Lies, Damn Lies, and War Lies

Prepared remarks for Veterans For Peace Convention 2012.
Prepared to follow remarks by Nicolas “Sandy” Davies
Convention theme: “Liberating the Americas: Lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean”
Remarks theme: “U.S. Military Expansion since the End of the Cold War”
Accompanying powerpoint:

At my house I can see a hill out the window, and a house on it.  And if I go to that house, I can see another house on the next hill.  The first house is Thomas Jefferson’s, and the second James Monroe’s.  Jefferson’s record is quite mixed, not just as the slave owner for equality and freedom, but also as a developer of the disastrous two-party system and of an even more disastrous U.S. navy and a U.S. military with a centuries’ old tradition now of attacking Libya.  Jefferson’s version of that attack also introduced suicide-bombing to that region of the globe, as a U.S. ship full of sailors intentionally blew itself up in port.

But it’s hard to put that record of blood-drenched hypocrisy up against the record of the doctrine that bears the name of President Monroe.  In fact, there is already something terrifyingly dishonest about calling a barbaric shout of dominance a doctrine, as seems to happen with each president now.  Declaring a bunch of nations independent of another bunch of nations can sound innocent only to those making the declaration, and only if they’ve already begun to convince themselves that the whole world is their territory, a notion made explicit by Theodore Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.  Latin America was not to be attacked by bad attackers, only by good attackers, meaning either the U.S. military or private U.S. entrepreneurial imperialists seeking nations to rule.

Roosevelt looked beyond Latin America, of course, as the United States, heartbroken at having reached the Pacific and run out of Native American nations to destroy, had moved into the Pacific as well as the Caribbean.  The nation of Japan had put an end to war, with others or itself, in 1614, and remained peaceful for two centuries, developing the sort of culture that flourishes in peace — an action that has occurred too many times in human history to take seriously the desperate moans of those who like to pretend that war is in our biology.  (And if it were, wouldn’t we suffer PTSD from its absence, not its presence?)  In 1872, U.S. General Charles LeGendre had been trying unsuccessfully to get China to attack and occupy Taiwan.  He made the same pitch to the Japanese and found them far more interested.  LeGendre told the Japanese that they needed a Monroe Doctrine for their area of the world, meaning Japanese dominance at the expense of any competitors.  LeGendre pushed the Japanese to attack Taiwan and Okinawa and Korea, actions that shocked the people of Asia.  

U.S. policy became promotion of U.S. imperialism as far as it could reach, and Japanese imperialism beyond that.  Theodore Roosevelt pushed the Monroe Doctrine idea on the Japanese, and by 1905 was openly advocating a Japanese Monroe Doctrine in speeches.  But he expected the Japanese to both adopt the worldview of conquering civilizers, and respect limits — including by respecting U.S. possessions such as the Philippines, and Hawaii.  Hawaii had been grabbed by the United States as a function of the original Monroe Doctrine, the argument being that the Monroe Doctrine required grabbing Hawaii before the British did — regardless of whether Hawaii was actually part of the Americas.  President McKinley explained the need to occupy the Philippines as the only means to keep Spain, Germany, or France from taking over a barbaric people who obviously could not be left to their own devices.  But Roosevelt managed, in the end, to simultaneously give the Japanese Korea and turn the Japanese against the United States.  Japanese imperialism became a rival to the United States, up until World War II when another Roosevelt successfully provoked a Japanese attack on U.S. pacific territories in order to persuade the U.S. public to enter another war in Europe.

Not long after that war, on December 1, 1948, President José Figueres Ferrer of Costa Rica abolished the military of Costa Rica, declaring peace — as Japan had done in 1614.  The next year, the abolition of the military was put into the Costa Rican Constitution.  In 1986, Costa Rica declared December 1st Military Abolition Day.  But of course, the United States had other things in mind than abolishing its military in 1948.  World War II had revived the respectability of militarism, and the United States had tasted power.

