Manufactured Incidents: Lessons from History
by Sadu Nanjundiah
November 27, 2002
It all seems like a slow dance of death and destruction, for the helpless, innocent majority of Iraqi people.
First came the overwhelming support from Congress where the Democratic Party meekly acquiesced in supporting shrill Republican calls for a war resolution.
Then we had the recent victory at the polls which gives Republicans total control of both houses of Congress. And now the Bush administration has the unanimous support of the U.N. Security Council for an intrusive inspection for weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq.
The Pentagon has deployed nearly 250,000 troops in the Gulf region. One of the principal hawks in the Bush government, Richard Perle, has even said that even if no weapons of mass destruction are discovered in Iraq, the invasion of Iraq will happen. The Iraqi government has all along complained, justifiably, that they are being asked to prove a negative. But with world opinion, and increasingly even within the U.S. itself, not supportive of the planned, illegal and immoral war on Iraq, the Bush administration will still need a trigger for the eventual invasion, to make its actions seem "justifiable".
What will it be? For the moment, Iraqi anti-aircraft fire against the U.S./British warplanes monitoring the self-imposed "no fly zones" over the northern and southern parts of the country have been ruled out as candidates for the casus belli. It could change if a "coalition" warplane is hit. While the Pentagon is going through its playbook to figure out what "incident" might look plausible for its massive retaliation, it might be useful to look at past wars overseas that were harbingers of U.S imperialism, its subsequent consolidation and final rise to unbridled supremacy in the world. They provide eerie but prescient glimpses into how the U.S. manufactured incidents to make a doubtful and reluctant public climb aboard its war juggernaut.
The Bush government - none of whose officials or relatives will have to face the dangers of conflict except watching it on CNN from the comfortable confines of their DC estates- is discovering that Saddam Hussein's past notoriety is washing thin with a restless and skeptical public. In the outside world, there is no support for the invidious plan of "regime change" other than from the utterly dependent Middle East cats-paw, Israel. Even in Britain, Tony Blair's pliant poodle displays of fidelity to the circus-master in Washington evinces mainly shame and ridicule from most of his fellow citizens. Even mainstream media in the U.S. has reluctantly recognized the growing public opposition to war against Iraq, both in the U.S and in Europe (100,000 demonstrated in October in D.C, 500,000 rallied in Florence, Italy in November). More Americans are becoming aware of past U.S. support for Saddam Hussein from the Reagan/Bush I administrations until Gulf War I.
So, is the real reason for waging another brutal war with the resulting thousands of Iraqi deaths the elimination of weapons of mass destruction? Or because the dictator and his oil are no longer under U.S. control? Is Bush using his weapon of mass distraction to deflect public attention from a sorry?
The trigger necessary now for the U.S. to invade Iraq, especially as the "canny" Saddam Hussein has accepted a return of the inspectors, is "evidence" of non-cooperation or evasion on the part of the Iraqi authorities, which should not take long, or an incident that shows that Iraq (in collaboration with al-Qaeda) "attacked" U.S. interests first. The Bush administration has covered all bases by asserting (without evidence, of course) that Iraq possesses, and is likely to use, weapons of mass destruction; that Iraq supports terrorists from al-Qaeda; that Iraq threatens its neighbors (i.e Israel) and its own people (Kurds in the North and Shiites in the South).
Americans are asked to support a war that could cost as much as $ 200 billion on the mere sayso of chicken-hawks in the Bush administration. They have succeeded in scaring the population and instilling fear to promote their agenda. When honest skeptics ask for proof for any of these unsubstantiated assertions on Iraq, they are accused of being traitors. In any case, such "evidence" cannot be revealed for fear of "compromising sources"! There is little outrage at the duplicity of past American governments (including the one led by the present Bush's father) which supplied Iraq with all manner of weapons, technology and loan guarantees. As the former Democratic Congressman from Connecticut and Chairman of a House subcommittee , Sam Gejdenson stated, From 1985 to 1990, the United States Government approved 771 licenses for the export to Iraq of $1.5 billion worth of biological agents and high-tech equipment with military application. The United States spent virtually an entire decade making sure that Saddam Hussein had almost whatever he wanted... The Administration has never acknowledged that it took this course of action, nor has it explained why it did so. In reviewing documents and press accounts, and interviewing knowledgeable sources, it becomes clear that United States export-control policy was directed by U.S. foreign policy as formulated by the State Department, and it was U.S. foreign policy to assist the regime of Saddam Hussein. Source: U.S. Congress Subcommittee Report, "United States Exports of Sensitive Technology to Iraq"
Here's how some past American wars, in a century that saw U.S. power exerted around the world, were initiated.
