Do You Believe in War?

Antiwar Radio Podcast Transcript: Scott Horton Interviews David Swanson, November 24, 2010

SCOTT HORTON: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio. We’re at Antiwar.com/radio, KaosRadioAustin.org, and at LRN.fm. All right, next guest on the show is David Swanson. He’s the author of Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, and the new one is called War is a Lie, just out on October 30. Welcome back to the show. How are you doing, David?

DAVID SWANSON: Great. Great to hear you. How are you guys doing?

SCOTT HORTON: Doing really good. Really appreciate you joining us today.

DAVID SWANSON: My pleasure.

SCOTT HORTON: So, are you sure war isn’t the truth?

DAVID SWANSON: I’m pretty darn sure, yeah. I mean I’ve had a couple of objections from people who insist that wars really do exist, and you know, I’m not denying that. I’m just denying that–

SCOTT HORTON: [laughs] Do you believe in war? No! There never was such a thing. That’s just on TV.

DAVID SWANSON: Right. Apparently a couple of people have managed to read that into the title of my book [laughter], but everybody else sort of gets the point, which is not just that they tell us lies to start wars, or at least particular wars, but that they tell us lies to start every single war, they tell us lies to keep the wars going, they tell us lies after the fact to justify the wars with things that have nothing to do with the reality at the time, and they tell us lies to keep the war machinery in place and expanding and the potential there for more wars. And it’s, it’s all lies. So my, my sort of my annoyance at the idea that the Iraq war is somehow different from other wars in that it’s based on lies kind of drove me to make this point.

SCOTT HORTON: Right on. Yeah, you know it’s funny, I was just thinking the other day, probably right before I saw this book of yours, this new book, in my e-mail. I’m giving a speech at the Freedom Summit in Phoenix, Arizona, at the beginning of December, and I was thinking, “Well, what should be my speech be about? I guess maybe I’ll just go through and explain how they lied us into every single war, perhaps even including the American Revolution, but I guess, you know, to keep it succinct, just all the major wars since 1791 and the creation of this Constitution – you’ve got the War of 1812, the war against Mexico, of course all the Indian wars, the Civil War, both world wars, and then all of the Cold War proxy wars, and now into the terror war – every bit of these, every one of these, has been not just, as you say, based on a giant foundation of lies all around, but they’ve been, there have been lies about the provocation, about the excuse for starting the thing in the first place, whether it was weapons of mass destruction or the Mexican invasion of Texas, or whatever it is, you pick.

DAVID SWANSON: Oh, absolutely. And you forgot to remember the Maine, to hell with Spain.

SCOTT HORTON: Oh yeah.

DAVID SWANSON: Every single war, you know, either something is concocted or invented or lied about or twisted into a justification for war. So, you know, we could have had Bin Laden put on trial. Instead we wanted a war, and the president admits quite openly, shortly after, that he’s just not really interested in Bin Laden, it was just a good excuse for a war. And we used the same excuse to go into Iraq, which had even less connection to Bin Laden. We went into Iraq 12 years earlier on, you know, lies about babies stripped out of incubators and left on the cold of floor of hospitals, that were fiction produced by a public relations firm in Washington hired by the Kuwaiti government. Every single war you go back through, you find similar lies. The Gulf of Tonkin incident that didn’t happen, and so forth.

SCOTT HORTON: Well, hell, look at Pearl Harbor. I mean that’s the greatest treason in the history of all of mankind. And the Secretary of War Stimson said, “By all means, the Japanese must be maneuvered into firing the first shot.” And we know now from Robert Stinnett’s work in Day of Deceit and all of the Freedom of Information stuff that’s come out since 1999 that John T. Flynn was right all along, that Admiral Kimmel and General Short were cut out of the loop of intelligence that was going to Washington D.C. that said the Japanese are on their way. And what we learned as kids that what a, what a lucky coincidence that all the good aircraft carriers were out at sea that day and only a bunch of obsolete old World War I ships were left in Pearl Harbor mostly, isn’t that great? It wasn’t a great coincidence at all. It was because they knew the attack was coming and they needed to make the American people feel like they were the victim in order to justify a war in Europe. Incidentally.

