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The Virus of Imperialism (Part II)

Tags EducationU.S. HistoryWar and Foreign Policy

09/09/2013Thomas J. DiLorenzo

Thomas DiLorenzo’s Mises Academy class on imperialism and anti-imperialism begins tonight, September 9, and continues for five weeks. Register now.

After the American “Civil War,” the Republican Party, which for the succeeding half century would enjoy monopolistic political power matched only by the Bolsheviks in Russia, set about to deify Abraham Lincoln. During his own lifetime Lincoln was the most hated and reviled of all American presidents in history, as historian Larry Tagg has shown in his book, The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln: America’s Most Reviled President. Several decades of propaganda by the Republican Party and its associated lapdog media changed all of that. The deification of Lincoln led to the deification of the presidency itself, and eventually to the entire federal government.

The renowned novelist Robert Penn Warren (author of All the King’s Men) wrote in The Legacy of the Civil War that Official State Propaganda asserted that the Civil War left America with “A Treasury of Virtue” so powerful that it was henceforth assumed that anything the U.S. government did from then on was virtuous by virtue of the fact that it was the U.S. government that was doing it. All any American had to do to remind the world of “our” virtue was simply to recite a few lines from one of Lincoln’s political speeches about “the last best hope of earth,” or our alleged desire to “make all men free.”

The Official State Propaganda line was supplemented by the political clout of the “Progressives” of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, many of whom were postmillennial pietists. As Murray Rothbard wrote in his essay, “World War I as Fulfillment: Power and the Intellectuals,” many of these influential writers, journalists, politicians, preachers, scientists, and political activists “possessed an intense messianic belief in national and world salvation through Big Government” (emphasis added).

Woodrow Wilson was a Progressive pietist of the most extreme sort. After he delivered his “war message” on April 2, 1917, wrote Rothbard, he received a letter of congratulations from his son-in-law “and fellow . . . pietist and progressive, Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo.” “You have done a great thing nobly!” wrote McAdoo. “I firmly believe that it is God’s will that America should do this transcendent service for humanity throughout the world and that you are His chosen instrument.”

American foreign policy has not changed one iota to this day. It is still based on the premise that American presidents still possess that “treasury of virtue” handed down to them by “Father Abraham” himself; and that they are God’s chosen people to rule the world and remake it in their image. Or else.

Wilson declared that “I will not cry ‘peace’ so long as there is sin and wrong in the world.” This was perhaps the clearest statement of America’s foreign policy of imperialism ever made, and is not significantly different from President George W. Bush’s declaration more than eight decades later that his purpose in the “War on Terra,” as he called it, is supposedly to eradicate tyranny from the planet. This insufferable sanctimony has always been married with the clout of profit-hungry defense contractors in the Big Business/Big Government Alliance that defined Progressivism in the early twentieth century and which has defined American foreign policy ever since.

Wilson got his war to eradicate sin and wrong in the world by staging the sinking of a British pleasure boat called the Lusitania. Before the ship was sunk, Wilson knew that it was carrying arms and ammunition from the U.S. to the British but he refused to issue warnings to the 100 or so American passengers. The sinking of the ship worked like a charm in exciting anti-German hysteria and swaying American public opinion in Wilson’s belligerent direction. (A 2008 diving expedition discovered more than fourteen million rounds of rifle ammunition in the Lusitania, much of which was in boxes labeled “cheese” or “butter”).

Although Wilson’s War was fought to supposedly spread “democracy” throughout Europe, he presided over and enforced a totalitarian government in his own country.

The Espionage Act of 1917 imposed $10,000 fines and as much as 20 years in prison for anyone saying or doing anything the state construed as “discouraging enlistments” in the military. The Sedition Act of 1916 imposed similar criminal penalties for any type of criticism of the government. All printed materials were censored; thousands were deported without due process of law; and state-sponsored vigilante groups conducted warrantless searches and seizures. The author Upton Sinclair was arrested for reading the Bill of Rights in public; the poet E. E. Cummings was imprisoned for three-and-a-half months for writing a letter to his mother saying that he did not necessarily hate Germans; and in New Jersey one Roger Baldwin was arrested for reading the Constitution in public. Such were the ways of the American “democracy” that Woodrow Wilson sought to impose on Europe at gunpoint.

