Many discussions of lies that launch wars
quickly come around to the question "Well then why did they want the war?"
There is usually more than one single motive involved, but the motives are
not terribly hard to find.
Though noble motives can be found
in the reasoning of some of those involved, even in some of those at the
highest levels of decision making, it is very doubtful that such noble
intentions alone would ever generate wars.
The Project for the New American Century, a think tank pushing for war on Iraq, made its motives clear a dozen years before it got its war - motives that included U.S. military dominance of the globe with more and larger bases in key regions of "American interest."
That goal was not repeated as often or as shrilly as,
The most important motivations for wars are the least talked about, and the least important or completely fraudulent motivations are the most discussed.
The important motivations, the things the war masters mostly discuss in
private, include electoral calculations, control of natural resources,
intimidation of other countries, domination of geographic regions, financial
profits for friends and campaign funders, the opening up of consumer
markets, and prospects for testing new weapons.
Elected officials ought to do what will get them reelected, within the structure of laws that have been democratically established. But our conception of democracy has become so twisted that reelection as a motivation for action is hidden away alongside profiteering. This is true for all areas of government work; the election process is so corrupt that the public is viewed as yet another corrupting influence.
When it comes to
war, this sense is heightened by politicians' awareness that wars are
marketed with lies.
Seventeen members of PNAC served in high positions in the George W. Bush administration, including,
One individual who was part of PNAC and later of the Bush Administration, Richard Perle, together with another Bush bureaucrat-to-be Douglas Feith, had worked for Israeli Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996 and produced a paper called A Clean Break - A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.
realm was Israel, and the strategy advocated was hyper-militarized
nationalism and the violent removal of regional foreign leaders including
That letter included this:
In 2000, PNAC published a paper titled Rebuilding America's Defenses.
The goals set forth in this paper fit much more coherently with the actual behavior of the masters of war than do any notions of "spreading democracy" or "standing up to tyranny." When Iraq attacks Iran we help out. When it attacks Kuwait we step in. When it does nothing we bomb it.
This behavior makes no sense in terms of the fictional stories we're told, but makes perfect sense in terms of these goals from PNAC:
PNAC determined that we would need to,
In the same 2000 paper, PNAC wrote:
These papers were published and widely available years before the invasion of Iraq, and yet to suggest that U.S. forces would try to stay and build permanent bases in Iraq even after killing Saddam Hussein was scandalous in the halls of Congress or the corporate media.
To suggest that the War on Iraq had anything to do with our imperial bases or oil or Israel, much less that Hussein did not as yet have weapons, was heretical. Even worse was to suggest that those bases might be used to launch attacks on other countries, in line with PNAC's goal of "maintaining U.S. preeminence."
And yet Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO from 1997 to 2000 Wesley Clark claims that in 2001, Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld put out a memo proposing to take over seven countries in five years:
The basic outline of this plan was confirmed by none other than former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who in 2010 pinned it on former Vice President Dick Cheney:
Crazy? Sure! But that's what succeeds in Washington.
As each of those
invasions happened, new excuses would have been made public for each. But
the underlying reasons would have remained those quoted above.
For decades the enemy was the Soviet Union and the threat of global communism.
But the Soviet Union never had the global military presence of the United States or the same interest in empire building. Its weapons and threats and aggressions were constantly exaggerated, and its presence was detected anytime a small, poor nation put up resistance to U.S. dominance.
Koreans and Vietnamese, Africans and South Americans couldn't
possibly have their own sovereign interests, it was assumed. If they were
refusing our unsolicited guidance, somebody had to be putting them up to it.
But what should the public be told we and our interests were being defended against? Why, an evil empire, of course!
During the so-called Cold War, the communist conspiracy justification was so common that some very intelligent people believed U.S. war making couldn't go on without it.
Here's Richard Barnet:
Ha! My apologies if you had any drink in your mouth and sprayed it on your clothing as you read that.
As if the wars will not go on! As if the wars were not the reason for the communist threat, rather than the other way around!
Writing in 1992, John Quigley could see this clearly:
The threat of the Soviet Union or communism was, within a dozen years replaced with the threat of al Qaeda or terrorism.
Wars against an empire and an ideology would become wars against a small terrorist group and a tactic. The change had some advantages. While the Soviet Union could publicly collapse, a secretive and widely dispersed collection of terrorist cells to which we could apply the name al Qaeda could never be proven to have gone away.
An ideology could fall out of favor, but anywhere we fought wars or imposed unwelcome control, people would fight back, and their fighting would be "terrorism" because it was directed against us. This was a new justification for never-ending war.
But the motivation was the war, not
the crusade to eliminate terrorism which crusade would, of course, produce
This is, of course, aided and abetted by the
motivations of those who profit financially from the war making itself.
The most famous lines from Smedley Butler's War Is A Racket are not actually in that book at all, but in a 1935 issue of the Socialist newspaper Common Sense, where he wrote:
This explanation of motives for wars was not usually presented in Butler's colorful language, but it wasn't secret either.
