Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Ugly Truth About War

On December 16, 131 anti-war protesters were arrested outside the White House, while calling for an immediate end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The protesters—which included notable activist, Daniel Ellsberg and author Chris Hedges, as well as regional members of Veterans for Peace—chained themselves to the White House fence, before police officers (literally) dragged them away. According to a recent email notice from Veterans for Peace, the charges of trespassing and failing to obey officers’ orders to vacate the premises were all dropped.

If this is the first you have heard about this major arrest, you are likely not alone. The protest received next to no coverage in the corporate, Tea Party-obsessed media. However, the event serves as another example of how fed up Americans have become of the on-going wars in the Middle East.

A recent CNN poll reveals 63 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should end the Afghanistan war. Another poll by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair finds 20 percent of respondents would reduce the national deficit by slashing the bloated military-spending budget. (The survey also shows majority support—61 percent—for raising taxes on the wealthy.)

It may have taken ten years, but it seems Americans have finally soured on the ill-conceived and undefined Afghanistan war—a conflict initiated by President Bush immediately after the 2001 terrorist attack, and expanded by President Obama. Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers remain an occupying force in Iraq, despite many Americans’ erroneous belief that war has ended.

Yet, despite the growing opposition to these military endeavors, President Obama recently announced an additional 1,400 troops will be sent to Afghanistan. Once again, the warmongers in Washington have made it clear they do not particularly care what American citizens want.

According to author and progressive activist David Swanson, this discrepancy between the aims of militaristic lawmakers and the people is, unfortunately, nothing new. As he argues in his recent book, War Is a Lie, this has been the case for every major military conflict in our nation’s history.

“Not a single thing we commonly believe about wars that helps keep them around is true,” Swanson begins the book. “Wars cannot be good or glorious. Nor can they be justified as a means of achieving peace, or anything else of value. The reasons given for wars before, during and after them…are all false.”

Swanson, a blogger for After Downing (now renamed War Is a, then proceeds to debunk the supposedly noble and altruistic motives behind every major U.S. war in history—including such revered “good wars” as the Revolutionary War and World War II. According to Swanson, all of these wars have been based on misleading or distorted evidence, fabrications of intelligence, or outright lies and propaganda. War Is a Lie examines how presidents and the media have routinely used such lies to sell the public on wars they otherwise would have no legitimate interest in fighting in—let alone dying for.

With a historian’s precision, Swanson unmasks the lies about the Gulf of Tonkin incident that launched the Vietnam War; the seldom acknowledged fact that the United States had quietly provoked the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor prior to WW II; the propaganda of slain Kuwaiti infants that lead to the first Gulf War; and how the bloody Civil War was only later recast by President Lincoln as a battle to end slavery. Finally, he turns to our two current military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the respective lies concerning WMD and the Sept. 11, 2001 counter-attack (the 9/11 hijackers primarily hailed from Saudi Arabia, not Afghanistan) used to sell those wars.

Swanson also tackles oft-repeated media assessments claiming the U.S. “won” in Iraq, or that George W. Bush’s “surge” of troops in that country “succeeded.” He likewise examines the hypocrisy of “anti-war” representatives and senators who consistently vote for additional war-funding bills in Congress (as Barack Obama repeatedly did while in the Senate, even though he claimed to oppose the Iraq War).

Like media critic Norman Solomon’s similarly-themed, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning us to Death, War Is a Lie counters the pervasive (and ludicrous) myth that war is always reserved as a last resort, or that our leaders simply had “no other choice.” As Swanson reveals, it is often quite the reverse: Due to corporate interests, the vast influence of the military-industrial-complex and an unquenchable thirst for finite natural resources, war is typically the first and only option government leaders consider.

Arguing against the unassailable necessity of World War II, Swanson observes the battle, “was not fought to save the Jews, and it did not save them. Refugees were turned away and abandoned. Plans to ship Jews out of Germany were frustrated by Britain’s blockade… It was not fought against racism by a nation imprisoning Japanese-Americans and segregating African American soldiers. It was not fought against imperialism by the world’s leading and most up-and-coming imperialists.”

He continues, “Obama claims his only choices are war or nothing. But the reason people know the names Gandhi…and King is that they suggested other options and proved that those other approaches could work.”

With the looming budget wars in the new Republican-led Congress, anti-war activists may finally have the necessary momentum to push for an end to the needless spending in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not, of course, that we should expect the Republicans to suddenly become pacifists. But Swanson’s book serves as a crucial reminder of the civic duty we all have as citizens to do everything within our power to end these immoral, unjust wars.

“War is a meme,” he writes, “a contagious idea that serves its own ends. War excitement keeps war alive. It does no good for human beings.”

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