Why We Believe Them

In an interview during a break in his Nuremberg trial, Hermann Goering explained, "Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece.

"Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship."

Goering's interviewer, German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist Gustave Gilbert, naively argued, "There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."

Goering answered, "Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Repeatedly, we are suckers for these lame arguments. At the beginning of the Iraq invasion, I argued that this was Tonkin Gulf and Vietnam all over again. I was told there was no similarity between the two wars and Vietnam was much more complicated than Iraq would be because of the terrain. Unless you are willing to kill everyone in the country you invade, terrain makes no difference. Of course, some of the crazy convinced poor slobs on farms can't see any reason not to kill everyone in the country, in an effort to "save" those people from whatever awful situation we've been convinced they are in.

Nothing changes, unless humans become dumber every generation. Eugene Debs said, "“The people can have anything they want, the only problem is they do not want anything.” The trinkets that most Americans consider the important "production" of our so-called capitalist society amount to nothing in more brief intervals as we wind down our civilization. Today's $700 Apple iPad will become tomorrow's near-useless $25 eBay auction item by the end of the year. The most important entertainment tidbit will be forgotten and no more than a SNL laughable moment three months later. The useless drug promoted by Big Pharma on prime time television will turn out to have known side-effects far worse than the imaginary mental or physical disease the drug was advertised to cure. Today's Gulf oil spill will seem as minor as the Exxon Valdez tomorrow.

Mr. Debs also said,
“I am not a labor leader. I don't want you to follow me or anyone else. If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of the capitalist wilderness you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into this promised land if I could, because if I could lead you in, someone else could lead you out.”

Every tiny step forward humanity has taken has been followed by a race backwards. John Kennedy was followed by Johnson, Nixon, and Ford. Carter, as lame but well-intended as he was, was followed by Reagan and Bush; two people who never had a good intention in their lives. Clinton, a man who was equal parts progressive and regressive, was followed by Bush-Cheney; two men who make the word "regressive" sound impotent. Obama is probably more in the Carter mold than Clinton, so we can count on the follow-up to Obama to be something along the line of another Bush; probably Jeb. Humans can always be counted on to do the dumbest thing possible.

Mark Twain probably wrapped it all when he said, "
Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion-- several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven.

"The higher animals have no religion. And we are told that they are going to be left out in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste" [The Lowest Animal essay, 1897]

Obviously, religion is a human invention designed to keep "some poor slob on a farm" distracted while he is being sent to some idiot war and being sold a pile of useless toys. The real question is, "What could possibly convince humans that a god would be interested in an animal as idiotic as that?" The reason we believe them is because we are dumb enough to fall for the same stupid trick ad infinitum.


Impossible Missions

The United States has long been addicted to the idea of impossible missions; crusades and causes and impossible ideals. The Revolutionary War was our first national impossible mission. The Revolutionaries hoped to build a nation where "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," but where some men could own other men and where a very few men could live outside of the boundaries of decency and community. Maybe the idealists who wrote those words in the Declaration of Independence had nothing but the best of intentions, but there were men among those who saw opportunity in the misfortune of the many. The more I learn about the origins of this nation, the more I come to believe that something other than democracy was a principal creation with the United States of America. So many things stayed the same, or became worse, after our revolution but one thing that came to be and only grew stronger during the next 235 years; marketing mythology.

Since then, the American public has been sold a succession of wars and invasions that have been, primarily, intended to make that original group of marketeers, and the few who joined them in the last century, rich and powerful. In our nation's short history, we have been at war with some other nation, or nations, for a minimum of 76 of our 235 years; at least 32% of our life. Many of those "wars' have been simple invasions for profit: from the Barbary Invasion of 1801 to the Mexican-American War of 1846 to today's incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the invasions haven't even been declared and are not part of that 76 year total. Since 1950, we've been at war for 65% of those years. Again, that does not include CIA and undeclared military activities.

In his famous War Is A Racket speech and the book that grew from public appearances, General Smedley Butler, a former USMC Commandant who was twice awarded the Medal of Honor said, "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 . . .

"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."

The nation has been conned into at least a dozen wars since Butler's time, not including the CIA's violent and illegal interventions in practically every nation in the world. Now, we're wrapped up in a War on Terror, which from the start sounded oxymoronic to me. War, by nature, is terrorism. You can not drop bombs on civilian populations and be anything but a terrorist.

That wasn't the first instance of wars conducted on imaginary "enemies." We've had a War on Poverty, which lasted until Republicans distracted the American public with a variety of delusions from the early 70's until today. At least that "war" had some good intent. What followed was purely profit-motivated.