DAVID SWANSON: The president and his cabinet knew the war was coming, knew the attack was coming on Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt had a meeting where he predicted it would happen December 1. He was off by six days. But it ought not to have been such a surprise. I mean, this was a country desperate to get to war in Europe – I’m talking about the government, the president – you know, the draft already underway, the provision of weapons already underway, the lies being told about German attacks on ships, just as with World War I, already underway, and the Japanese economy being destroyed by sanctions imposed by the United States. And it’s on the front page of the newspapers, the U.S. military participating in war on Japan with China – this well known and publicly in the newspapers. People like Smedley Butler raising hell for, you know, a decade or more before this attack about our provocations of Japan and our building of bases and airstrips around the Pacific and in the Aleutian Islands and the rest of it, being provocations for Japan. I mean, for everyone to sort of be shocked and treat this as an attack on the United States out of the blue – when of course Pearl Harbor wasn’t even a U.S. state, it was an imperial outpost – is just bizarre.

SCOTT HORTON: Yeah. And, hey, 3500 mostly young men drowned or blown up, basically by their own president, Franklin Roosevelt. And in order to justify a war that – it was so obvious! I mean, the thing had already been going on for two years, more than two years at that point, and Hitler had already betrayed Stalin, invaded the Soviet Union. And all the antiwar voices, including President Hoover, said, “Let the dictators fight. If we go in and get involved in this war, all we’re going to do is save Joe Stalin, and he’s going to end up controlling most of Europe. So why don’t we just let the Nazis and the Soviets exhaust each other instead of going in here to save Uncle Joe?” But of course, I guess that’s why Roosevelt wanted in so bad is because it was his good buddy, Joe Stalin – you know, Harry Hopkins _____.

DAVID SWANSON: This was a situation where things were not secret but were kept hush hush. You had congressional hearings for years leading up to this incident, discussing plans for aggressive wars, especially with Japan, discussing the possibility of Japanese surprise attacks like what happened at Pearl Harbor. You had Marshall put out a plan that was not called the Marshall Plan, that we don’t remember at all, where he told the assembled press corpse that we were going to have a war on Japan and that they needed to keep it hush hush, and they did so.

SCOTT HORTON: I like that, the press corpse. It sounds like a mispronunciation, but no, it’s–

DAVID SWANSON: No, no.

SCOTT HORTON: –just a joke at their expense. It’s a good one, too. I like that.

DAVID SWANSON: Well, they’re still around, like zombies, only worse now.

SCOTT HORTON: You know what seems like a big lie undergirding all of all postwar policy is “collective security,” that no matter what business – I mean, and this is never mind kind of the Dick Cheney right-wing nationalist Pax Americana types, but the so-called Clintonites or Jimmy Carteresque sort of UN Security Council resolution-based foreign policy and multinational coalitions and this, that and the other thing, You know, we see it going on in Korea right now. Barack Obama had said, “Look, if war breaks out, full-scale war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, let nobody doubt that America’s on the side of the South Koreans, that their war is our war.”

DAVID SWANSON: Right. And we’re talking about sending them military aid. You know, which is sort of like military intelligence…

SCOTT HORTON: Yeah, and an aircraft carrier too. There’s aid for ya.

DAVID SWANSON: Right. We call that aid. We call it humanitarian. Just as you say, Bill Clinton was going to bomb Yugoslavia for the good of the people there. This idea that we fight wars for the good of the Iraqis or the Afghans – we’re occupying their country for their own good, whether they want it or not, it’s to benefit them. We need to liberate the Iranians, even though they might not want us to, and so forth. I mean, there’s a segment of the population now that just won’t support wars unless they are acts of beneficence – they’re humanitarian wars – they’re fought out of generosity – at the same time that there’s another slice of the population that won’t back wars unless the enemy is evil and demonized and needs to be wiped off the face of the earth. And you have these contradictory justifications for each war, each appealing to a different group of people. And the war rolls on, oblivious to the lack of logic.

SCOTT HORTON: All right, everybody hang tight. We’ll be right back with David Swanson after this.