Between the two world wars, war was extremely unpopular in the United States.  The United States led the way in creating the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928, an international treaty abolishing war.  Fifteen nations signed.  Then 31 more.  And, later, another 8.  This was and is primarily a treaty among the wealthy war-making powers.  The first time it was violated, with World War II, the losers were prosecuted with the brand-new crime of war-making, and the rich countries haven’t gone to war with each other since.  But war and the threat of war against poorer nations remained acceptable.  Most of Latin America never was and still is not a party to the Kellogg Briand Pact, which Washington understood as not altering the holy Monroe Doctrine.  And what could the Monroe Doctrine add to a ban on war?  Nothing other than a license to make war, the same thing the U.N. Charter would add after World War II.  I would actually love to see some Latin American countries join the Kellogg Briand Pact now.  They need merely offer to do so.  They cannot be turned away.  After joining, they could demand that other parties to the treaty begin complying with it.  That’s a far easier path to legally banning U.S. aggression than one could imagine putting on the books, beginning anew.

U.S. overthrow, aggression, and small-scale intervention under the Monroe Doctrine have been imposed on Cuba, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Chile, Grenada, Panama, Ecuador, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, El Salvador, Haiti, and Colombia.  In no case have people been made better off.  The notion that Syria will become the first exception to that rule requires, I think, far more evidence than has been presented.  The madness of the Monroe Doctrine led to a nuclear missile standoff with Cuba and the Soviet Union – a crisis that saw our great leaders nearly kill us all for their machismo.  Trusting them on this type of question should not be our first instinct.

In 1954, President Eisenhower, whom we credit with warning us about the military industrial complex on the day when he safely left office in 1961, and whom we honor for being a bit less of a warmonger than he might have been, thanked the CIA for overthrowing the government of Guatemala to protect the Western Hemisphere from communism and uphold the Monroe Doctrine.  Sandy mentioned the brutality that was involved.  The U.S. ambassador to Guatemala met with the new dictator, who requested more jails for communists.  The U.S. state department’s list included 72,000 communists in Guatemala.  Michelle Bachmann wasn’t there, so we have no record of how many members of the Muslim Brotherhood were in Guatemala.  The ambassador proved very helpful and threw a party at the embassy at which 400 Guatemalans sang the Star Spangled Banner to celebrate the U.S. war machine’s failed attempt in 1812 to take over Canada, something we ourselves like to celebrate before every baseball game.  The next year Vice President Nixon visited Guatemala
to congratulate its government on progress made.  Unions had been banned, and strikes made punishable by death.  Political parties, too, had been banned.  And books by communist writers like Fyodor Dostoievski had all been burned or hidden — Dostoievski, who had said, very communistically: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

The United States, now the leading force in the world in imposing its vision of the world on others by force, also leads the world in imprisonment.  We don’t lead it in much else.  Latin American nations are approaching and surpassing the United States in many desirable rankings.  We don’t lead in education, green energy, health, security, or happiness.  Costa Rica, that place with no military, leads the world in happiness year after year.  Apart from militarism and prisons, the United States leads in obesity and in the number of people willing to believe that when Jesus visited George Washington’s house he rode a dinosaur.  We also have a tremendous number of people willing to believe that the next war will be a good one, and that our elected officials mean well when it comes to war — the same officials whom nobody trusts on any other topic.

The Guatemalan coup, and the Iranian coup that immediately preceded it, were both the work of the CIA, both motivated by — among other disreputable motives — opposition to the nationalization of oil, and both marketed as campaigns against communism.  Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, was hired to develop the profession of public relations, aka propaganda, to manipulate people in the United States into supporting the overthrow of the Guatemalan government.  Bernays was a veteran of Woodrow Wilson’s innovative marketing campaign for World War I, as well as having been one of Joseph Goebbels’ favorite authors.  Teddy Roosevelt’s grandson handled the coup in Iran, while the grandson and namesake of Henry Cabot Lodge, the U.S. Senate’s leading imperialist of the turn of the century, helped out in Guatemala, preparing himself for the destruction he would soon mobilize in Vietnam.  Arthur Hays Sulzburger, publisher of the New York Times, whose son-in-law and son would do their share of damage in the same position, oversaw the U.S. media marketing of humanitarian regime change in Guatemala.