That might have introduced the outrageous idea that you can declare war on a noun; let alone a pronoun. Seriously? We're going to launch an invasion against everyone who causes terror in the mind of Americans? I'm pretty sure that isn't possible. Even more unlikely is the possibility that our government--which was well-stocked with rich men who counted on the sources of terrorism (Saudi Arabia, in particular) for much of their wealth--would wage war on the actual source of our particular terror of the moment; the people who attacked New York City on September 11, 2001. Obviously, they picked a place semi-close to the actual source of terrorism and fired away with the nation's treasure and youth. Today, they are much richer and we are nearly a nation in poverty. Fortunately for the rich, "money knows no borders" and after they've bankrupted and demoralized this country, they'll move to some other country and ruin it. It's what they do.

77 years ago, the nation ended its first experiment in prohibition; our War on Alcohol or The Noble Experiment. 1917's 18th Amendment and its enforcement legislation, the Volstead Act, created one of the most violent, destructive periods in the nation's history. This government effort to legislate and enforce morality resulted in 16 years of all out war (at a cost of $500 million/year) against the working class by several branches of government. It also created the US version of the Mob and strengthened their grip on several government agencies, including the FBI and state law enforcement. In the end, prohibition was ended with a gentleman's agreement between government and the Mafia called "Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938" and "Marihuana Tax Act of 1937." These gifts from our government to the Mob provided extensive territory of illegal markets and activity so that the underworld economy could continue and prosper.

We've waged an incredibly unsuccessful and expensive War on Drugs ($20 billion for this year, so far) since Nixon first coined the phrase in 1971. The Alzheimer's Candidate, Ronnie Rayguns, made this war on a noun his personal platform, created the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1988, and appointed our first Drug Czar that year. He and his nutty wife consulted tea leaves and Gypsy fortune tellers for advice on waging this war (and other policy decisions) and the result is trillions of dollars wasted and millions of lives ruined or destroyed. Supposedly, the Obama Administration will stop using the War on Drugs mantra because they believe it is "counterproductive." You have to love their love of understatement. This has been the longest, most expensive, least successful war in the nation's history. The history of this make-believe war has been vicious, dishonest, and destructive. There is no end in sight.

In October of 2001, Congress passed the War on American Civil Rights and Liberties Act, also known as the Patriot Act. This amazing 56,800 word incursion into the Bill of Rights and the Constitution couldn't have been nicknamed more poorly. Like most of our wars, this war eliminates basic rights that were once thought to be central to our democracy.

A Small Sample of our Long Wartime History (major events only):
Began Ended Years at War Formal Name Who and Where
1775 1783 8 American Revolution English Colonists vs. Great Britain
1798 1800 2 Franco-American Naval War United States vs. France
1801 1805; 1815 5 Barbary Wars United States vs. Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli
1812 1815 3 War of 1812 United States vs. Great Britain
1813 1814 1 Creek War United States vs. Creek Indians
1 War of Texas Independence Texas vs. Mexico
1846 1848 2 Mexican-American War United States vs. Mexico
1861 1865 4 U.S. Civil War Union vs. Confederacy
1 Spanish-American War United States vs. Spain
1914 1918 4 World War I Triple Alliance: Germany, Italy, and Austria-Hungary vs. Triple Entente: Britain, France, and Russia. The United States joined on the side of the Triple Entente in 1917.
1939 1945 6 World War II Axis Powers: Germany, Italy, Japan vs. Major Allied Powers: United States, Great Britain, France, and Russia
1950 1953 3 Korean War United States (as part of the United Nations) and South Korea vs. North Korea and Communist China
1960 1975 15 Vietnam War United States and South Vietnam vs. North Vietnam
1 Bay of Pigs Invasion United States vs. Cuba
1 Grenada United States Intervention
1 US Invasion of Panama United States vs. Panama
1990 1991 1 Persian Gulf War United States vs. Iraq
1995 1996 1 Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina United States as part of NATO acted peacekeepers in former Yugoslavia
2001 2010 9 Invasion of Afghanistan United States vs. the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to fight terrorism.
2003 2010 7 Invasion of Iraq United States vs. Iraq


It's worth noting that practically none of the "wars" that General Butler mentioned in War Is A Racket are on this list. Most of our war-like activities in South and Central America and Africa are unlisted, also. Obviously, the many wars against native Americans are also unlisted. If those were included, it's possible the United States might be the most warlike nation in the history of the world. We might be more warlike than the Romans or the British. It is easy to imagine that our country has been at war with someone for more than half and, possibly, nearly every year of its existence. If we really wanted to wage a battle against terrorism, we'd probably be tearing ourselves to pieces. As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

After describing these depressing statistics to my wife, she asked, "Well what do you want to do about it?"

Obviously, there is nothing I can do about it but my answer is, "Restrict the President to the very limited military powers the Constitution gives to that office and grow a pair of testicles on Congress." Before that will happen, the country will have to purge itself of the interests the Republican Party represents and create some political alternatives for the tiny number of people who actually are "conservative" and "liberal." What I expect will happen is that we'll keep following this nutty militaristic path until the rest of the world rises up and beats us down, the same way every other violent empire has died in human history.