In fact, war propagandists have long argued for portraying wars as beneficial to big business whether or not they actually would be:
To Carl von Clausewitz, who died in 1831, war was,
That sounds about right, as long as we understand that war makers often have a preference for the means of war even when other means might achieve the same results.
In an August 31st, 2010, Oval Office speech praising the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama exclaimed:
In 1963, John Quigley, not yet an analyst of war lies, was a Marine assigned to lecture his unit on world affairs.
When one of his students objected to the idea of fighting in Vietnam, Quigley,
But let's start at the beginning.
Before he became president, William McKinley said,
As president, he told Governor Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin he wanted,
When Cuba was in danger of achieving its independence from Spain without assistance, McKinley persuaded Congress not to recognize the revolutionary government.
After all, his goal was not Cuban independence, or Puerto Rican or Filipino independence. When he took over the Philippines, McKinley thought he was advancing the goal of "supremacy in world markets."
When the people of the Philippines fought back, he called it an "insurrection."
He described the war as a humanitarian
mission for the Filipinos' own good. McKinley pioneered by saying first what
later presidents would say as a matter of routine when engaged in wars for
resources or markets.
When peace had been made with Germany ending World War I, President Wilson kept U.S. troops in Russia to fight the Soviets, despite earlier claims that our troops were in Russia in order to defeat Germany and intercept supplies bound for Germany.
Senator Hiram Johnson (P., Calif.) had famously said of the launching of the war:
now had something to say about the failure to end the war when the peace
treaty had been signed. Johnson denounced the ongoing fighting in Russia and
quoted from the Chicago Tribune when it claimed that the goal was to help
Europe collect Russia's debt.
Yes, he called it the "first" world war, because he saw what was coming.
One year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, a State Department memo on Japanese expansionism said not a word about independence for China.
But it did say:
During World War II, Secretary of State Cordell Hull chaired a,
The fears would be calmed by convincing the public that U.S. goals were to prevent another war and to provide,
The words of the
Atlantic Charter ("equal
access") became "free access," meaning access for the United States, but not
necessarily for anybody else.
We said we were fighting for democracy, but we backed dictators like,
The result was a bad name for the United States, and the empowering of leftist governments in reaction to our interference.
Senator Frank Church (D., Idaho) concluded that we had,
Even if war makers did not have economic motives, it would still be impossible for corporations not to see economic gains as fortuitous byproducts of wars.
As George McGovern and William Polk noted in 2006:
During the 2003 War on Iraq Vice President Cheney directed massive no-bid contracts to a company, Halliburton, from which he was still receiving compensation, and profited from the same illegal war he defrauded the American public into launching.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair was a little more circumspect in his war profiteering.
The Stop the War Coalition kept up with him, however, writing in 2010:
In 1916 in the United States, socialism was gaining in popularity, while any sign of class struggle in Europe had been silenced by World War I.
Senator James Wadsworth (R., N.Y.) proposed compulsory military training out of fear that "these people of ours shall be divided into classes." The poverty draft may serve a similar function today.
The American Revolution may have as well.
World War II put a stop to depression-era radicalism that saw the Congress
of Industrial Organizations (CIO) organizing black and white workers
Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in 1997:
I was working for low-income community groups on
September 11, 2001, and I
recall how all talk of a better minimum wage or more affordable housing went
away in Washington when the war trumpets sounded.
World War I made clear to war makers the importance of oil to fueling the wars themselves, as well as to fueling an industrial economy, and from that point forward a major motivation for war has been the conquest of nations that have supplies of oil.
In 1940 the United States produced a majority (63 percent) of the world's oil, but in 1943 Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes said,
President Jimmy Carter decreed in his last State of the Union address:
Whether or not the first Gulf War was fought for oil, President George H. W. Bush said it was.
He warned that Iraq would control too much of the world's oil if it invaded Saudi Arabia. The U.S. public denounced "blood for oil," and Bush quickly changed his tune.
His son, attacking the same country a dozen years later, would allow his vice president to plan the war in secret meetings with oil executives, and would work hard to impose a "hydrocarbons law" on Iraq to benefit foreign oil companies, but he would not try to publicly sell the war as a mission to steal Iraqi oil. Or at least, that was not the primary focus of the sales pitch.
There was a September 15, 2002,
Washington Post headline that read "In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is Key Issue
U.S. Drillers Eye Huge Petroleum Pool."
It had been envisioned a few years earlier, however, by the African Oil Policy Initiative Group (including representatives of the White House, Congress, and the oil corporations) as a structure,
According to General Charles Wald, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Europe,
I wonder what he means by "secure." Somehow I doubt his concern is to boost
the oilfields' self-confidence.
Enron, the famously corrupt corporation that would implode in 2001, was a part of so many such trips that it issued a press release to state that none of its people had been on this one. Enron gave $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 1997, six days before accompanying new Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor to Bosnia and Croatia and signing a deal to build a $100 million power plant.
