U.S. administrations ever since Truman have justified aggressive foreign policies by lying and distorting the realities behind complex international relationships.
Post-modernists talk about “discourses,” “narratives,” “tropes,” and verbal “deconstructions.” They should be commended for suggesting how words are used to mobilize, inspire, deceive, promote self-interest, and, too often, justify killing everywhere.
Former Arkansas Senator, J. William Fulbright in describing how he was tricked by his old friend President Lyndon Baines Johnson to support a resolution authorizing escalating war in Vietnam said: “A lie is a lie. There is no other way to put it.”
The story can begin any time. As World War Two was ending, the Greek government constructed by Great Britain after the Nazis were defeated was engaged in an effort to crush a rebellion by activists who objected to their newly imposed rulers. The Greek rebels included former anti-fascists freedom fighters, some of whom were Communists or Socialists. The British, no longer able to support the repression of the Greek Left in what was a civil war, called on the Americans for help.
In February 1947, Truman foreign policy advisers met to discuss what to do about the Greek civil war and the threat of “Communism” spreading along the Mediterranean. The Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Arthur Vandenberg, attending the meeting. said he would support U.S. military and economic aid for the unpopular Greek government. But, he said, tell the President he better “scare hell out of the American people.”
One month later, President Truman gave his famous Truman Doctrine speech to the congress and the American people. He warned the American people, who until that time still had positive feelings toward the Soviet people, that the United States and the “free world” were going to be engaged in a long-term struggle against the forces of “international communism.”
The Truman Doctrine was about a global struggle between the forces of good threatened by the forces of evil.
The Truman Doctrine was not about nations and movements with different interests and ideologies but rather a global struggle between the forces of good threatened by the forces of evil.
United States administrations ever since have justified aggressive foreign policies by lying and distorting the realities behind complex international relationships. In addition, when a politician, a journalist, a scholar, or a whole peace movement criticizes targeting nations and movements as diabolical and security threats, these critics are challenged as weak, indecisive, cowardly, and, even worse, stalking horses for the vile enemy or enemies.
Campaigns of propaganda masquerading as truth have been a constant feature of international relations, particularly since World War Two. The reality of U.S. struggles against demonized enemies tells a sobering story. Deaths in wars and interventions in which the United States participated from 1945 until 1995 totaled about 10 million people. These figures, extracted from the valuable research of Ruth Sivard, (World Military and Social Expenditures, 1996) do not include injuries and forced migrations of millions of people fleeing combat zones. Nor do these figures include the wasteful trillions of dollars of military expenditures and environmental damage resulting from a war system.
Now the United States and its allies are presenting scenarios justifying war based upon a new round of lies and distortions.
And now, in 2014, the United States and its allies in NATO are presenting scenarios justifying war based upon a new round of lies and distortions. In the Persian Gulf whole nations were constructed by European colonial powers after World War One. As the next World War ended, the United States agreed to provide arms and protection to the Saudi monarchs in exchange for oil.
The U.S. identified client regimes to support its interests in the region, from the former Shah of Iran, to the state of Israel, to various so-called Islamic fundamentalist groups including what became Al Qaeda, to leaders the U.S. once supported such as Saddam Hussein and Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq. In the 21st century, the stability of whole countries, Iraq and Libya for example, was destroyed by United States interventions costing many million deaths and injuries and many more people fleeing violence.
Now the latest enemy, ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is portrayed as a monster movement that beheads its prisoners and murders masses of people who do not share its religious ideology. While there is enough data to suggest that ISIS is engaging in cruel violence against its enemies, that violence is being used to justify bombing campaigns against alleged enemy targets. War-hungry hawks inside the beltway particularly those with ready access to mainstream media demand that President Obama expand bombing, transfer more arms to so-called friends, and recruit militant opponents of ISIS to even the score.
Since this new enemy, even more scary than the Communists of the 20th century, includes a handful of Americans, they claim, the territory of the United States is threatened by global terror. The rhetoric calling for a global war against this presumably global threat is escalating. Those who raise questions about why ISIS is as popular as it is, what its grievances are, why there is hatred for the West, particularly the United States, in the region, and whether the application of military force would make matters better or worse, are drowned out by those who built careers based on arguments about the inevitability of war and violence and the need to kill for the greater good.
The other apocryphal narrative of the day comes from Eastern Europe.
The other apocryphal narrative of the day comes from Eastern Europe. The United States participated covertly in the overthrow of a dictatorial but elected regime in Ukraine. After the elected leader fled, those with ties to historic fascist parties gained influence in a newly created government.
Ukrainians from the eastern part of the country with ties of politics, culture, and language to Russia rebelled against the new central government in Kiev which wants to join Western military and economic organizations. Kiev has launched a brutal assault on the separatists in the East. The dominant narrative in Washington and the mainstream media is not about the coup in Kiev, the descendants of fascists in the government, but the Russians who want to move westward across Central Europe, reestablishing the old Soviet Bloc.
Indeed, Russia is giving material aid to the separatists, although information about what kind comes only from Washington and Kiev. Little attention is given to the NATO vision of expanding its military alliance eastward, ultimately to besiege a threatened Russia. Even less attention is given to the fact that Kiev oligarchs wish to incorporate Ukraine into the European Union.
In other words, a country with a divided population in terms of culture and politics engaged in a violent civil war has been transformed by politicians, pundits, and media sources into a narrative of a struggling Ukraine democracy challenged by an aggressive Russia, the descendent of the twentieth century demon, the former Soviet Union. (For a more detailed discussion of United States/Russian/ Ukraine relations in 2013-2014 see Harry Targ, “Pushing for Starvation at Home and War Abroad: A Time to Resist,” Diary of a Heartland Radical, March 28, 2014).
Getting back to Senator Vandenberg’s advice to President Truman about how to gain support of the American people for moral/military crusades, leaders and media are warning about a new global terrorist threat and a renewed post-Soviet threat from Russia, a new Cold War. The intensity of the selling job is testament to the good sense of the American people who continue to say “no more wars.”
[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University and is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, and blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical. ]