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David Swanson: All wars require lies

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, coming to you from Washington. Now joining us is David Swanson. He’s the cofounder of He’s the author of Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency, and his new book is War Is a Lie. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So your thesis is War Is a Lie is too long a title. It should—you can’t say war without it being a lie. So tell us, what’s the basic idea of the book?

SWANSON: That—not that war doesn’t exist, of course, but that almost everything we think about war that keeps it going, that gets wars started, that keeps wars prolonged, that justifies wars after the fact, that keeps the war machine, the war economy, the structures of war powers in place is a lie, is dishonest, and follows dishonest themes that have been used for millennia. And so this idea that the Iraq War based on lies was somehow different from other wars, glorious, justified, good wars, is wrong. They are all based on lies. I mean, you just go back through US history, you know, never mind the Iraq War, Bush’s father lying about babies thrown out of incubators to get into a Gulf War. Go back to the Gulf of Tonkin incident that never happened. Go back to South Korea invading North Korea, which was not getting military support from the Soviet Union, and we’re told the opposite. Go back to the big one, World War II, where this attack on Pearl Harbor—which was not a US state; it was a territory of our empire—was intentionally provoked. We knew it was coming. We were participating in China’s war with Japan, we were building bases and air strips around and threatening Japan, and we were imposing horrible economic sanctions in order to provoke.

JAY: Now, the issue of whether that was provoked deliberately or not is still a matter of some controversy, no?

SWANSON: It shouldn’t be. I think the evidence in my book suggests overwhelmingly—I devote a great deal of space to this because this is the number one candidate for a justifiable war. I mean, people go to the extreme of arguing that there was one good war once, and therefore other wars are sort of okay, and that’s the one.

JAY: Let’s say Roosevelt did in some way play a role in wanting to provoke an attack on Pearl Harbor. And there’s lots of historians that say he did and others that say he didn’t, but let’s say he did. He did so because there was a world war already going on in Europe. Roosevelt wanted the United States to go and fight against Hitler’s attempt to conquer all of Europe. So what’s wrong with that?

SWANSON: Well, Roosevelt also lied about Hitler. You know, he used a forged map to pretend he had the Nazi plans to take over the Americas, lied about German submarines attacking ships unprovoked when those ships were known to be working with British planes to attack the submarines, and so forth. And you can say, well, all of these lies are justified by a higher good, and these poor plebeians had to be motivated by lies to get them into this good, just war. But can that be right? You know, do you have to lie about something to get people into it? How can that make sense? We—thinking back, we say, oh, well, it’s justified because the Nazis were so horrible and they did such horrible things to the Jews and the people that they killed. And yet we knew that was going on for many years and did absolutely nothing to prevent it. You know, for years they wanted to export the Jews, not kill them off, but there was a British blockade and there was no help from the United States.

JAY: Well, there was an American blockade, too. Britain and United States wouldn’t take Jews.

SWANSON: No, we would not take refugees. Roosevelt would not allow a single additional refugee. There was a bill in Congress for years that even Franklin Roosevelt’s wife overcame her anti-Semitism to support, to allow thousands of Jewish children, refugees, to be placed in American homes, and the homes were there asking for them. And Roosevelt said no, we do not want this war to be about the Jews. And, of course, it was not.

JAY: Now, the basic argument for the wars the United States has participated in is that they really are defensive wars, that if we don’t go over there and get them, they’re going to come over here and get us. And even now we’re told the war in Afghanistan is essentially a defensive war, because—and we were told the same thing about Iraq. If we don’t go over there and fight the terrorists, they’re going to come here. So what do you make of that?

SWANSON: And of course we know that George W. Bush had the option of having bin Laden put on trial. The Taliban, both before September 11 and after, was open to sending bin Laden to another country to be put on trial for his crimes. That was not their goal. As Bush told us not too long after going in and attacking Afghanistan, he just wasn’t very interested. This was not about prosecuting the criminals. This was about having a good excuse for a war, and bin Laden was that excuse. And he was used for an unrelated attack on Iraq, just as in the example we had earlier an attack by Japan was used as an argument for getting into a war in Europe as well, as if that was somehow defensive because we had been attacked by Japan. All sides in all wars always say it’s defensive. Even when it’s not from both sides, even when it is from one side, everybody always says it’s defensive. But legally and morally, defensive wars are actually fighting back against an attack on your country. They’re not going halfway around the world and attacking someone else.