The Pearl Harbor Deception

Robert Stinnett, author of Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor, is a World War II veteran who had a career as a journalist with the Oakland Tribune and the BBC for several decades after the war. He researched his book upon discovering in 1993 that the U.S. Naval Security Group Command had decided to place into public archives at the University of Maryland hundreds of thousands of Japanese military messages obtained by U.S. monitoring/spying stations prior to Pearl Harbor. These records had not been seen by anyone since 1941.

What Stinnett found was that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had implemented an Office of Naval Intelligence plan to provoke the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor with an eight-point plan, the most important part of which was keeping most of the U.S. fleet docked like sitting ducks in Pearl Harbor. When the commander of the U.S. fleet, Admiral James Richardson, objected to allowing his sailors to be Japanese target practice, FDR fired him and replaced him with an obscure naval officer named Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel.

Stinnett showed in his book that Kimmel and General Walter Short, the commander of U.S. Army forces in Hawaii, were kept in the dark about Japanese activities prior to the attack. After the attack occurred, they were blamed for it and stripped of their commands.

The U.S. government’s spying apparatus and its minions have viciously attacked Robert Stinnett ever since his book was published, but his interpretations were validated by an act of Congress in 2000. In that year President Bill Clinton signed the Defense Authorization Act that acknowledged that Kimmel and Short were denied “crucial military intelligence” about the Japanese fleet prior to the Pearl Harbor attack. Like Wilson, FDR got his war, which he prosecuted with the help of his new ally and friend, Joseph Stalin.

The Gulf of Tonkin “Incidents”

Shortly before his assassination in November of 1963 President John F. Kennedy had begun recalling U.S. military “advisors” from Vietnam. His successor, Lyndon Johnson, was hell bent on waging total war in Vietnam. Once again the American public had little interest in a civil war thousands of miles away in Asia but were easily duped into acquiescing in one that would eventually kill some 55,000 Americans.

The U.S. government began “covertly” supplying gunboats to the South Vietnamese army which were used to attack the coast of North Vietnam. This was acknowledged in 1964 by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. In addition, there were American warships hovering around North Vietnamese ports. This included the USS Maddox. Placing the ships in harm's way was Johnson’s FDR-style strategy to provoke an attack by the North Vietnamese, and it succeeded.

Johnson falsely claimed in a speech to the nation that there was not one but two attacks on the USS Maddox but that is generally acknowledged today to have been a lie and a hoax. Naval sonar picked up American propeller noise, and radar detected bad weather, which Johnson claimed was North Vietnamese warships. He announced to the nation that there was a “second attack” and called for military retaliation. Soon thereafter he ordered air strikes on North Vietnam and the Vietnam War was off and running. In the 2003 documentary The Fog of War Robert McNamara admitted that the “second attack” on the USS Maddox “never happened.”

The War on “Terra”

Today’s campaign for war with Syria by the Obama administration is being based on the same kind of dubious tall tale that the George W. Bush administration used to “justify” the Iraq War, and such tactics are reminiscent of George H.W. Bush’s first war on Iraq which was based partly on the U.S. government’s discredited claims that Iraqi soldiers were pulling the plugs on Kuwaiti incubators holding prematurely born babies.

The Syrian government is said to have used “chemical weapons” (i.e., weapons of the sort the U.S. government used to murder more than 80 people, including dozens of children, in Waco, Texas during the Clinton administration) on “its own people.” Saddam Hussein is also said to have used chemical weapons “on his own people.” Those weapons, Americans were told, might someday end up in the hands of “terrorists” who will use them on Americans. Therefore, “we” must invade, destroy, and conquer Iraq.

Even the CIA long ago admitted that there never were any “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq that threatened the U.S. The same can be said of Syria, despite the latest attempts to lie Americans into another war of imperialism. It may seem trite, but it is nevertheless true that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are bound to repeat its mistakes. The American government is currently hell bent on squandering more blood and treasure on yet another military adventure that has nothing to do with defending American freedom — or anyone else’s.


Contact Thomas J. DiLorenzo

Thomas DiLorenzo is president of the Mises Institute. He is a former professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland and a longtime member of the senior faculty of the Mises Institute. He is the author or co-author of eighteen books including The Real Lincoln; How Capitalism Saved America; Lincoln Unmasked; Hamilton's Curse; Organized Crime: The Unvarnished Truth About Government; The Problem with Socialism; and The Politically-Incorrect Guide to Economics