It wasn’t as if nobody had been told what was going on.  In 1935, Smedley Butler had famously confessed to having spent 33 years in the U.S. military as a “gangster for capitalism” who had made Mexico safe for U.S. oil, and Haiti and Cuba decent for U.S. banks, while “raping half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.”  But as George Orwell pointed out, the nationalist will not only find excuses for anything his or her nation does, but will also show incredible talent for never hearing about it.

Thus it is that crimes are hidden in plain sight.  The Carter Doctrine extended the Monroe Doctrine to western Asia, or what we call the Middle East.  The Reagan doctrine took it global and behind closed doors.  Robert Gates defended U.S. policy in Nicaragua in the 1980s as required by the Monroe Doctrine as then understood.  The Clinton Doctrine put a humanitarian face on international crime.  The Bush Doctrine escalated the crimes, and replaced communism with terrorism.  The Obama Doctrine may be the most dangerous of all, because the Obama Doctrine seems to be understood as peace, love, and understanding, while the principles on which Obama’s foreign policy is actually based seem to draw the worst from all the previous doctrines.

The United States is expanding its military presence globally.  Sixty-nine nations have more U.S. troops than Olympic athletes, and that’s counting only troops openly admitted to by the Pentagon.  Never mind our funding, training, and arming of the troops of others, our secret troops, and our drones — which are escalating violence in places where we had no war before.  The bases that uphold the Monroe Doctrine are expanding into Africa, multiplying like mushrooms in Asia, and advancing in Latin America behind the war that is supposedly on drugs but, like all wars, is actually on people.  Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s response to U.S. bases is the model for the world.  You can keep your base in Ecuador, he said, if the Ecuadorean military can put a base in Miami.

Correa, as we’ll hear at this convention from Roy Bourgeois, has joined a number of other Latin American countries in refusing to any longer send troops to be trained in torture and assassination at the School of the Americas in Georgia.  Activism, including activism by U.S. citizens, is finding an ability to reach governments not wholly owned by the Military Industrial Complex.  Those governments are mostly outside the United States, but that’s OK.  We need a global movement to take on a global empire.  We can only succeed by working together, and it is inevitable that we will succeed first on the outskirts.

I mentioned Smedley Butler, the most highly decorated Marine of his time, a man who had not just attacked Haiti but ruled it.  Butler also had the honor of being locked up in Quantico, Virginia.  His crime was to have publicly repeated a true story about Benito Mussolini.  The story was that Mussolini had run over a girl with his car and not looked back.  Mentioning this was bad for U.S. relations with our good fascist friend.  Many years later, another hero was locked up in Quantico, this time in a small bare cell, where he was held naked and isolated  — also for having made public true stories that hurt U.S. relations with favored dictators.  There are 4.8 million Americans with security clearances, but only one that we know of with the basic decency and raw courage of Bradley Manning.  If you imagine the U.S. government gets away with what it gets away with just because the profiteers bribe the politicians, you’re forgetting the epidemic of hyper-obedience that has fatally gripped those 4.8 million people, and so many others.

Bradley Manning, if the allegations are true, made public through Wikileaks and major news organizations 30,386 U.S. State Department cables to and from U.S. embassies and consulates just in Latin America, 10,000 of them marked Confidential.  Of course, this embarrassed and inconvenienced a lot of people.  Diplomats turned out to be working for the CIA and pushing forward the war supposedly on drugs.  Manning has allowed us to see what our government does around the world and does not talk about.  Our State Department spends a lot of time persuading other nations to buy U.S. weapons, and a good deal of time threatening and badgering rather undiplomatically, during all of which it views 95% of humanity with the same scorn it clearly feels for 99% of us in the United States.

Manning, together with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, has also allowed Latin Americans a glimpse of what their governments are up to.  One result of that has been a better presidential outcome in Peru — perhaps one of a very small number of times that U.S. influence on a foreign election has been for the better, and one of the very small number of times that the influence has been public and transparent.  The U.S. ambassador to Mexico has had to resign, while in Ecuador President Correa kicked the U.S. ambassador out.  Now, Correa has before him the opportunity to provide Assange with asylum or to allow him to face likely prosecution by kangaroo court in the United States.  Allowing the imprisonment or even execution of a well-known figure for the crime of journalism would be a big step backwards for the world, one that I have to assume a man willing to kick out a U.S. military base and a U.S. ambassador has the goodness and the courage not to allow.  At we’ve flooded Ecuadorean embassies
with requests to grant Assange asylum.  Assange has working for him now Baltasar Garzon, who had the nerve as a Spanish judge, to attempt prosecutions of U.S. officials for torture.  It is in such foreign allies that we find remnants of the notion of a rule of law.