The annexation of Kosovo, Sandy Davies writes in Blood on Our Hands,
Longtime master of war Zbigniew Brzezinski spoke at a RAND Corporation forum on Afghanistan in a Senate caucus room in October 2009.
His first statement was that,
offered no reasons why and suggested that his other statements would be more
Brzezinski responded that a lot of people are weak and don't know any better, and they should be ignored. Brzezinski said one of the main goals for the War on Afghanistan was to build a north-south gas pipeline to the Indian Ocean.
This didn't noticeably shock anyone in the room.
Apparently the White House or the Pentagon believed the
possibility of stealing Afghans' lithium would generate more war support in
Up through World War I and including it, empires battled each other for various territories and colonies. In the case of World War I there were Alsace-Lorraine, the Balkans, Africa, and the Middle East. Wars are also fought to assert influence rather than ownership in regions of the globe.
The U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia in the 1990s may have involved a desire to keep Europe subordinate to the United States through NATO, an organization that was in danger of losing its reason to exist. A war can also be fought for the purpose of weakening another nation without occupying it. National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft said one purpose of the Gulf War was to leave Iraq with "no offensive capability."
The United States'
success in this regard came in handy when it attacked Iraq again in 2003.
The British Pakistani historian Tariq Ali commented:
This may have been a key motivation for various U.S. military actions following the Cold War. Talk of a peace dividend faded as wars and interventions proliferated. Wars also appear to be fought on occasion in a manner that allows the use of particular weapons even though the strategy makes no sense as a means to victory.
In 1964, for example, U.S. war makers decided to bomb North Vietnam
even though their intelligence told them the resistance in the South was
As we've seen above, nuclear bombs were dropped unnecessarily on Japan, the second one even more unnecessarily than the first. That second one was a different type of bomb, a plutonium bomb, and the Pentagon wanted to see it tested. World War II in Europe had drawn to a close with a completely unnecessary U.S. bombing of the French town of Royan - again despite the French being our allies.
This bombing was
an early use of napalm on human beings, and the Pentagon apparently wanted
to see what it would do.
Wars fought against a global menace (communism, terrorism, or another) are also wars fought to display one's prowess to bystanders, thus preventing the toppling of dominoes - a danger that can always be precipitated by a loss of "credibility." Remarkably, in warmonger-speak "credibility" is a synonym for "bellicosity," not "honesty." Thus, nonviolent approaches to the world lack not only violence but also "credibility."
There is something indecent about them.
According to Richard Barnett,
They knew the world would be outraged by such actions, but somehow there is
nothing humiliating about the prospect of being ostracized as murderous
madmen. Only softness can be humiliating.
It wasn't to keep the communists out of Peoria or to teach the Vietnamese democracy or anything so grand. It was to protect the image, or perhaps the self-image, of the war makers themselves.
Assistant Secretary of "Defense"
John McNaughton's March 24, 1965, memo said U.S. goals in horrifically
bombing the people of Vietnam were 70 percent "to avoid a humiliating U.S.
defeat (to our reputation as guarantor)," 20 percent to keep territory out
of Chinese hands, and 10 percent to permit people a "better, freer way of
That's a lot to prove you're not afraid of.
But then we did drop a lot of bombs on Vietnam trying to prove it, over 7 million tons, as compared to the 2 million dropped in World War II.
Ralph Stavins argues in
an Aggressive War that John McNaughton and William Bundy understood that
only withdrawal from Vietnam made sense, but backed escalation out of fear
of seeming personally weak.
But U.S. jet fighters went ahead and bombed Cambodia as a means of showing that, as the White House put it, the United States,
Such displays of toughness are understood in Washington, D.C., to not only advance careers but also to enhance reputations in perpetuity. Presidents have long believed they could not be remembered as great presidents without wars.
Theodore Roosevelt wrote to a friend in 1897,
According to novelist and author Gore Vidal, President John Kennedy told him that a president needed a war for greatness and that without the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln would have been just another railroad lawyer.
According to Mickey Herskowitz, who had worked with George W. Bush in 1999 on the latter's "autobiography," Bush wanted a war before becoming president.
One disturbing thing about all this longing for war is that, while many of the motivations seem base, greedy, foolish, and despicable, some of them seem very personal and psychological.
Perhaps it's "rational" to want world markets to buy U.S. products and to produce them more cheaply, but,
When you combine the illogic of these motivations for war with the fact that wars so often fail on their own terms and yet are repeated time and time again, it becomes possible to doubt that the masters of war are always masters of their own consciousness.
The United States did not conquer Korea or Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan.
Historically, empires have not lasted.
a rational world we would skip the wars and go straight to the peace
negotiations that follow them. Yet, so often, we do not.
After a lengthy period during which these expectations were fulfilled,
they did what they could have done from the start and ended the war.