JAY: So is that kind of war also a lie? Like, for example, the Vietnamese waged a war to stop an invader. Is the Vietnamese War also a lie?

SWANSON: No, fighting back is legal under the UN Charter.

JAY: So you’re talking about, essentially, wars of aggression are dressed up to not look that way, and that’s the lie.

SWANSON: Well, even a defensive war is a war of aggression from the other side. All wars are wars of aggression from at least one side, and every war the United States has ever been in has been a war of aggression. You can go back to 1812 and try to claim that the British were at fault, but this was a war to invade Canada and take it over, and it was going to be a cakewalk, just like Iraq. You go back to wars justified by attacks by Native Americans, but, you know, who got here first? We just don’t have any wars that aren’t wars of aggression. We have wars justified by revenge, like Afghanistan, which is a primitive emotion, not a legal defence. We have wars justified by preemptive attack, possession of weapons, and demonization, so that these are people who we can’t permit to have weapons, whether they really have them or not. We have wars of made-up excuses that we need to protect some American students or some American tourists or we have to go in and take over this small country, but we don’t have legal wars. I mean, the Korean War was sanctioned by the United Nations under the other exception, which is wars sanctioned by the United Nations. But these are exceptions that have been stretched and stretched, predictably, to the point where it’s almost meaningless to say it’s illegal to fight wars.

JAY: So if there is this fabric of lies to get people, first of all, willing to fight and die, and then, next of all, people willing to pay for it through their taxes and other kinds of sacrifices, then if the lies are meant to get people involved in something that they’re not being told, then what is the driving force of American wars?

SWANSON: Well, the sacrifices, of course, are fewer and fewer for most Americans now. We’re not asked to do anything. But the driving forces are—you don’t have to look hard for them. They’re not hidden. They’re just not repeated endlessly, like weapons of mass destruction and spreading democracy, endlessly on your television. But they’re out there. So the think tank the Project for the New American Century that laid out its reasons for wanting to go into Iraq and several other countries for years before they managed to make it happen, reasons involving resources, and control of territory, and domination of the planet, and prevention of any military rival, and developing the ability to fight multiple wars at once toward these same ends, I mean, these are not secrets. And you go back through US wars and wars by other countries for millennia, and the rationale of greed for resources, in recent centuries for markets for products, for weapons sales, for profiteers off the war itself, and for political goals, you know, US presidents think they have to have wars.

JAY: So the argument will be, from people who support those wars, that, okay, maybe that’s the real objective, but all Americans benefit from that. So we can’t explain all this, ’cause it’s too complicated for most people to get, so—okay, so we tell some stories, we tell some lies to get people involved. But the truth is, these wars are for the good of America.

SWANSON: Well, this is what the neocons tell each other, and they follow professors like this [Leo] Strauss, who talks about the noble lie, going back to the ancient Greeks. And it would be a fine argument if we had ever benefited in any way from these lies, and we just haven’t. These are wars that make us less safe, that antagonize, that create greater possibilities for blowback. Terrorism has been on the rise during the entire global war on terrorism, predictably so. These are wars that drain our economy, that strip away our civil rights, the freedoms that we tease ourselves they hate us for, and that eat out the moral character of our nation. And to say, well, we had to be lied into this wonderful thing is just ludicrous. You know, we’ve had a couple of wars in Iraq with endless bombings and sanctions in between, and we got rid of the evil dictator. And what did we do? We made the place one of the most horrible places to live on earth, millions of refugees in exile, over a million people dead, the majority of Iraqis saying they were better off under Saddam Hussein, people around the world hating our nation for having done this, having drained our economy, having killed thousands of our troops and traumatized and injured in serious ways hundreds of thousands of our troops. We have to be lied to for that? You know, it’s just not a rationale I can buy.

JAY: War Is A Lie by David Swanson. And [it] is available, I guess, on Amazon or at or DavidSwanson-dot-something?

SWANSON: Anywhere and everywhere, including WarIsALie.Org.

JAY: And you might also take a look, google the Project for a New American Century, ’cause I think anyone on this earth that can read that hasn’t read that document should, because that’s war without the lie. It’s more or less Project for a New American Century kind of says what certainly a significant section of the American elite really want. And you might also go and read Zbigniew Brzezinski’s The Grand Chessboard, because that’s—also doesn’t pander, and more or less says straight that the domination of Eurasia leads to domination of the world, and that’s what America should be striving for. Thanks very much for joining us.

SWANSON: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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