But all is not lost here in the United States.  We are part of a global movement.  Even Veterans For Peace is opening chapters abroad.  And we are building the strength to influence our own government as well — a task far more easily done than that government would, of course, have us believe.  We’re taught that activism has no impact, that military spending is being cut, that military spending is a jobs program, that war is a sport, and that the world needs our wars whether it knows it or not.

Candidate Obama promised to increase military spending and size and President Obama has done so.  Meanwhile three GOP senators are touring the country warning that mythical military cuts will endanger us and hurt our socialistic jobs program.  But money invested in non-military programs or even in tax cuts for non-billionaires creates more jobs than does military spending, more than enough to pay for a conversion program to retrain and retool.  

In much of the world, spending money on killing people in order to produce jobs is viewed as sociopathic.  U.S. military spending has increased dramatically in the past decade, in the Department of so-called “Defense” and in other departments, including “Homeland Security,” Energy, State, etc., plus increased secret budgets and the militarization of the CIA, totaling well over a trillion dollars a year now.

The U.S. House of Representatives a couple of weeks ago voted to limit next year’s DOD spending to last year’s level, with some loopholes.  Making use of the loopholes, the House increased spending by over $1 billion.

Last year’s Budget Control Act, and the failure of the Super Congress, requires minimal cuts to military spending, but Congress is proceeding in violation of its own law.

When we’re told that cuts have already happened, usually what has been cut is future dream budgets.  But cutting the Pentagon’s wish list can still leave it with more than it had before.

When we’re told that big numbers will be cut, such as $500 billion “over 10 years,” this means that cutting $50 billion out of the budget sounds bigger if you multiply it by 10.  That’s all it means.  Or it means a plan to cut less than $50 billion now but more in future years when it will be somebody else’s problem.

The U.S. military costs roughly what all other nations spend on their militaries combined, and more than the rest of U.S. discretionary spending combined.  This, combined with tax cuts for billionaires and corporations, or either factor alone, explains why many poorer nations have better schools, parks, energy systems, and infrastructure.  For less than 10 percent of U.S. military spending, we could make state college tuition free.

Instead we spend billions every year on advertising and recruitment.  If you’ve watched the Olympics on NBC you’ve probably seen ads promoting a war-o-tainment reality show cohosted by retired U.S. General Wesley Clark, co-starring Todd Palin, and with no apparent role for reality.  The ads brag about the use of real bullets in a way that promoters of the new Batman movie probably wouldn’t try. But the chances that any of the celebrities engaged in “war competition” on NBC’s “Stars Earn Stripes” will be shot and killed is essentially what it was for John Wayne, as he promoted war while dodging it (even if nuclear weapons testing got him in the end). and Just Foreign Policy have set up a website at to push NBC to show the real cost of war, and to help get them started.  Our wars kill huge numbers of people, primarily civilians, and often children and the elderly.  NBC is not showing this reality on its war-o-tainment show any more than on its news programs.  Other nations’ media show the face of war, giving people a very different view of war-making.

One of NBC’s corporate parents, General Electric, takes war very seriously, but not as human tragedy — rather, as financial profit.  (GE is a big weapons manufacturer.) A retired general hosting a war-o-tainment show is another step in the normalization of permanent war.  And consider for a moment who that retired general is.  During the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia commanded by Gen. Wesley Clark, civilians and a TV station were bombed, while cluster bombs and depleted uranium were used. Had Clark done these things for another nation, NBC would probably favor his prosecution and certainly not employ him.

We’ve arrived at the point of watching gladiators.  We’ve replaced bread and circuses with Big Macs and war-reality shows.  We’re in need of a nonviolent revolution of values, something embodied by and in need of leadership by Veterans For Peace.

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