Submitted by James Miller from the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada
Propaganda, Lies, And War
If I asked what the cause of the American Civil War was, would your first answer be slavery? Would it surprise you to know that slavery was only one grievance the South had with the Lincoln administration?
Up until the first bullet was fired on Fort Sumter, Abraham Lincoln had been leading a type of economic aggression to force the South into initiating the official version of the conflict. When Lincoln ran for president, his platform was based on Henry Clay-inspired mercantilism where he promised to maintain a high protective tariff that would serve Northern industrial interests while impoverishing the South’s still predominantly agrarian economy. This, of course, angered the South much like it did when John Quincy Adams imposed the same type of tariff in 1828 which lead to the Nullification Crisis. With the Morrill Tariff, which increased the tax on dutiable imports by about 70%, put in place by President Buchanan two days before he left office, the South stood ready to secede. After Lincoln’s inauguration, he began to maneuver the seceding South into firing the first shot by breaking a previously established agreement to not attempt to restock Fort Sumter. He secretly sent troops the Fort which escalated into what turned out to be the bloodiest war in American history. Lincoln’s close friend and confidante Senator Orville H. Browning would go on to write in his diary:
He told me that the very first thing placed in his hands after his inauguration was a letter from Major Anderson announcing the impossibility of defending or relieving Sumter. That he called the cabinet together and consulted General Scott—that Scott concurred with Anderson, and the cabinet, with the exception of PM General Blair were for evacuating the Fort and all the troubles and anxieties of his life had not equalled (sic) those which intervened between this time and the fall of Sumter. He himself conceived the idea, and proposed sending supplies, without an attempt to reinforce giving notice of the fact to Governor Pickens of S.C. The plan succeed. They attacked Sumter—it fell, and thus, did more service than it otherwise could.
Contrary to popular belief, the Civil War was not a fight over slavery but a fight over whether the South was allowed to secede from the union. Lincoln thought war would rally the North behind his special-interest driven agenda. The South sent numerous commissioners to Washington in the hopes of finding a peaceful solution to secession. Lincoln ignored all of them. As he stated in a letter addressed to Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.
So why is this version of the Civil War not taught in public schools?
It’s a simple answer when you consider the driving force of statism.
When Randolph Bourne opined “war is the health of the state,” he was referring to how war is used as a means to enlarge the authority of government over everyday life. In times of war, the citizenry is told to sacrifice their material well being and freedom for the sake of winning the war and bringing the troops home. Taxes are raised, central banks inflate, governments borrow massive amounts of money, and economic resources are confiscated to be used in the war effort. War quickens the state’s march toward totalitarianism as it rallies the public into unquestioned obedience. Love of country replaces love of self and family. Mothers and fathers give up their sons (and now daughters) to fight in the state’s bloody crusade. The heads of government who initiated the conflict don’t let their offspring go and fight. Their pampered lifestyles usually don’t see the sacrifice taxpayers must endure.
Romanticized retellings of war assist in convincing the masses that the campaigns of murder carried out by political leaders were for the good of the nation. It enshrines the state as a life-saving guardian to those fortunate enough to not meet a gruesome death on the battlefield. In the case of the Civil War, Lincoln didn’t just save the union; he has forever made secession a nonviable solution to an overreaching Washington. Lincoln’s war of northern aggression turned these united States of America into the United States of America. It cost the equivalent of 6 million lives today for honest Abe to destroy the volunteerism which defined the union of the states in the decades that preceded the war.
Just as the Civil War was triggered by deceit, many of the wars or military conflicts of the past century have been fought based on the lies of a political class all too enamored with their own power and place in history.
Starting with World War I and Woodrow Wilson’s quest to “make the world safe for democracy,” the popularly spun tail is that America’s entering the conflict was in reaction to Germany sinking the supposedly innocent passenger vessel the Lusitania. After German subs sunk the ship, thereby killing women and children, popular support reversed and was now in favor of war. What wasn’t revealed immediately is that the Lusitania was really outfitted to carry armaments for the British. This was a strategy developed by then First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill to bait a German attack and bring America into the fight. As classical liberal historian Ralph Raico writes:
The Lusitania was a passenger liner loaded with munitions of war; Churchill had given orders to the captains of merchant ships, including liners, to ram German submarines if they encountered them, and the Germans were aware of this. And, as Churchill stressed in his memoirs of World War I, embroiling neutral countries in hostilities with the enemy was a crucial part of warfare: “There are many kinds of maneuvres in war, some only of which take place on the battlefield. . . . The maneuvre which brings an ally into the field is as serviceable as that which wins a great battle.
Then there is the often neglected role big business, especially JP Morgan & Co, played in the propagandizing of the war. As one of the largest creditors and underwriters to war bonds issued by the governments of Britain and France, it was in the best interest of the House of Morgan to guarantee the Allies won the war. As the American economy drifted toward one of top-down command where government cartelized industry to ensure adequate munitions for war, big business was more than happy to play along as it meant stifling regulations placed on their small-time competitors and the opportunity to keep prices elevated. This perverted form of capitalism would serve as a model to Western nations from the war’s end to the present day. Murray Rothbard believed the first World War was really a victory for the fascist state:
More than any other single period, World War I was the critical watershed for the American business system. It was a “war collectivism,” a totally planned economy run largely by big-business interests through the instrumentality of the central government, which served as the model, the precedent, and the inspiration for state corporate capitalism for the remainder of the twentieth century.