NIXON: I respect your ideals. I share your concern for peace. I want peace as much as you do. I pledged in my campaign for the presidency to end the war, a way that we could win the peace.

REAGAN: We maintain our strength in order to deter and defend against aggression, to preserve freedom and peace.

POPPY BUSH: No one, friend or foe, should doubt our desire for peace.

CLINTON: The United States wants peace.

GW BUSH: We seek peace. We strive for peace.

SCOTT HORTON: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio. I’m Scott Horton. I’m talking with David Swanson. He’s the author of Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, and the new one is called War is a Lie. And, so, David, I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but so far you’re doing great based on, you know, just responding to my madness over here.

Here’s the lie I want you to explain to them next, because I’m sure this has got to be in there somewhere, and that is that military service and going to war is noble and honorable and glorious and it’ll make a man out of you and then you’ll be able to get a job as a helicopter repairman later in life, and it’s what makes you the best among us is if you go and do this horrible thing for these horrible people. How is it that after all this time, this belief is still prevalent across, you know, every kind of description, every segment of American society? People still believe this, no matter what.

DAVID SWANSON: Well, not everybody does. But you’re right, it’s a very, very powerful, probably the most powerful myth in keeping the war machine going and prolonging unpopular wars. Once you get a war started and the public turns against it and says “Oops, that was wrong, we never should have started that war,” as the public has done belatedly on Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, the wars keep going to support the troops. We must support the troops, as if the troops benefit from being stuck in these wars that kill or wound or traumatize them. And it’s based on this idea that bravery or courage is somehow a good thing, regardless of purpose.

You know, jumping out a window is a good thing, because it’s brave. When Bill Maher objected to the idea that flying airplanes into the World Trade Center was cowardly, he lost his job. And of course it wasn’t cowardly, it was the bravest thing in the world. It was just evil and murderous and criminal – but brave.

And this same description applies to what soldiers do in wars, in aggressive wars. Even if they’re fighting for the United States of America, they are being brave and courageous for the worst possible ends. They are showing the best in human character for the worst purposes.

And I think, you know, as President Kennedy said, until a conscientious objector has the sort of prestige and respect that we just give to every soldier, we’re going to have war.

Because, you know, you ask why people could still believe this stuff, well they hear it every day. It’s all around them. Soldiers are honored in welcoming ceremonies at airports. They’re given discounts everywhere. They’re treated to all kinds of ceremonies and awards. And the recruitment advertising – you know we spend more on recruiting each soldier than we spend on educating a child in this country. It’s just so unavoidable. There’s nowhere you can go in this country and get away from military bases and military propaganda and military paraphernalia. It’s everywhere, and it’s all aimed at glorifying the troops.

And what was interesting in researching this book and looking at more private discussions by war planners is that they never once, ever, mention the troops. Whereas publicly elected officials never, ever talk about the need to keep a war going without blaming it on the troops and saying it’s for the benefit of the troops. And so it’s really a stark example of the differences –

SCOTT HORTON: You’re saying in their deliberations they never say, “Well, you know, we’ve got to think of the troops who’ve sacrificed so far and make sure to keep the war going for them and their _____.” They never say that to each other, is what you’re telling me.

DAVID SWANSON: Not once. I’ve never seen it anywhere, in any private discussion or closed door committee hearing or any minutes of any high-level meeting about war planning among those who are deciding should we have this war, why should we have this war? It’s interesting, because you see them deciding on a reason for themselves to believe in a war that they’ve sort of just preordained is going to happen and is going to escalate, and then deciding on reasons to tell the public is a whole additional step beyond that.

But, you know, if troops are considered at all, it’s considering how many of them are there, how long can we keep them beyond their contracts before they start shooting their commanders – you know, what can we get out of them. But there’s never, I’ve never seen any –

And why would you? It’s absolutely nonsensical, this idea of keeping a war going for the sake of the troops, or so that those who have died shall not have died in vain we’ll kill some more to pile them on top – and yet in public that’s what you hear. In private you hear about the need to spill American blood in order to trap a president into escalating a war. You hear about the need to sacrifice American lives to get a war going. But you never hear about the need to, you know, keep a war going because otherwise you’ll disappoint the troops who love being in the war.

