powers in the scramble for territory around the world.


In order to escalate the pressure on Spain, the battleship U.S.S. Maine was dispatched to Havana's harbor. On the night of February 15, the Maine exploded, killing 252 men. Suspicion immediately focused on the Spaniards — although they had the least to gain from the destruction of the Maine. It was much more likely that the boilers had blown up — or even that the rebels themselves had mined the ship, to draw America into a war the rebels could not win on their own. The press screamed for vengeance against perfidious Spain, and interventionist politicians believed their hour had come.

McKinley, anxious to preserve his image as a cautious statesman, bided his time. He pressed Spain to stop fighting the rebels and start negotiating with them for Cuban independence, hinting broadly that the alternative was war. The Spaniards, averse to simply handing the island over to a terrorist junta, were willing to grant autonomy. Finally, desperate to avoid war with America, Madrid did proclaim an armistice — a stunning concession for one sovereign state to make at the bidding of another.

But this was not enough for McKinley, who had his eyes set on bagging a few of Spain's remaining possessions. On April 11, he delivered his war message to Congress, carefully omitting to mention the concession of an armistice. A week later, Congress passed the war resolution McKinley wanted.
From these despicable events sprang the monstrous occupation of the Philippines. All of it was a calculated and deliberate course of action -- one explicitly designed to set America on its course for Empire (for which a preview had been provided with the annexation of Hawaii just a few years before).

I will soon have much more about the United States entrance into World War I, and the arguments used to advance that calamitous end; for the moment, I recommend you read all of Ralph Raico's invaluable series, especially Part 4 and Part 5.

Now let us examine the mythologized and largely misleading version of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I turn to Robert Higgs, whose critically important work I have cited before. About the events leading up to the U.S. entrance into World War II, Higgs writes:
Ask a typical American how the United States got into World War II, and he will almost certainly tell you that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the Americans fought back. Ask him why the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and he will probably need some time to gather his thoughts. He might say that the Japanese were aggressive militarists who wanted to take over the world, or at least the Asia-Pacific part of it. Ask him what the United States did to provoke the Japanese, and he will probably say that the Americans did nothing: we were just minding our own business when the crazy Japanese, completely without justification, mounted a sneak attack on us, catching us totally by surprise in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.

You can't blame him much. For more than 60 years such beliefs have constituted the generally accepted view among Americans, the one taught in schools and depicted in movies—what "every schoolboy knows." ...

In the late nineteenth century, Japan's economy began to grow and to industrialize rapidly. Because Japan has few natural resources, many of the burgeoning industries had to rely on imported raw materials, such as coal, iron ore or steel scrap, tin, copper, bauxite, rubber, and petroleum.


In June 1940, Henry L. Stimson, who had been secretary of war under Taft and secretary of state under Hoover, became secretary of war again. Stimson was a lion of the Anglophile, northeastern upper crust and no friend of the Japanese. In support of the so-called Open Door Policy for China, Stimson favored the use of economic sanctions to obstruct Japan's advance in Asia. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes vigorously endorsed this policy. Roosevelt hoped that such sanctions would goad the Japanese into making a rash mistake by launching a war against the United States, which would bring in Germany because Japan and Germany were allied.

Accordingly, the Roosevelt administration, while curtly dismissing Japanese diplomatic overtures to harmonize relations, imposed a series of increasingly stringent economic sanctions on Japan. In 1939 the United States terminated the 1911 commercial treaty with Japan. "On July 2, 1940, Roosevelt signed the Export Control Act, authorizing the President to license or prohibit the export of essential defense materials." Under this authority, "[o]n July 31, exports of aviation motor fuels and lubricants and No. 1 heavy melting iron and steel scrap were restricted." Next, in a move aimed at Japan, Roosevelt slapped an embargo, effective October 16, "on all exports of scrap iron and steel to destinations other than Britain and the nations of the Western Hemisphere." Finally, on July 26, 1941, Roosevelt "froze Japanese assets in the United States, thus bringing commercial relations between the nations to an effective end. One week later Roosevelt embargoed the export of such grades of oil as still were in commercial flow to Japan."[2] The British and the Dutch followed suit, embargoing exports to Japan from their colonies in southeast Asia.

