On Being “Anti-American” by Michael Faulkner

Dandelion Salad

by Michael Faulkner
Aug 10, 2008

On August 6th The Guardian published what I thought was an excellent article by John Pilger entitled “The Lies of Hiroshima live On”, in which he argued that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a war crime. His case on the use of the atomic bomb against Japan followed the line of argument developed by US historian Gar Alperovitz more than forty years ago. In his classic revisionist study Atomic Diplomacy, Alperovitz showed convincingly that US leaders knew three months before the bombs were dropped that Japan was seeking surrender, and that the terms were acceptable. The main reason for using the atomic bombs against Japanese civilians was to cut the Soviets out of the Far East peace settlement. As such, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, may be considered the first act of the Cold War.

In his article, Pilger raises a perfectly legitimate question concerning the selective nature of decisions about what constitutes a war crime and who should be considered a war criminal; why some are punished and others not. According to the criteria adopted at the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1945, the planning and waging of an aggressive war constitutes a war crime, as also do acts of mass murder and attempted genocide (crimes against humanity) carried out during wars. The tribunal’s failure to include the aerial bombardment of European cities and mass killing of civilians in the indictment of the Nazis as war criminals, was due solely to the fact that such acts were committed by both sides, culminating in the horror of Hiroshima, which preceded the opening of the Nuremberg trials by several months. However, by any reasonable  standard, the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima ranks as a war crime.

No-one seriously questions the Nuremberg judgement concerning the illegality in international law of waging aggressive war. Those who wage such wars are rightly regarded as war criminals. The invasion of Iraq falls into this category. It was an unprovoked war of aggression waged by duplicitous politicians on the basis of a deliberately falsified prospectus. Bush and Blair are war criminals who should face prosecution. Yet very few professional journalists are prepared to say so. Indeed, when surveying the past five years of journalistic commentary in the British press one is struck by the pusillanimity of so many supposedly liberal commentators when it comes to confronting unpleasant facts. A good example is the Guardian columnist, Martin Kettle, supposedly an opponent of the Iraq war, who nevertheless claimed that there was no alternative to Blair’s policy and welcomed the Hutton report’s blatant whitewash of the government. It is not uncommon for such people, when dealing with serious critics of US foreign policy and the Iraq war, to resort to the hoary old canard of “anti-Americanism”.

The accusation was thrown at John Pilger by a reader who accused him of indulging in an “anti-American rant”. This cheap trick is part of the armoury of those who prefer insult and slander to serious thought and debate. It is a favourite with Tony Blair, who a few years ago went so far as to accuse the BBC of anti-Americanism for its coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans. It is almost always used to imply that anyone who seriously criticises the US power elite and the exercise of US power in the world, must be motivated by a deep, subjective hatred of anything and everything American. This has nothing to do with rational argument. It is a shameful substitute for real criticism and it has a shabby pedigree which bears some examination.

To accuse a serious critic of US policy of being “anti-American” is to close discussion with an insult. It is similar in its intent to the accusation levelled against thousands of US citizens in the wave of hysteria that swept the United States in the early years of the Cold War, reaching fever –pitch during the Korean War. Communists, liberals, trade unionists, progressive academics and others who opposed US foreign policy were labelled “Un-American” by the HUAC. Many thousands were black-listed and hounded out of their jobs. The “Un-American” smear was intended to criminalise those so charged, to associate them with a supposed “world communist conspiracy” and relegate them to a pariah status, outside the “All-American” national entity. The label often carried racist, anti-foreign overtones. Who were the Un-Americans? They were Americans who were deemed by a dominant reactionary clique to be un-patriotic, disloyal to their notion of what it was to be a real American. Where did this mindless, reactionary-racist notion come from?

Less than twenty years earlier in Germany the Nazis were denouncing as “Un-German” (yes, this is precisely the term they used) those Germans perceived by them to be insufficiently patriotic, or, in terms of their fervid racist ideology, “non-Aryan”. Communists, socialists, liberals, trade-unionists – and of course, Jews, were hounded from their jobs and their homes into prisons, concentration camps and exile. They were denounced as exponents of the “un-German spirit”; “Un-German” books were burned, music banned, paintings destroyed in an attempt to eradicate “Jewish Cultural Bolshevism” – part of the World Jewish Conspiracy to undermine the purity of “Aryan” German nationhood. Quite apart from the terrible consequences for its countless victims, the effect of this nationalist hysteria was to brainwash the majority of Germans into becoming compliant tools of German imperialism in its drive to dominate Europe and the world. The imperialist ideology corrupted a generation and made possible the perpetration of crimes of mass murder, ethnic cleansing and genocide on a scale never before seen.