The beginnings of World War II were engulfed by the same collusion of big business and government along with underhanded tactics to further chip away at the American public’s noninterventionist stance. The Morgans still had their financial ties with Britain and France while the Rockefellers wanted war with Japan since the country competed for raw materials in Southeast Asia. Both financial powerhouses lobbied for war early on. After Franklin Roosevelt was reelected on the platform of keeping America a neutral party, he set about provoking a Japanese attack sometime around the summer of 1941. This resulted in an oil embargo, the forceful limiting of exports, and freezing the country’s assets within the U.S. It was the equivalent of an economic fatal wound to resource-poor Japan. Not only that, but in recent years it has been confirmed that Roosevelt had prior knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack and actually withheld key information from commanders at the naval base. As Vice Admiral and aid to the Secretary of the Navy Frank E. Beatty noted at the time:
Prior to December 7, it was evident even to me… that we were pushing Japan into a corner. I believed that it was the desire of President Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Churchill that we get into the war, as they felt the Allies could not win without us and all our efforts to cause the Germans to declare war on us failed; the conditions we imposed upon Japan—to get out of China, for example—were so severe that we knew that nation could not accept them. We were forcing her so severely that we could have known that she would react toward the United States. All her preparations in a military way—and we knew their over-all import—pointed that way.
Following World War II, every conflict the U.S. has engaged in has been either to the benefit of wealthy special interests or in reaction to its own misguided policies. The Cold War was a four decade long gift to the military industrial complex against a supposed world power that collapsed due to its state-run economy. The various bombings and occupations of Middle Easter countries which followed have only served as excuses to not end the flow of money into the pockets of politically connected military contractors. And the Iraq War, as everyone now knows, was based on the lie of Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction.
One would think with such a rich history of political patronage in the death industry, Americans would be adamantly opposed to war. Yet the usual players in Washington are once again pounding on the war drums in the name of spreading American values. The target this time is Iran and at least one presidential candidate in this fall’s election has vowed to use military force on a nation that hasn’t bowed down and kissed Uncle Sam’s jackboot. The problem is Iran has the hubris of refusing to be bullied around by the U.S. Such an attitude undermines American imperialism in front of the rest of the world. It must be stomped out by any means necessary.
And then there is the big financial push for an Iranian war going on behind the scenes. The pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has been aggressively pushing for war and appealing to top lawmakers and the heads of Washington’s warmongering apparatus. President Obama has already assured the flush lobbying group that “the United States will not hesitate to attack Iran with military force to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” Department of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made the same promise. Just last week, 44 Senators, including many Democrats, sent an AIPAC letter to the President urging him to consider military action if Iran continues with its nuclear program. The letter essentially makes war the only option on the table as Glenn Greenwald of Salon points out:
This implication is clear: a military attack by the U.S. on Iran is at least justified, if not compelled, if a satisfactory agreement is not quickly reached regarding Iran’s nuclear program. At the same time, the letter itself virtually ensures no such agreement is possible because the conditions it imposes as the “absolute minimum” are ones everyone knows Iran will never agree to (closing the Fordow facility and giving up its right to enrich uranium above 5 percent).
Not only is the push for war bipartisan, but much of the media establishment has been devoid of criticism of the constant war rhetoric. Even though Israel has nukes of its own, many of its supporters portray the country as a weakling in dire need of assistance from the bully of the Middle East schoolyard. Worse is the complete disregard of the fact that there is no actual evidence that Iran is concocting a nuclear weapon. According to the CIA’s own National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, Iran put a stop to the development of nuclear weapons in the fall of 2003. Other Western nations such as Germany, France, and Britain, deny the report’s conclusion. Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gotten impatient of the reluctance by the U.S. thus far to act militarily against Iran. Like a good politician, he wants prestige without the dirty work. That’s what America is for.
Despite already being engaged in drone wars in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and still occupying Afghanistan, the U.S. is being duped into yet another war based on shaky evidence and at the behest of deep-pocketed special interests. This is coming even while a secretive cyber war already being waged to damage Iran’s nuclear capability. According to the Pentagon, “computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war.” Not only that, but the draconian sanctions thus far placed on Iran are doing enormous harm to the citizens who hardly have a say in what their government does. The Belgium-based SWIFT payment system that facilitates most international payments has already denied service to many Iranian banks. With the imposing of an oil embargo from the European Union just around the corner (July 1st) that will all but make it impossible for oil tankers to be insured by Lloyd’s of London, an actual naval blockade is being floated by U.S. lawmakers. Much like the Antebellum South and Japan, Iran too is being pushed into a corner.
What makes the campaign to extend the War on Terror to Iran is that the anti-American sentiment in the higher echelons of its government are only a consequence of previous meddling. After Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh nationalized the oil industry in 1953, British Petroleum used the CIA to overthrow the popular leader and put the Shah back in power whose authoritarian rule would be financially supported by the U.S. up to the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Then and now, wealthy special interests are a driving force behind American imperialism. Lies will be spun till they are seen as facts. When the truth comes out, the irreparable damage will already be done. Like anything the state lays its filthy hands on, war is a racket. The beneficiaries of the ruling class’s gleeful foray into mass murder are few in number. The masses, still brainwashed into feverish nationalism, end up paying the costs with their pilfered income, eroded liberty, and, ultimately, their own lives.
As Major General Smedley D. Butler wrote in his seminal essay War Is A Racket
WAR is a racket. It always has been.
It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.
The only weapon against such an immoral system of mass murder and cronyism is to know the truth and to not fall ill with the fever of war.