Roosevelt and his subordinates knew they were putting Japan in an untenable position and that the Japanese government might well try to escape the stranglehold by going to war. Having broken the Japanese diplomatic code, the Americans knew, among many other things, what Foreign Minister Teijiro Toyoda had communicated to Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura on July 31: "Commercial and economic relations between Japan and third countries, led by England and the United States, are gradually becoming so horribly strained that we cannot endure it much longer. Consequently, our Empire, to save its very life, must take measures to secure the raw materials of the South Seas."[3]

Because American cryptographers had also broken the Japanese naval code, the leaders in Washington knew as well that Japan's "measures" would include an attack on Pearl Harbor.[4] Yet they withheld this critical information from the commanders in Hawaii, who might have headed off the attack or prepared themselves to defend against it. That Roosevelt and his chieftains did not ring the tocsin makes perfect sense: after all, the impending attack constituted precisely what they had been seeking for a long time. As Stimson confided to his diary after a meeting of the war cabinet on November 25, "The question was how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves."[5] After the attack, Stimson confessed that "my first feeling was of relief ... that a crisis had come in a way which would unite all our people."
Bykofsky, thy name is Henry L. Stimson.

You are undoubtedly familiar with the propaganda and lies that led to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, and you ought to be familiar with the lies that led to Clinton's "humanitarian interventions" in the Balkans (about which, I will also have much more shortly). But let us move ahead to the present.

Today, as the inhumane and monstrous occupation of Iraq continues on its horrific, bloody daily course, we pursue the same overall policy in pursuit of further war, and to ensure America's global hegemony. After examining the Military Commissions Act, the ease with which Bush can now declare martial law, and the long-planned and long-desired attack on Iran, I wrote about this further calamity that lies in wait, in "Living Under the Guillotine's Blade":
The fourth blade is, of course, the unending occupation of Iraq. As I explained yesterday, it will be unending, even if the number of American troops is reduced to 50,000 or 70,000 in the next few years. We will be there for decades into the future; no prominent politician, Democrat or Republican, opposes that plan, which was the plan from the outset. As a number of knowledgeable people predicted prior to the Iraq invasion, Iran has been the primary victor in this imperial disaster. The episode with the British sailors recently demonstrated, as have any number of other incidents, that the longer we remain in Iraq, the greater the likelihood that some incident, real or manufactured, will lead to open conflict with Iran, and to the attack on Iran that every leading politician seems to long for. Our ruling elites are determined to effect "regime change" in Iran in any case, but a border incident or one of some other kind might hasten the schedule, and make a U.S. attack easier to "sell" to a gullible American public.

So we see how the fourth blade connects to the third, and how all the blades interconnect and multiply the dangers. We have already destroyed Iraq, and we may yet destroy Iran and much of the Middle East. We may cause an international economic collapse, or severe economic dislocation at a minimum. We may see the final end of liberty here at home, and the installation of a dictatorship via a declaration of martial law.
Consider the path of destruction and death that the United States government has pursued -- from the Mexican-American War, through the Spanish-American War and the Philippines, on to World War I and a century of unending war, through Vietnam, Latin America and Yugoslavia, and on to Iraq and the Middle East today.

Consider the number of people the United States government has murdered in the last four years.

And tell me again why Stu Bykofsky is unique, and why his views are to be condemned -- while the overwhelming majority of Americans have yet to protest in any meaningful way their government's actions for more than a hundred years.

When we remember that the course of Empire, war, death, chaos and global dominance admirably suits the goals of the ruling elites, we can see that what Bykofsky proposes is nothing new at all. Bykofsky is a pathetic amateur. The United States government is the professional, and its ambition is matched only by its lethality. The government and its actions are what ought to concern you, and all of us. But of course, that is precisely what most of us do nothing to oppose -- and it appears that we can look forward only to more of the same, perhaps on an even greater, incomprehensibly awful scale.

But as we have briefly reviewed, this is, in every sense, the way the United States does business -- and the end of this hideous course of action is not yet in sight.

See also: The United States as Cho Seung-Hui: How the State Sanctifies Murder