Imperial powers have always perpetrated myths of national superiority. Armed forces dispatched abroad to wage war against weaker nations and “backward” peoples, are always imbued to one degree or another with attitudes of racist arrogance towards the countries and peoples they are sent to invade. This is evident in the derogatory epithets used to demonise the “enemy”. “Gooks”, “wogs”, “rag-heads” have been the common currency of US and British forces in their various wars during the 20th and 21st centuries. It is interesting to note, that during the Second World War, in their repressive “actions” against the partisans and resistance fighters in the occupied territories, the Nazis claimed to be waging a heroic struggle against terrorism. The young heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto, who fought to the bitter end, in the rubble of their destroyed homes against overwhelming odds, were described by the Nazis as terrorists.

In Britain there is also a history of chauvinistic nationalism which has manifested itself in blind support for imperialist wars and contempt for “lesser breeds”. I recall, as a teenager, the sheer racist hysteria that was engendered by sections of the press in this country against Egypt’s President Nasser in the weeks preceding the invasion of Suez in 1956. Those of us who opposed the invasion were often accused of being anti-British. As a conscripted member of the Royal Air Force at the time it was extremely difficult to defend Nasser’s right to nationalise the Suez Canal without running the risk of being assaulted. This was the last gasp of British imperialism, but to hear some people talk one would have thought that it was still the high tide of empire. Curiously enough, at that time much of the British press was very critical of the US. The Eisenhower administration did not support Eden’s Suez adventure. This was because the US government sought to fill the vacuum which would be left by the decline of British power and influence in the Middle East and didn’t want to push the Arab world into the arms of the USSR. Since that time, successive British governments have sought to retain something of the prestige of Britain’s imperial past by cultivating the “special relationship” with the US.

Just as opposition to British imperialism and the wars and conquests associated with it, does not make one anti-British, so opposition to the US war against Vietnam and invasion of Iraq does not make one anti-American. Those who oppose such wars and interventions, and the mass movements associated with such opposition, express more profoundly the real interests of their respective countries. The millions who marched against the Iraq war and continue to demand the withdrawal of the invaders’ armies from the countries they occupy act and speak in the national interest of the US and Britain.

Two hundred and thirty four years ago that great Englishman and internationalist, Thomas Paine, arrived in Philadelphia from England. A few years later his explosive pamphlet, Common Sense helped to launch the American Revolution against the British Crown. He was later denounced by Britain’s aristocratic rulers as a traitor to King and Country. In 1776 he sketched the first outline of a Constitution for the “United States”. He was the first to use the term. When asked where the King of America would feature in this constitution, he said: “The Law is King”. Paine was a republican and a democrat; an Englishman who fought for American freedom and supported the French revolution. The kind of people who regarded him as anti-British then would regard him as anti-American now. The world he fought for has still to be created.

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2 thoughts on “On Being “Anti-American” by Michael Faulkner

  1. I feel ashamed to read such rubbish on the website. For all its faults, America saved England and Europe from Hitler and defeated the Japanese militarist clique. I read recently that General Tojo’s diaries show that he did not want to surrender as it would be dishonorable, even if that meant the destruction of Japan.

    I’m old enough to have been through all these arguments time and time again. Why don’t you examine the American military documents concerning the projected losses in the event of not using the bomb and invading Japan. Maybe a secondary objective was to send a message to the Soviets, who it should be remembered only declared war on Japan a few days before Hiroshima. That is a case of Stalin’s opportunism at its best or worst depending on your viewpoint.

    There was no reason to send a message to Stalin because his intelligence services had penetrated the Manhattan project and knew all about the bomb. Read the histories and discover for yourself that the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) had an agent, George Koval from Sioux City at the center of the project who was undiscovered until revealed to the press by Vladimir Putin on November 13 last year.

    I continue to be amazed by the American obsession with retrospective
    navel-gazing and I wonder where academic study disappeared – I suspect it was post-Vietnam. You have any number of people trying to undermine your country and Constitution from both the left and the right. America gave the anarchist Noam Chomsky to the world and he expects to be taken seriously. John Pilger is well-known for tailoring facts to fit his conspiracy theories.

    Michael Faulkner has done dandelion salad a disservice by pursuing mendacious and blatant anti-American crap that is so liberally dispensed in academe. Do you really want to blame America for the ills of all the world. Part of the problem with the world today is that America has lost confidence in itself and no wonder with all the white-anting. Perhaps you need to be defeated thoroughly and perhaps occupied by foreign armies to clear your head(s) singularly and collectively.

  2. I agree with you how names are ways to evade intelligent discussion. I was watching a news story last night I think on ABC News how McCain seems to be adopting a strategy, previously suggested to Hillary though never used, where Obama’s Americanness could be called in question because he lived most of his life in Hawaii and spend some time in Indonesia. Last I remembered, Hawaii is part of the union.

    It’s easy to question someone’s Americaness, their patriotism, their this, their that, if all that you wish to do is to call names. What good does it do? If you break down such a person’s argument, they really have nothing to say and are being an asshole. It’s like having a discussion with somebody and, when having nothing else to say, calling them ugly or throwing out a momma joke. Really smart indeed.

    Jose A. Rodriguez

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