June 3, 2004

by Joe Sobran

     I enjoy movies about World War II, especially those 
made during the war itself. I think it's silly to talk 
about the men who fought it as "the greatest generation," 
but they were my father's generation and I love the style 
of manhood they represent -- the unassuming masculinity 
of an older America, responsible rather than macho.

     What the war movies don't show -- and what they 
wouldn't have been allowed to show if they'd wanted to -- 
was the deceit by which Franklin Roosevelt tried to bring 
on the war. The historian Robert Dallek writes, "In light 
of the national unwillingness to face up fully to the 
international dangers facing the country, it is difficult 
to fault Roosevelt for building a consensus by devious 
means." This is the view of most older historians: We 
forced Roosevelt to lie to us for our own good.

     Still, Dallek concedes, "For all the need [!] to 
mislead the country in its own interest [!], the 
President's deviousness also injured the national 
well-being in the long run. His [secret provocation of 
Germany] created a precedent for manipulation of public 
opinion which would be repeated by later Presidents in 
less justifiable [!] circumstances." Roosevelt also used 
the FBI to spy on political opponents with illegal 
wiretaps and interceptions of their mail.

     As Edmund Burke put it, "Criminal means, once 
tolerated, are soon preferred." But it didn't start with 
Roosevelt. Deceiving the American public into war already 
had a long history.

     In 1845, President James Polk falsely accused Mexico 
of attacking the United States, thus using his office to 
initiate a war of conquest. Congress went along with him. 
Among the few who opposed him was a courageous freshman 
congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, who demanded 
proof that Mexico had really been the aggressor. Polk 
ignored him, Lincoln was branded a traitor, and when 
Lincoln lost his seat after only one term, his political 
career appeared to be over.

     Unfortunately, Lincoln drew the wrong lesson from 
Polk's success: He learned that a president can get away 
with anything in wartime. When, after an amazing 
comeback, he became president himself, he made war on the 
seceding states and crushed criticism and political 
opposition in the North with thousands of arbitrary 
arrests, including that of a congressman who opposed him 
as bravely as he had once opposed Polk. He had to 
misrepresent the Constitution in order to violate it as 
freely as he did. And of course when the Confederacy 
fired on Fort Sumter (total fatalities: one horse), he 
had the inflammatory incident he needed.

     In 1898, President William McKinley whipped up war 
fever against Spain over Cuba. Spain had neither attacked 
nor threatened the United States and was in fact so eager 
to avoid war that it tried desperately to appease 
McKinley. But when the American battleship the USS Maine 
blew up in Havana harbor, probably by accident, McKinley 
had the pretext he needed. War was on, and it was quickly 
expanded all the way to the Phillippines, which the 
United States grabbed on the pretext of establishing 
democracy there. With Spain defeated, this 
"democratization" required the bloody suppression of a 
genuine independence movement. (Sound familiar?)

     So the United States had already become an imperial 
power, sending its forces around the globe, by the time 
Woodrow Wilson schemed to get the United States into 
World War I on the British side against Germany, while 
professing to maintain neutrality and "keep us out of 
war." He got his pretext for hostilities when German 
submarines attacked American merchant ships carrying -- 
in violation of his proclaimed neutrality -- munitions to 
England. An eager learner from his duplicitous and 
successful methods was his young assistant secretary of 
the navy, Franklin Roosevelt.

     And so it has gone, through World War II, Korea, 
Vietnam, and Iraq, not to mention Grenada and Panama. 
Typically, Americans are warned of a "threat" from a 
country that would be either very rash or out of its mind 
to attack us, usually followed by a suspicious incident 
that seems to justify the warning.

     How many times must we fall for the same old tricks? 
The recurrent pattern is so striking that it suggests 
that this will never be the Land of the Free until it 
ceases being the Land of the Gullible.


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