In the Spanish-American War of 1898, strong anti-Spanish feelings were fomented in the U.S. through the "hardship" suffered by American businesses in Cuba. President McKinley promised support for Cuban independence when, mysteriously, the American battleship 'Maine', sent to protect U.S. interests in Cuba, blew-up in Havana harbor. Over 250 sailors were killed. Even as terms of an ultimatum sent by McKinley to Spain were being debated in Congress, war was declared against Spain. Subsequently, Admiral Dewey, commander the U.S. Navy in the East, destroyed the Spanish fleet in Manila harbor (the Philippines was another Spanish colony). To this day there is suspicion that the explosion aboard the 'Maine' was planned to provide justification and support for the war against Spain. George Kennan, U.S. Ambassador to Moscow speaking at the University of Chicago in 1951 said that Dewey's attack on the Spanish fleet "looks very much as though the action of the U.S. government had been determined on the basis of a very able and very quiet intrigue by a few strategically placed persons in Washington, an intrigue that received ... a sort of public blessing by virtue of war hysteria." The Treaty of Paris (December 1898) ended Spanish rule in Cuba and led to the emergence of the U.S. as an imperial power with its takeover of Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico.
After Germany and Japan were vanquished in WW II, American supremacy and triumphalism was at its height, except for the irritation of two challengers - Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's Peoples Republic of China. Of all the protagonists in the victors' camp, only the U.S. was not completely overwhelmed by war fatigue. The military economy was strong and resilient, with the newfound invincibility afforded by nuclear bombs. President Truman and his advisers felt emboldened enough to try and snuff out the upstart socialist challenges to Western imperialism. It came in the form of the Korean War (1950-53). The war was blamed by the U.S on the North Koreans who were accused of launching an unprovoked attack on the South. The reality may be different. The leaders who benefited the most from this war was Synghman Rhee, dictator of South Korea, and Taiwan's generalissimo, Chiang Kai-shek, who gained from U.S. involvement in Korea because it delayed indefinitely the merger of Taiwan with China as the former became an American protectorate. Rhee would not have to face the electorate in a unified Korea and potentially lose to the popular communists in the North. During the conflict, U.S./South Korean troops (mainly) fought against North Korean forces (and later, troops from the Red Army of China) under a United Nations Security Council resolution that did not have the support of the USSR (which did not participate in the deliberations leading to the resolution because, against Soviet objections, Chiang's Taiwan was seated as the representative of all China and not the government of Mao Tse-tung that controlled the mainland). The U.S/South Korean forces repeatedly and illegally provoked the North Korean army and instigated conflict by crossing the 38th parallel that divided the two halves of the country. Later, they employed the same tactics against the Chinese Red Army by crossing the Yalu River that separated North Korea from China. American planes even bombed ("mistakenly") targets inside the Soviet Union (the small part that borders North Korea) and China, hoping to broaden the war and end, once and for all, the "threat" of communism. As the American investigative journalist I.F. Stone wrote in his classic, The Hidden History of the Korean War, "The whole American economy became a prisoner of war fever and war addiction."
In the 1999 war against Yugoslavia, the Racak massacre (in which over forty Kosovo Albanians were killed by Serb forces) plays a big part. This incident most galvanized Western opinion for the U.S/NATO war. The Racak massacre was "verified" by none other than U.S. Head of the Kosovo Verification Mission, William Walker, sealed Yugoslavia's, and Milosevic's, fate (as Walker himself believes). This self-same Walker was exposed in a 1993 episode of 60 Minutes for his role in suppressing the investigation of death squad killings of Jesuits in El Salvador (1989) where he served as U.S. ambassador. Respected French and German correspondents have seriously doubted Walker's version of the massacre .
Two other U.S. wars which provide a more detailed documentation of "manufactured incidents" that bolstered public and Congressional support for war are the Vietnam War and Gulf War I. In the first, we have the notorious Gulf of Tonkin "incident" where North Vietnamese patrol boats were claimed to have launched an "unprovoked attack" against a U.S. destroyer on "routine patrol" on August 2, 1964. President Johnson went on national TV on August 4 to announce intensification in the bombing missions against North Vietnam and subsequently launched the devastating aerial defoliation campaign of the entire country.
In Gulf War I against Iraq, the media devoured the infamous Incubator Baby lie where Nayireh, the Kuwait ambassador's daughter, was coached by the public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton to tell a Congressional hearing in October 1990 that she personally witnessed Iraqi soldiers occupying Kuwait dump babies out of incubators in the Kuwait City hospital. This was used by Bush I to depict Saddam Hussein as the new Hitler and convince a divided Congress and public of the legitimacy of attacking Iraq even as diplomatic efforts were ongoing in the United Nations to effect an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.
American author Gore Vidal writes in his latest collection of essays, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, "All the tax money that has gone for defense against an enemy that had wickedly folded when our back was turned (the former Soviet Union) is now being exacted even more from a gullible public to fight the pre-emptive wars against terrorism " (to be defined by the U.S. oligarchy and kleptocrats).
Let the world's people be forewarned of what might come in the perilous days ahead. While the American citizens ignorance is not entirely their fault, they contribute to it through a preference for distraction over information and for passivity over responsibility.
But more important are the external factors that people don't control - the mainstream corporate media and big business with their lobbyists who create ignorance and confusion, obfuscating reality and exploiting peoples' fears. The multinational corporations control Congress and the White House, both of who, willy-nilly, do their bidding.
One who knew very well the art of deception and control said over half-a-century ago, "Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders...All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." (Hermann Goering, Hitler's deputy, at his 1946 Nuremberg War Crimes trial).
Sadu Nanjundiah teaches physics at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Connecticut, and works with the Coalition for Social Justice, a group of faculty and students at CCSU that discusses and acts on issues of peace and justice, locally and internationally. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org