SCOTT HORTON: Hmm. Well, you know, I try to put myself in the position of a dad who’s sending his son off to this kind of thing, and I think that probably what happens is most of the time people are not ruthless. You know? People are decent. And so they don’t really imagine, they can’t really imagine, that the people who run the state, man, they’re as ruthless as they can be. They don’t care about you at all. They’d just as soon that your son dies stepping off the truck the moment he gets to whatever godforsaken land he’s sent to. They don’t care about him at all. And if survives, they’ll say that he has a personality disorder that disqualifies him from any of the healthcare benefits that they promised him. And the money that they give him for college will be a pittance. And he’ll be in debt. And he’ll pay taxes on all this stuff that they’ve promised him he wouldn’t. And they’ll keep him through stop loss longer than they ever said. But – but, come on! You’d have to be some kind of Nazi to do that to some poor kid, right? All those terrible things. And so people just can’t believe that, hey, guess what, you live in an evil empire and it’s run by evil imperialists, and no, really, they’re just as bad as whoever you imagine your enemy is out there, maybe worse.

DAVID SWANSON: Remember Harry Truman on the floor of the Senate: “If the Russians are winning, let’s help the Germans, and if the Germans are winning, let’s help the Russians. That way they’ll kill more of each other off.” You know, you can’t get more evil than the cold calculations of the people running our wars. But because Americans, like all people, tend to be good and generous, they sell the wars as noble and decent and even humanitarian. And you look at this great new movie about Pat Tillman, and they make it sound as if he was the only guy who signed up with noble motives. No, I know lots of people –

SCOTT HORTON: Right.

DAVID SWANSON: – who signed up right after 9/11 because they bought all the lies, and they thought they were doing something good and making a brave sacrifice for their fellow people, or at least their fellow Americans. They believe this stuff. That’s why they put the stuff out there. You know, so there are a lot of good intentions, but when you find out, in this so-called volunteer Army, you can’t unvolunteer, it’s too late now.

SCOTT HORTON: Yeah. Yeah, that’s the thing. And, you know, here’s the thing too, is, I gotta figure if you’re in the Soviet Army, you think, “Man, I’m in the Soviet Army, and it is what it is,” but you know, all this, all the sloganeering about defending your country and fighting on the side of right is all intertwined with the idea that America is a democracy, and that the government is We the People, and therefore whatever happened in history and whatever happens now is what the people want or else it wouldn’t be that way. And they must want it because they’re right, because it’s good, because after all we’re talking about, like you just said, the majority of people are good and decent people. And so, Franklin Roosevelt and everything he ever did was wonderful, as we all learned in school. And the same thing for this now. The democracy has chosen these people and has chosen this policy. And so that’s how a soldier can think, “Well I don’t care who’s in office, doesn’t matter who the democracy chooses, they choose the leadership and I follow and whatever.”

Whereas if Barack Obama really did just wear mirrored sunglasses and a little general’s uniform, like in the cartoon, then they wouldn’t owe him any allegiance, right? If George Bush was simply Prince George the Lesser who had no legitimate, no mandate from the people whatsoever, Florida or otherwise, then it’d be harder to believe that fighting for him is honor and valor and glory etcetera, right?

DAVID SWANSON: I couldn’t agree more. Hey, I’m really sorry, I was supposed to be on another show, and they just tried to call me and missed me.

SCOTT HORTON: Oh no!

DAVID SWANSON: Could, maybe, Scott, could we get back–

SCOTT HORTON: Well I’ll let you go. Don’t worry, I’ll ad lib about Lies for the next two minutes. Hey, listen, thanks very much for your time.

DAVID SWANSON: After you read the book, let’s talk again.

SCOTT HORTON: Yeah, yeah, great. I’ll get a copy and read it cover to cover, I promise.

DAVID SWANSON: That’s terrific, thanks.

SCOTT HORTON: All right, thanks, man.

DAVID SWANSON: All right.

SCOTT HORTON: All right, everybody, that’s David Swanson. The book is War is a Lie, and I will read the book and I’ll tell you all about what’s in it.

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War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today. – John F. Kennedy

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