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[OPIRG-EVENTS] Thur Apr 11: History of Deception to Rally the Public to War

"The Historical Use of Deception to Rally Public Support for Wars"

a talk by Richard Sanders, 
Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT)

Thursday, April 11, 2002,  7:30 p.m.

Parkdale United Church
429 Parkdale Ave.
(at the corner of Parkdale and Gladstone Aves.)

Organized by Ploughshares Ottawa.

Throughout history, war planners have built public consent for wars by fabricating, manipulating or exploiting tragic human events.  For example, every major war that the US has ever engaged in was entered into following such an incident.  The incidents were then used as pretexts to stir up support for the US to become involved in, or to launch, these major wars.  Such incidents are also used as pretexts to cover up the real, economic reasons for engaging in these wars.

This strategy is also used to justify acts across the entire spectrum of violence, right down to school yard brawls.  When bullies justify their right to beat up their classmates, they are often heard to say: "He hit me first!"  Whether or not the bully *was* hit first cannot always be known.  The bully might be lying so as to be able to justify his brutality with the argument of self-defence. (Those who deliberately inflict violence on others are likely willing to lie about it.  Lying is a form of violence against the truth.)  Even if the bully *was* hit first, it is not always possible to know what preceeded that first blow.  Did the bully tease, taunt, threaten, harass or otherwise provoke the other child to throw that "first" punch?

At the other end of the spectrum of violence, incidents are created as pretexts to spark war hysteria and to ensure that governments give their support to war planners whose goal is to launch major wars that may last many years and in which millions may die. Every time the U.S. has entered into a major war, it was reported by the mainstream/corporate media that a dramatic incident had occured in which Americans or their allies were unjustifiably attacked.  These incidents are used to arouse widespread public sympathy and support for US military action against the aggressor. The media recounts the official version of events, the public unquestioningly accepts the event's description at face value, politicians rally behind the cause and a war is publically born.  In every case, evidence later emerges that directly contradicts the official account of the incident.  The more one digs into these incidents that have been used to spark wars, the more suspicious they become.

In my talk I will focus on major examples from U.S. military history.  This is not to say that the US is the only military power to have fabricated, provoked or manipulated tragic incidents and used them as pretexts, or false excuses, for war. Such trickery has probably been employed by every military power that has ever existed.  I will focus on US military history because:

(1) the US and Canada are geographic neighbours, the world's closest economic trading partners and close military allies integrated into military pacts,
(2) Canada tends to support US wars, if not with troops, then at least with weapons' supplies and diplomatic support,
(3) Like Americans, Canadians are subject to powerful US media influences, including those which rally the public to war,
(4) the US is the world's biggest military spender, has engaged in numerous large overt wars and is now a rogue superpower engaged in what its officials descibe as a "War on Terrorism" that -- like the Cold War -- may last generations. 

I want to make it clear that the purpose of this talk is *not* to argue that the September 11 attacks are an example of the type of incident that I am describing. 

My purpose is to briefly review the histroical phenomena of creating or manipulating false incidents as pretexts for war and to cite some of the many specific examples that are well-documented from U.S. history.  For instance:

1846: Provocation in the Rio Grande -- Mexican-American War

1898: Sinking the USS Maine -- Spanish-American War

1915: Sinking of the Lusitania - WWI

1941: Bombing Pearl Harbour -- WWII

1950: Provoking Attack - Korean War

1962: Operation Northwoods - Declassified plans for pretexts to provoke war with Cuba

1964: Gulf of Tonkin - Vietnam War

1979: Arming the Mujahadeen - War in Afghanistan

1989: US soldier killed -- Invasion of Panama

1991: Greenlight for Invasion & Incubators -- War Against Iraq

1999: Massacre in Racak - NATO War Against Yugoslavia

I will attempt to: 
(a) identify the recurring elements and patterns that exist in these incidents, 
(b) discuss how they have been used to legitimize US entry into wars and 
(c) show that they are used to mask the real reasons why war planners wanted to get the US involved in these wars.

Why is this important to peace activists?  

We must assume that war planners will continue to use such methods to deceive the public.  False pretexts for wars will again be manufactured to cover up the fact that wars are largely fought for economic and geostrategic purposes.  These real reasons behind wars often remain hidden from public view.  An important role for peace activists is to make it as difficult as possible for war planners to deceive the public into supporting their wars.  This entails exposing the cleverly hidden, usually economic, reasons for which wars are really being fought. It means asking who benefits from war, repression and the suspension of civil liberties.  It means promoting a healthy skepticism about government postures and corporate media stories which promote our societies' involvement in wars and war profiteering.  It means helping others to learn about history so they will begin to take official stories with a grain of salt.  It means fostering patterns of research that include the careful examination of as many alternative, independent sources of information as possible before deciding whether or not to believe that the official story about such incidents is true.  Specifically, it means questioning the details about tragic incidents that are exploited as pretexts to rally people and governments to support wars.  

If the public was told that our country should go to war so a small group of multi-millionaires and billionaires will be able to ruthlessly exploit, plunder and profit from natural resources in far away lands, people would say "no."

If the public was told to support a war because our business leaders wanted to install or prop up a friendly regime in a faraway land so that their sweat shops and factories could continue to use virtual slave labour, people would say "no."

If the public was told to support a war to empower a foreign government's attacks against unions, human rights activists and advocates for strict environmental laws, then the public here would say "no."

Because the war planners know that people will NOT support their wars, if the truth were told about why they are being fought, they have for millenia invented deceptive pretexts for going to war.  They have manipulated public opinion and used countless forms of trickery to make people think that wars are being fought for noble and humanitarian purposes.  

To be aware of this history of deception is strengthen our guard against falling prey to such trickery in the future.

Richard Sanders

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Richard Sanders, Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT)
(A network of individuals and NGOs across Canada and around the world) 
Tel: 613-231-3076   Email: ad207@ncf.ca   Web: http://www.ncf.ca/coat
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