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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 

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,
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
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
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
arouse widespread public sympathy and support for

US military action against the aggressor. The 
media recounts the official version of events,
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.
more one digs into these incidents that have been

used to spark wars, the more suspicious they 

In my talk I will focus on major examples from 
U.S. military history.  This is not to say that
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
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 
(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
rally the public to war,
(4) the US is the world's biggest military 
spender, has engaged in numerous large overt wars
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
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 

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 

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
economic and geostrategic purposes.  These real 
reasons behind wars often remain hidden from
view.  An important role for peace activists is 
to make it as difficult as possible for war 
planners to deceive the public into supporting
wars.  This entails exposing the cleverly hidden,

usually economic, reasons for which wars are 
really being fought. It means asking who benefits
war, repression and the suspension of civil 
liberties.  It means promoting a healthy
about government postures and corporate media 
stories which promote our societies' involvement
wars and war profiteering.  It means helping
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
deciding whether or not to believe that the 
official story about such incidents is true.  
Specifically, it means questioning the details
tragic incidents that are exploited as pretexts
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
human rights activists and advocates for strict 
environmental laws, then the public here would

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
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) 
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